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Rita Moreno: 10 Rare Photos of the Trailblazing Star’s Life and 70-year Career

Nothing keeps this incredible nonagenarian down: "Being strong is a learned thing"

Actress Rita Moreno has had a career like no other — and is still going strong. Rita Moreno at age 91 and more than seven decades in the industry, she’s one of Hollywood’s few remaining “Golden Age” stars, and she remains vibrant as ever.

Born Rosa Dolores Alverío Marcano in Puerto Rico in 1931, Moreno started out as a dancer and began taking on small roles in musicals in the ’50s. In 1961, she had a breakthrough when she played Anita in the iconic musical West Side Story. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and made history as the first-ever Latina to do so.

Sadly, Moreno faced much typecasting and discrimination as a young actress, but she emerged triumphant — she’s a true survivor who has inspired countless actresses in her wake. She also holds the rare distinction of winning the EGOT — meaning she has Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards.

You might think that Moreno would’ve slowed down by now, but she hasn’t missed beat — in fact, Rita Moreno is still showing us age is just a number. Just this year, she starred alongside fellow living legends Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Sally Field in the comedy 80 for Brady, and she gave an emotional performance in Steven Spielberg’s 2021 West Side Story remake, making for a true full-circle moment. “My career seems to be going through a renaissance, it’s crazy. I don’t know, don’t ask me to explain, but I’m very happy and very grateful,” she said in an exclusive 2022 interview with FIRST for Women.

In honor of Moreno’s amazing career renaissance, we’re taking a look back at how she got here and her incredible life along the way.

Young Rita Moreno

Rita Moreno immigrated from Puerto Rico to New York as a child, and began dancing and acting soon after. “I wanted desperately to be a movie actress and this was before television had gained a foothold,” she recalled in a 2021 FIRST for Women interview. She scored her first roles in 1950, and worked steadily in small parts.

Rita Moreno in 1950
Rita Moreno smiles in 1950GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty

Moreno has always been a triple threat — she can act, dance and sing — and she was destined to be a star thanks to her vivaciousness and beauty. Supporting roles in the classic musicals Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and The King and I (1956) helped put her on the map, and by the time she was in West Side Story in 1961, she already had a decade of experience.

Rita Moreno in 1954
A very glamorous Rita Moreno in 1954© Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty

Even with her natural charisma, Moreno wasn’t quite an overnight success, and building her career required a thick skin. “I was treated pretty badly in Hollywood in terms of racism,” she said, but she didn’t let this adversity get her down. She explains, “The only way to become an actress despite getting picked on all the time was to be strong and not to fall into tears and ‘poor me,’ which of course makes you completely helpless, so you learn. It is a learned thing, being strong.”

Rita Moreno in 1955
Rita Moreno strikes a casual pose in 1955Silver Screen Collection/Getty

Looking back at her long career, Moreno calls herself “the luckiest Puerto Rican in the world.” “I had a very hard time coming from another country at a young age because I was treated so badly for so many years,” Rita Moreno recalled, “but my life has really, really done an amazing turn around.”

Proving her strength

Rita Moreno’s Oscar win was a defining moment. She didn’t expect to win, and gave one of the shortest speeches in the award show’s history, but she still made a big impact. She wore a long black and gold gown and looked wildly glamorous. Decades later, in 2018 at age 87, Rita Moreno wore the same gown again! Only someone as self-confident as Moreno could get away with this power move.

Oscar Winners George Chakiris and Rita Moreno with Rock Hudson, 9th April 1962
Rita Moreno at the Academy Awards with George Chakiris and Rock Hudson in 1962Bettmann/Getty

Not only did Moreno wear the wear the same dress, she even had the neckline tailored to be more revealing than it was originally!

Rita Moreno at the Oscars in 2018
Rita Moreno at the Academy Awards in 2018Frazer Harrison/Getty

Moreno has certainly aged gracefully in all sense of the phrase, and she credits her stunning staying power to her upbringing. “My mother came from another country and I think you develop strong genes as a result of that,” she told us. And her dedication to positive thinking “It’s sink or swim and I decided to swim.”

Rita Moreno in 1965
Rita Moreno in 1965Michael Ward/Getty

After Moreno won her Oscar, she still struggled to avoid being cast in cliché roles. Ultimately, she carved out a fascinating path for herself, appearing in quirky movies like Popi and Carnal Knowledge in the ’60s and ’70s and becoming a staple of countless ’70s childhoods as a cast member on The Electric Company.

Rita Moreno in 1978
Rita Moreno wears a fuzzy hat in 1978Brownie Harris/Corbis via Getty

Moreno’s filmography includes over 170 credits, and its safe to say she’s come a long way from the generic roles she was plagued by early on. She’s also shown up in episodes of The Love Boat, The Golden Girls, The Nanny and more, and been a regular on the gritty prison drama Oz and the sweet remake of the sitcom One Day at a Time.

Her film roles include not just musicals but indie movies, animated movies and big budget spectacles like the most recent installment of the Fast and the Furious franchise. In 2021, a documentary on her extraordinary life, Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, was released.

Rita Moreno husband and children

In 1965, Moreno married cardiologist and internist Leonard Gordon, who became her manager after he retired from medicine. In 1995, they relocated to Berkeley, California and remained together until his death in 2010.

Rita with Husband Leonard
Moreno with her husband Leonard, 1965Bettmann / Getty

Moreno and Gordon have one daughter, Fernanda Gordon Fisher, and two grandsons, whom she adores.

Rita and her grandson
Moreno with her grandson, 2023Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty

Rita Moreno’s words to live by

After more than half a century in the entertainment industry, Rita Moreno is more beloved than ever before. Millions have come to appreciate her status as a trailblazer, and she’s become a role model for maintaining humor and confidence with age.

For all the challenges she’s faced, Moreno has never even thought about giving up. “I think people are too easy on themselves and tend to settle for good enough, rather than working to get to the next level,” she told us. If you want to achieve something — “simply keep doing it and keep trying.”

Related: At 91, Rita Moreno Is Healthier Than Women Half Her Age — Here’s How She Does It

Rita Moreno in 2022
Rita Moreno looking lovely as ever in 2023Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty

“I’ve opened some doors for myself,” Moreno says, and she encourages women of all stripes to try doing the same. “Life can be so beautiful and I say that with care because I know that isn’t for many, many people,” she acknowledges. “But if you’re lucky enough to have a fairly decent life then you have to be grateful and I’m very, very grateful.”

We’re grateful for Moreno’s incredible life, and we’ll be taking the 91-year-old’s sage advice to heart.

Read about more iconic actresses here:

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Young Marilyn Monroe: Rare Early Photos of Hollywood’s Most Captivating Star

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