Rita Moreno recalls struggling in Hollywood after Oscar win for ‘West Side Story’: ‘It broke my heart’

When Rita Moreno won an Oscar in 1962 for “Best Supporting Actress” as Anita in “West Side Story,” she thought her career would continue to quickly flourish in Hollywood — she was wrong.

“Who could imagine that even after I won the Oscar, those who could employ me would continue to cast me as a Spanish spitfire,” the 86-year-old told AARP the Magazine for their cover story.


“West Side Story,” based on the popular Broadway musical, told the story of two youngsters from rival New York City gangs who fall in love. However, tensions between their friends would lead to tragedy. It starred Natalie Wood, George Chakiris and Richard Beymer, among others.

The Puerto Rico-born Moreno was a natural fit for the Puerto Rican immigrant role. However, she initially thought the film would result in more work playing various kinds of characters from different backgrounds — it didn’t.

“I was still only offered those dusty maiden roles,” she recalled. “I decided that I would never do one of those roles again: ‘Ha, ha, I’ll show them!’ But they showed me — I didn’t do a film for seven years after ‘West Side Story.’ It broke my heart. I couldn’t understand it. I still don’t understand. And there you have it, Hollywood’s mindset at the time.”


However, this setback didn’t stop Moreno from pursuing acting in Hollywood. She is now one of just 12 people to hold an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony).

And she’s still keeping busy. Moreno is currently filming the third season of Netflix’s comedy, “One Day at a Time,” a reboot based on Norman Lear’s original sitcom.

But the big screen star insisted the battle to achieve compelling roles is still on.

“We [Latinos] are vastly underrepresented,” she explained. “Not only us; when was the last time you saw an Asian in a major role? I’m grateful for the example of the black community, who’ve learned to better navigate the system and make it more inclusive.”

LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 1,1954: Rita Moreno attends the movie premiere party of the "Egyptian"  at Romanoff's in Los Angeles,CA. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

A young Rita Moreno.


Still, Moreno is grateful for her time on “West Side Story,” a film that still resonates with fans.

“Wherever I go, people still call out to me in a Puerto Rican accent, ‘I like to be in America,’” she said.

Back in 2016, Moreno also told Fox News the aftermath of the film “broke her heart.”

“I didn’t do another film after that for seven years,” she stressed. “Not because I wasn’t offered some, but because I was offered the same roles on a much lower scale. You know, gang movies and stuff like that. No, no, no. That’s it. I’m not doing something like that again anymore, or you know, the stereotypical lady with the thick accent. Except for this role in ‘One Day at a Time’ because it’s so wonderfully written.

“Acting in Hollywood, even with the awards and accolades, is a very tough profession. Especially for women of color. We, the Hispanic community, now have a pretty good presence on television, but that doesn’t give us the roles. And I am not for one second diminishing the importance of having a presence. But now it’s time for us to get the roles, the writers and the directors. And that’s going to take longer.”

Moreno continues to be grateful for her beloved Oscar, as well as her relationship with co-star Chakiris, now 83. She said the pair have remained close over the years.

AARP Rita Moreno

“West Side Story” star Rita Moreno is the new cover girl for AARP the Magazine.


Chakiris played Moreno’s boyfriend in the film.

“He’s one of my dearest friends!” she exclaimed. “He’s my daughter’s godfather. I have a picture of George holding this beautiful baby girl. He’s still so damn handsome, it’s disgusting. He still goes to ballet class, that son of a b—-. I can’t do that. My knees are too shot. But we do have good genes, that’s for sure.”

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