Born Rosita Dolores Alverío in 1931 in in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Rita is the first and only Hispanic and one of the few performers who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony and, the second Puerto Rican to win an Academy Award.
Rita moved with her mother to New York City at the age of five, and took the surname of her stepfather, Edward Moreno. She began her first dancing lessons soon after arriving in the United States from a friend of her mother, a Spanish dancer called Paco Cansino who was the uncle of Rita Hayworth. When she was eleven years old, she lent her voice to Spanish-language versions of American films.
She had her first Broadway role—as "Angelina" in Skydrift. By the time she was 13, which caught the attention of Hollywood talent scouts. She appeared in small roles in The Toast of New Orleans, and Singin' in the Rain, in which she played Zelda Zanners, a fictional silent screen vamp.
In 1956, she had a supporting role in the film version of The King and I as Tuptim, but disliked most of her other work during this period.
In 1961, Moreno landed the role of Anita in the film adaptation of Leonard Bernstein's and Stephen Sondheim's groundbreaking Broadway musical, West Side Story. (Anita was played by Chita Rivera on Broadway.)Moreno won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for that role.
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Moreno also appeared in the films, Summer and Smoke in 1961, The Night of the Following Day, and in 1971, Carnal Knowledge. Moreno appeared on the PBS children's series The Electric Company in the 1970s, most notably as Millie the Helper. In fact, it was Moreno who screamed the show's opening line, "HEY, YOU GUYS!"
Moreno appeared on The Muppet Show, and she made other guest appearances on television series such as The Rockford Files, The Love Boat, The Cosby Show, George Lopez, The Golden Girls, and Miami Vice. She was also a regular on the short-lived sitcom version of Nine to Five (based on the film hit) during the early 1980s.
Moreno's Broadway credits include The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Gantry, The Ritz, for which she won the 1975 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress, and the female version of The Odd Couple.
In 1993 she was invited to perform at President Bill Clinton's inauguration and later that month was asked to perform at the White House. During the mid 1990s, Moreno provided the voice of Carmen Sandiego on the animated Fox show Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?
In the late 1990s, she was introduced to a new generation of viewers when she played Sister Pete, a nun trained as a psychologist in the popular HBO series, Oz.
In September 2011, Moreno began performing a solo autobiographical show at the Berkeley Rep (theater) in Berkeley, California, Rita Moreno: Life Without Makeup written by Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone after hours of interviews with Moreno.