Penguin Celebra, 2013
Rita Moreno says her signature moment was singing and dancing “America” in the movie West Side Story. The “smoldering, sexy spitfire,” and “ethnic maiden,” had hit her stride under the claustrophobic star system of the last century and she let every bit of the resentment and star quality that had been squelched in stereotypical roles burst in that song and movie. This effervescent, talented, delicate Puerto Rican beauty carved the way for today’s Eva Longoria and Sophia Vergara by working to transcend the stereotypes preceding her of Rita Hayworth and Carmen Miranda. She set her sights on the “great white way” of being the next Betty Grable.
She was born in Puerto Rico in 1931 and brought by her mother to New York as a six-year-
old. Before she was a teen she was on stage earning a living for both of them and a step-father. A life of her experiences cannot be totally reduced to the confines of a standard 300 page book, but it tries and does a reasonable job. There is life as an immigrant torn from family and friends, the story of a rising child star, issues of typecasting and demeaning roles, a torrid love affair with Marlon Brando, a suicide attempt, a long marriage to a Jewish psychologist, and the joys of motherhood and eventually, being a grandmother.
Along the way there are personal stories of Mario Lanza, John F. Kennedy, Howard Hughes, Ann Miller, Elizabeth Taylor, and the quirky British theatre critic, Kenneth Tynan. The most emotionally developed description was about her marriage to Leonard Gordon. There was a quality in the writing that sounded like she was parroting some of the words of her therapist, but it also appears Moreno has made her peace with life.
The book was good and worth the time if she interests the reader for any reason, so I’ll just give one down vote and one up vote. For the down vote you have to be able to not cringe over occasional white girl “too pampered for my own britches” language such as “it was so bizarre” (written at least four times and probably a ghostwriter) since most of the writing was quite good. The up vote is if you like Hollywood memoirs of that time period, Rita Moreno is a talented, tenacious sexy trail blazer who has won an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and a Tony.