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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Happy Birthday, Rita Moreno!

When, as a child, my mother took me to see West Side Story at the movies, I instantly fell in love with Rita Moreno. All singing, all dancing, and so beautiful. I instantly developed a crush.

Rita Moreno was mostly cast in "exotic" cheesecake roles when she started her career, but did have supporting parts in The Toast of New Orleans, Singing in the Rain, The King and I and Summer and Smoke.

She landed the role of Anita in West Side Story in 1961, winning a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award in the role originated on Broadway by Chita Rivera. She also had a brief but notable role in 1971's Carnal Knowledge.

Rita Moreno appeared on Broadway in The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Gantry, the female version of The Odd Couple and The Ritz. She won a Tony for The Ritz (which I had the privilege to see), in which she portrayed Googie Gomez, a send-up of her Latin spitfire roles. Googie was a cabaret singer performing in a gay men's bath house in the pre-AIDS era farce by playwright Terrence McNally. She later appeared in a film version of the play.

On tv, she was featured on Electric Company and The Muppet Show. She played Fran Drescher's tough high school gym teacher on The Nanny and Drescher's mother on Happily Divorced. She had recurring roles on HBO's Oz and on Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

She was married to Leonard Gordon, a cardiologist and her manager since 1965. He died on June 30, 2010. Previous to her marriage, she's discussed affairs with Elvis Presley and Marlon Brando. She has a daughter and two grandsons. In March 2013, her autobiography, Rita Moreno: A Memoir, was released by Penguin Books.

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