12 June 2013

Book Review: Rita Moreno: A Memoir by Rita Moreno

Title: Rita Moreno: A Memoir
Author(s): Rita Moreno
Genre(s): Memoir
Publisher/Date: Celebra / March 5, 2013
Series: Stand Alone

"I just don’t let my feelings show. Pretend to be someone I’m not. This idea lasts through my whole life: I always play a part. For so many years, I have to be a 'smoldering sexy spitfire.' Rita Moreno—funny and bold and golden as all her statuettes. The Hispanic heroine with all four gleaming prizes—Oscar, Tony, Emmy, Grammy—big money, hot lovers, 'perfect' forty-five-year marriage, with a gold medal hanging around my neck and shelves filled with award statuettes but still, inside, who is she? Who am I? Rosita Dolores Alverio? Or Rita Moreno? Rita or Rosita? Who am I?"
Case Study
In this luminous memoir, Rita Moreno shares her remarkable journey from a young girl with simple beginnings in Puerto Rico to Hollywood legend--and one of the few performers, and the only Hispanic, to win an Oscar, Grammy, Tony and two Emmys. 

Born Rosita Dolores Alverio in the idyll of Puerto Rico, Moreno, at age five, embarked on a harrowing sea voyage with her mother and wound up in the harsh barrios of the Bronx, where she discovered dancing, singing, and acting as ways to escape a tumultuous childhood. Making her Broadway debut by age thirteen--and moving on to Hollywood in its Golden Age just a few years later--she worked alongside such stars as Gary Cooper, Yul Brynner, and Ann Miller.

When discovered by Louis B. Mayer of MGM, the wizard himself declared: "She looks like a Spanish Elizabeth Taylor." Cast by Gene Kelly as Zelda Zanders in "Singin' in the Rain" and then on to her Oscar-winning performance in" West Side Story," she catapulted to fame--yet found herself repeatedly typecast as the "utility ethnic," a role she found almost impossible to elude.

Here, for the first time, Rita reflects on her struggles to break through Hollywood's racial and sexual barriers. She explores the wounded little girl behind the glamorous facade--and what it took to find her place in the world. She talks candidly about her relationship with Elvis Presley, her encounters with Howard Hughes, and the passionate romance with Marlon Brando that drove her to attempt suicide. And she shares the illusiveness of a "perfect" marriage and the incomparable joys of motherhood.

Infused with Rita Moreno's quick wit and deep insight, this memoir is the dazzling portrait of a stage and screen star who longed to become who she really is--and triumphed. (synopsis from Goodreads)
The Game's Afoot
Most of us probably know of Rita Moreno from her role as Anita in West Side Story. Her trademark? Being the Latina "spitfire." She's the "Hispanic Elizabeth Taylor." If you know anything else about her, it's probably that she's the first Hispanic woman to win the Oscar. Or more notably, that she's one of the only performers to EVER receive an Oscar, a Grammy, a Tony and an Emmy. Well, now she can add best-selling author to that ever-growing list of talents. In her self-titled memoir, Moreno opens up about life on and off the screen, touching on family, love, loss and her tumultuous rise to fame. Quintessentially, she's the all-American dream. 

Moreno's story is broken down into four parts, each one chronicling her evolution from humble little Rosita Dolores Alverio from Juncos into the sizzling songstress/screen siren, Rita Moreno. It's a tumultuous journey of insecurity, doubt, passion and self-discovery told in the most raw and honest of ways. In it, she describes the lush landscape of her native Puerto Rico, her struggle to break on to the Hollywood scene and her harrowing and debilitating relationship with bad boy, Marlon Brando. On the surface, Moreno's life seems so perfect but underneath it all it's one built atop broken promises --- by her mother and father, by Hollywood and by many lovers --- the strength she pulls from all these experiences though, that's what makes this book such an incredible one to read. Her story is as captivating as she herself is on screen.

You can really get a feel for Moreno's personality solely by looking at the way she tells her story --- it's exotic, wild, imaginative, vivid and rich with detail. As a reader, I became keenly aware of all of my senses and was atune to the world in an entirely new way. It's particularly evident in the first part where she relives her childhood. Moreno speaks of it as though she's still that child. You view the world through her young eyes and get to experience that sense of wonder and magic and blissful unawareness that comes with being an innocent, little kid. This book is packed with insight as Rita recounts her rise to fame and her experiences on the silver screen. I loved how she reviews her past performances in a more objective way. It's interesting to see what she's most critical about and what of those early performances she can really appreciate. Also, the black/white photographs don't hurt either!

Rita goes into detail on how much the film industry has changed since the 50's and 60's. Back then, stereotyping was common practice and she was viewed as the "universal ethnic girl." She's worked hard to break way from the trade-marked Latina "spit-fire" image that was portrayed of her, instead vying for roles that cast her as a genuine, realistic person. I was really excited to read about her time on the West Side Story set, but much to my dismay, this chapter of her life is somewhat glossed over. What I did love was how Moreno touches on fond and not-so-fond memories of the more well-known contemporaries of her time (Gene Kelly, Joan Crawford, Natalie Wood, Elvis --- to name a few) which acts as a tribute to them, in a way. Ultimately though, this book isn't about Hollywood, it's about her and appropriately so. Each intricate detail and every little story chronicles some important facet of her amazing life and incredible journey.

One of the most evident things she talks about are the hardships she's endured. The issues in her working life are nothing compared to the ones she endures in her love life though. Her tumultuous relationship with Marlon Brando coupled with constant abuse led her to attempt suicide, but it's her inner strength and determination that pulls her through it. And this is why she's so admirable. She's got the fortitude and gusto to walk away having learned something. Moreno's journey is a tragic one, but unlike many of the Hollywood greats, hers has a happier ending than the Judy Garland's and Mario Lanza's of her day. Rita is a woman who did what she had to do to survive and become successful. She's a woman who never loses sight of the end goal. She is admirable and brave. In the end, Moreno is shaped less by the characters she played and more by the experiences behind them. 

Moreno is a multi-faceted woman --- she's strong, passionate, vivacious, demure and incredibly self-concious. Despite wearing a tough and sexy visage, like many of her contemporaries, she's more than just another pretty face. This book is her personal narrative on how she conqured the world and, if anything, it's one of the most authentic books I've ever read. She's had quite the journey and even though it wasn't alwasy the easiest, it was certainly an incredible one.

Summary Prognosis
Rita Moreno: A Memoir is the story about respected singer/actress, Rita Moreno. The story chronicles Moreno's journey from Puerto Rico to America and her struggles for fame, love and leading a fulfilling life. Featuring vignettes on her films, behind-the-scenes gossip on her fellow actors, intimate details about her love life, it's a tale of survival, reinventing yourself and overcoming crippling self doubt.

Rating: ★★★★★

Read It: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Audible 
Discuss It: Goodreads
Extras: NPR Interview | Excerpt


  1. That's really cool that she won the Oscar. I don't remember her from Singin' in the Rain. I love Gene Kelly and his classic dancing/singing films.
    I'll have to look for this one, as I don't know much about Rita Moreno. Thanks for the recommendation!

    1. She's such an amazing woman and her story is really intriguing, for sure. I highly recommend it!


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