Rita Moreno: West Side Story's Young Anita, Then And Now

By | April 22, 2019

test article image
Rita Moreno as Anita in 'West Side Story' (1961); in a publicity photo circa 1955. Source: (Getty; Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Hollywood didn't know what to do with Rita Moreno when her West Side Story (1961) performance brought her an Oscar, but not better roles, she went on her way. Rita Moreno, who was five years old when she came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico, had endured the stereotypical ethnic roles and flourished -- and she has continued to flourish while controlling her own destiny. If you didn't catch her in West Side Story, you might recall her yelling "Hey you guys!" on The Electric Company or consoling inmates on the gritty prison drama Oz. She's coming off a three-year stint on the Netflix remake of One Day At A Time. She's among the most celebrated performers of all time.

Moreno began performing on Broadway at 13 and had her first film role in the 1950 reform-school girl movie So Young, So Bad. She’s best known as Anita in West Side Story, a role that netted her an Academy Award, although her life can’t be distilled down to a single performance.

Not only is she one of the most acclaimed performers of the 20th century, but she spent nearly a decade locked in a torrid love affair with Marlon Brando that included a tryst of sorts with Elvis Presley. Somehow she also found time to work on children’s television. Moreno’s story is far from over, and she can still be seen on television today.

She Felt Typecast In Her Early Roles

test article image
Source: (pinterest.com)

Before her big break in West Side Story, Moreno was mostly cast as an immigrant or a Native American due to the dark complexion of her skin. Aside from her roles in The King and I and Singin’ in the Rain, Moreno was typecast, something that made her consider leaving Hollywood altogether in the early ‘60s.

Moreno says that after a decade of B-pictures she didn’t need to read a script to know what she was being asked to do. She wrote:

I knew what my scripts would say before I opened them: ‘Enter Conchita.’ I played handmaidens, Indian squaws and Mexican dancers…