Roush Review: ‘American Masters’ Salutes Rita Moreno, an EGOT for All Time

West Side Story Rita Moreno
Review
THE EVERETT COLLECTION

“Hey, You Guys!”

Whether your most vivid memory of Rita Moreno is as the sizzling Anita in 1961’s West Side Story or the bellowing live wire of The Electric Company, there’s no doubt that few Hollywood stars burn as brightly at 89. She is that rarest of show-business supernovas, an EGOT — winner of the Grand Slam of awards: two Emmys, a Grammy, Oscar and Tony — and perhaps even more impressive, a survivor of a studio system that for too long only saw the Puerto Rican native as stereotypically exotic.

American Masters Rita Moreno PBS

(Credit: PBS)

“I can’t think of anybody I’ve ever met in the business who lived the American Dream more than Rita Moreno,” says the legendary Norman Lear (now 99), an executive producer of Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, an irresistible American Masters valentine of a biographical portrait. Lear also oversaw the splendidly Latinized (and still much-missed) reboot of One Day at a Time (2017–20), where Moreno stole every episode as the outrageous abuela Lydia, a performance inspired
by her own mother.

First seen in this film preparing decorations for her own 87th birthday party, Moreno is an engaging storyteller and a delight as she acknowledges her hard-earned status as a Latina role model. She’s candid about the vicissitudes of fame and unflinching in describing how her movie-star aspirations as a 1950s MGM contract player became more of a nightmare.

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“I really was very often treated like a sex object,” she recalls. Beyond the frustration of being typecast as “dusky maiden” island girls with thick accents, she tells of being raped by her agent — whom she didn’t fire — and enduring a toxic love affair with Marlon Brando that resulted in a dangerous illegal abortion and a suicide attempt. “She had to have a lot of staying power,” Electric Company costar Morgan Freeman says, admiringly.

Now independent and showered with career accolades, Moreno declares, “Did having to struggle so much take something out of me? Not me!” Bravo!

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It, Tuesday, October 5, 9/8c, PBS (check local listings at pbs.org)