[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n Jan. 20, Puerto Rican actress, singer and dancer Rita Moreno, added the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award to her long list of accomplishments. “I am so f**king thrilled,” she exclaimed, after taking the stage in her black studded, leather jacket at the 2014 Screen Actors Guild Award (SAG) ceremony Saturday night. “I’m sorry about that word… actually, I’m not,” she laughed. Already a member of the EGOT elite, a rare group of actors who have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, the 82-year-old actress, best known for her role as Anita in the film adaptation of “West Side Story,” is the second Puerto Rican in history to win an Academy Award. The prestigious SAG award, given to her by longtime friend Morgan Freeman, brought tears of joy and laughter to the eyes of fellow actors including an emotional Julia Roberts as she charmed the audience upon her acceptance.
Moreno, whose birth name is Rosa Dolores Alverio, was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the United States with her mother when she was 5 years old. Settling in the Bronx, Moreno began dancing right away with Rita Hayworth’s uncle as her instructor, and she performed on Broadway for the first time at the young age of 14 in the play “Skydrift.” Moreno had a thriving career for the better part of six decades and through a period of time characterized by institutional racism and stereotyping in Hollywood when Latinas were often type casted as fiery sexpots. She appeared in a plethora of films throughout her twenties including “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The King and I,” but it was her role in “West Side Story” in 1961 as the antagonist’s sassy sister, Anita, that brought her to receive an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Moreno was named the Hispanic Heritage Awards Honoree for the Arts in 1990 for opening doors for minorities in the field of entertainment, and the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actresses (HOLA) renamed their Award for Excellence in her honor in 2000. It is now known as the HOLA Rita Moreno Award for Excellence. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2004.
For more information on the life of Rita Moreno and her contributions to the Latin community, please read “Rita Moreno: A Memoir” or visit www.ritamoreno.com.