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BOOK REVIEW:

Rita Moreno : a memoir

Call Number: 
812.092 M843

Moreno’s candid autobiography details the evolution of Rosita Alverio, a starstruck girl from Puerto Rico, into Rita Moreno, the award-winning actress and star of classic films such as West Side Story, Singin’ in the Rain and Carnal Knowledge. Throughout the book Moreno contrasts the soaring triumphs of a career (where she earned every major performing accolade) with painful personal tragedies that nearly ended her remarkable life.

Rita Moreno stands as the archetype of success within the entertainment industry. She has been a working actress for over sixty years and conquered every medium in the entertainment industry, with awards to prove it. Despite this very public success, Moreno’s life has remained obscured because she never led a tabloid-friendly lifestyle. She provides glimpses into her life and work, revealing a woman of substance who has suffered many personal trials that were not publicly known.

Much of the book confronts the challenges of being a woman of color working in Hollywood. Moreno is the third individual to win competitive Grammy, Oscar, Tony and Emmy Awards. Upon her arrival in 1950s' Hollywood she attempted to market herself as the next Elizabeth Taylor, but her Puerto Rican heritage effectively caused movie executives to cast her in stereotypical roles: Latina spitfire or an exotic ethnic. She never felt comfortable with these roles, but accepted them in order to support her family. Despite this ongoing challenge, Moreno was able to find work that allowed her artistry to flourish, validating her talent and establishing her credentials as a serious actress.

Moreno shares vivid stories about her experiences during some well-known productions, including her Academy Award winning tole as Anita in West Side Story. While she avoids outright gossip, she shares recollections about her working relationships with legendary figures like Jerome Robbins, Mike Nichols, Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly. She also incorporates humorous fare and amusing anecdotes including the fact that the outrageous role of Googie Gomez (a character in the play The Ritz) resulted from a joke she acted out for playwright Terrence McNally at a party. And she won a Tony for the role.

Perhaps the most surprising admission in the book concerns a tortuous affair with Marlon Brando that nearly killed her. Moreno met Brando in the 1950s and eventually succumbed to his charms, acknowledging that he was the first true love of her life. Brando had genuine affection for her, yet chose to string her along for more than a decade and reveled in making her jealous. In an act of revenge, she attempted to make Brando jealous by dating another man, Elvis Presley! The affair reached a tipping point in the early 1960s when Moreno realized she was pregnant, and Brando insisted she terminate the pregnancy.

The most substantive aspect of the book is the emphasis Moreno places on finding her own voice. After wading through years of personal angst and insecurity regarding relationships and work, she was able to settle into a life where she was finally secure. Moreno found empowerment through political activism, broadening her work options through stage and television, as well as building a family with a man to whom she would be married for nearly 50 years. The book serves as a testament to the remarkable, strength, courage and wisdom of Rita Moreno, both the actress and the woman.  

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