LOS ANGELES (AP) — She’s won Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony awards, but Rita Moreno had to pull the car over when the call came that she would receive the SAG Life Achievement Award.
“It was stunning news,” Moreno said, “the last thing in the world I would have ever expected.”
Moreno received the award at the 20th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, Saturday night at the Shrine Exposition Center.
The 82-year-old actress has a movie career that dates back to 1950. Early on in Hollywood, she landed an MGM contract, but didn’t register her first career triumph until the film adaptation of the stage musical “The King & I.”
“‘The King & I’ was where I met (director-choreographer) Jerome Robbins, because he came to do all of the staging of the musical numbers and he kind of fell in love with doing movies,” Moreno said. “And when ‘West Side Story’ came along a number of years later, I was the first person he thought of for the part of Anita.”
Moreno, who was born in Puerto Rico, won a supporting actress Oscar for her performance as a Hispanic gang leader’s girlfriend in the 1961 film. She didn’t make another movie for nearly seven years.
“It was heartbreaking,” she said. “I had played the definitive Hispanic, and that was that.”
She kept working, doing TV and theater, and eventually made her way out of the Hollywood rut by providing the inspiration for one of her most memorable characters: a lousy, loopy lounge singer.
“All dancers do bits,” Moreno explained. “And one day I said, ‘OK, here’s this Puerto Rican girl who cannot sing or dance, auditioning for a bus-and-truck (company) of ‘Gypsy.’”
She then broke out in a broad, off-key rendition of “Everything’s Coming up Roses.”