Rita Moreno has continued to make the show biz history books, and yet she has never become a full fledged star.

Moreno, who is currently playing Fran Drescher’s MOTHER on a TV sit com, “Happily Divorced,” is the recipient of an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy and a Grammy for her past performances.

Hello everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers here again. It could be argued that Rita Moreno is at an age where she ought to be playing character roles. (she’s 79).  And that she has, in effect, played character roles all through her career. This is true.

Moreno is a very rare breed– the WORKING actor.  She’s been at it since she was 13. Born in Puerto Rico, but raised mainly in New York, she was on the stage as a teen then in films.  She has a small but memorable role in the classic “Singing In the Rain.” But one of Joe’s favorite Moreno roles is as a teen in reform school in “So Young, So Bad,” when she was billed as Rosita Moreno.

After paying her dues in a dozen programmers, including one of the Ma and Pa Kettle flicks, Moreno’s big break was when she was cast as Tuptim in the film version of “The King and I.” (It was a part that Dorothy Dandridge had turned down)

Then, the big one. She played Anita in “West Side Story.“(pictured above) —Chita Rivera had originated the role on Broadway, but Rita made it her own on screen.  She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and became only the second Hispanic-American to win an Oscar.

(Can you name the first?  We’ll give you a few days to come up with that answer.)

But the Oscar did not propel Moreno to star status.  She worked through the 60’s and 70’s turning out very good performances opposite top stars, such as Marlon Brando in “Night of the Following Day,” and James Garner in “Marlowe.”  She had a good supporting role in director Mike Nichol’s 1971 “Carnal Knowledge” costarring Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen, Art Garfunkel and Ann-Margret.

And Moreno continued getting recognition from her peers, if not the public.  She won a Grammy in 1972, a Tony in 1975 (for “The Ritz”) and Emmys in 1977 and 1978.  In fact she’s garnered dozens of awards, from the Golden Globe to the Sarah Siddons Award.

And she’s continued to work.  Perhaps not being a big star allowed Moreno the freedom to accept acting challenges and forge a career unrivaled by her contemporaries. We salute Rita, a durable working actress of great distinction.

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