Monday, December 11, 2006

Rita Moreno is 75 !!!

Rita Moreno is an American treasure so celebrate her 75th birthday watching some song and dance. It's what she's best known for. Clockwise from top left: Rita's duel with Animal (The Muppet Show), Rita performs "Hard Hearted Hannah" (The Jack Benny Show), Rita's showstopping "America" (West Side Story), and "Unbutton Your Heart" --it's Rita doing her best Tina Turner (The Electric Company)

Rita is one of only four Hispanic actors (and the only female) to win an acting Oscar, the most recent being Benicio Del Toro for Traffic. Her career --hot from the 50s through the 70s --includes classics like Singin' in the Rain, The King and I, Carnal Knowledge and West Side Story (and you may remember that we covered this beloved Rita's performance in detail in a Supporting Actress Smackdown some months ago). Incredibly, even in her 70s Rita is still working it. A few years back she wrapped up several seasons on HBO's Oz and was part of the impressive ensemble of Casa De Los Babys (my review)

If her filmography and parallel successes on stage and in television aren't impressive enough, consider this: She's one of only four women in history to have achieved that rare quadruple showbiz crown: An Oscar (for West Side Story), an Emmy (for both The Muppet Show and The Rockford Files), a TONY (for the Ritz), and a Grammy (for The Electric Company). The only other women to have done so are Barbra Streisand, Audrey Hepburn, and Liza Minelli (if you allow for Daytime Emmys, Whoopi Goldberg makes it a five-wide list) and only one male actor has done the same John Gielgud. The others quadruple winners are primarily known for directing or composing.

Any guesses as to who might join that tiny list in the future? Any thoughts on Rita? Chime in or kick up your heels in the comments.


adam k. said...

Hugh Jackman, god willing. He is already half way there (Tony, Emmy).

Anonymous said...

Russell Crowe, HA!
i'm sure 30 odd foot grunt or whatever their name is will be soon delivering a multi grammy winner..
I'm sure even russell's mom doesn't believe that
and as for the tony don't you imagine Russell singing and dancing at a gladiator musical version??

Agustin said...

Russell Crowe, HA!
i'm sure 30 odd foot grunt or whatever their name is will be soon delivering a multi grammy winner..
I'm sure even russell's mom doesn't believe that

Amy said...

I adore her.

Didn't know it was her birthday. Thanks Nat!

Robb said...

Nathaniel, is it true that Rita was dubbed in "West Side Story"?
Say it ain't so!Being a HUGE Audrey fan, I should know the answer to this, but was it that PBS show "Gardens of the World" that won her an Emmy?

sophomorecritic said...

who are the other two?

Anonymous said...

I met her a couple of years ago a Q&A here at school. She had great stories to tell. A tiny, lovely woman. I adore her. West Side Story is my favoite musical, I was just watching all the dance numbers just the other night.

Anonymous said...

well, Streisand's Tony and Minelli's Grammy are honorary ones.

Carlos Reyes said...

she is AWESOME, I'm so proud of her... so underrated IMO, I still can't understand why she isn't in movies no mo'...

Middento said...

I love love love love Rita. Even in I Like It Like That, which is an unsung gem of a film in many ways.

In fact, I'm even presenting a paper on her at the next Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference, titled: "It's Not Easy Being Brown: Rita Moreno, Lena Horne and The Muppet Show."

But I didn't realize it was her birthday -- so thanks, Nathanaiel! (And welcome back!)


i should note the following living performers are closest to achieving this:

missing only the grammy:
Jeremy Irons
Al Pacino
Vanessa Redgrave
Maggie Smith

missing only the Emmy
Elton John

missing only the TONY:
Julie Andrews
Robin Williams

missing only the Oscar
Harry Belafonte
Julie Harris
James Earl Jones
Lily Tomlin

Robb said...

Julie Andrews without a Tony? That's absurd!!! They'll give her an honorary one eventually, don't 'cha think?

StinkyLulu said...

Rita was dubbed for parts of her vocal in WSS. The official story states that Betty Wand sang for Anita in "A Boy Like That"

However, Wand did record a complete dub track for Anita songs. (For the most part, this was merely because of the industry standard/conventions, and a curious Hollywood disbelief in triple threats. Indeed, among the WSS principals, only Russ Tamblyn & Tucker Smith are completely undubbed.)

I'm not convinced that Wand can be heard only on "Boy Like That" -- her sound seems to pop in at strange moments throughout the soundtrack. There's a claim that they developed the Betty Wand dubs, which they never planned to use, to offset the shock to Natalie Wood of dubbing Maria, which Natalie Wood had busted her ass to learn to sing. According to this version to the story, how the Anita dubs ended up in the movie remains a mystery. And the acknowledgement of Wand's voice on the soundtrack only came as a result of a very contentious lawsuit (Wand sued for royalties on the soundtrack), which resulted in an out-of-court settlement for Wand and, it seems, a gag order for all involved... The claim that "Boy" was below Moreno's range appeared only during/after the lawsuit and is actually pretty absurd.

There was concern at the time of the lawsuit that, if it was revealed that Wand dubbed more than one song, it would cheapen or even jeopardize Moreno's Oscar.

Robb said...

Thank you StinkyLuLu for the info.
Perhaps we should change your name to SmartypantsLulu! Seriously though, that was waay interesting!
Thanks again.

adam k. said...

I don't know if I believe that story. The special edition DVD has a documentary where Moreno discusses how the one song had notes that were too low for her, and she sounded pretty believable... she sounded like she was heartbroken to have to be dubbed... though you'd think she'd know when she took the part whether she could sing it all. In any case, I never noticed any other songs that didn't sound like Moreno... "A Boy Like That" sounds VERY different from the others and is lower; it's pretty jarring, actually. It's obviously not Moreno's voice. But I think the rest is. Why would they dub her on the one song if she were able to sing it? Weird.

As for Natalie Wood, there is also footage of HER original singing on the doc, and whether she busted her ass or not, her singing was weak. They made the right decision to dub her.

StinkyLulu said...

Obviously, I've spent way too much time in my personal and professional life on West Side Story.

The one singular truth is that there are lots of contradictory stories about WSS. There are so many versions/variations of what happened, even diametrically different accounts from the same people. And having spent way too much time on this, I can testify that the lawsuit was a very big deal and is arguably the moment when dubbing began to be seen as a less than desirable practice for studios. (Witness the shift toward real voices in musicals of the later 60s, for better and worse.) Rita's commentary on the DVD is clearly sincere and falls directly in line with the "official story" that emerged after the lawsuit.

Natalie Wood's singing was weak, but they got her to accept the role by promising that her voice would be used. We do actually hear Natalie's singing voice in the actual film (in the final scene, over Tony's dead body in the playground).

Marni Nixon (one of the most legendary studio singers) has indicated that she laid the track for Anita in part of the Quintet, when both Moreno and Wand were sick. So it's possible that Anita's sung by three different voices.

Glenn Dunks said...

What Grammy did Audrey Hepburn win?

I agree with Adam on Hugh Jackman. He has a Tony and an Emmy and an Oscar seems theoretically in the future considering his career atm (starting to focus on serious stuff) and I'm sure he'll win a Grammy for a soundtrack to a stage show or movie (the same movie he wins an Oscar for?)

Amy said...

Glenn, Audrey won for a Children's Album called Audrey Hepburn's Enchanted Tales in 93.


hee. that Muppet clip keeps cracking me up. How funny is Animal?

jbnyc said...

I do love Rita. In a very random chance, I happened to be in her apartment in a newish tower that was built on the east side in the 50's about 15 years ago. I had to look at a table that her decorator bought for her (possible defect or something). Anyway, she wasn't there, but her husband was (a nice little Jewish doctor).

Anyway, the apt was quite modest, but there sitting on a very ordinary white laminate wall unit were her Awards - Oscar, Tony, Emmy. I don't remember seeing the grammy, but that was probably there as well. It's funny, but I remember the Oscar looking not particularly special in that context. Although it's certainly a better design than the Tony - that's such a dog. I once read that Susan Sarandon keeps her Oscar and other awards in a bathroom. So funny.

I've never been that much of a fan of the film version of WSS. I think once you've seen a professional version of that show on stage, it's hard to compare it to the movie. Not that I ever saw the original, but I had seen a very good production, must have been twenty or more years ago at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

The quartet of the most talented fellows: Auther Laurents, Steven Sondheim, Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein (some VERY talented mos) made this one of the most beloved musicals in American History. I would hazzard a guess it's just behind The Sound of Music for favorite stage/and/or movie musical. And though I've never seen a stage version of The Sound of Music, I would imagine there's no reason to after the film.

One thing I never understood was the song structure and lyric changes they made to America for the film. I guess "and the babies crying....and the bullets flying" sounded too racist to the censors in 1961.

Other changes were the song started with homesick Rosalia singing, and Anita acting as her foil:

Puerto Rico
you lovely island
island of tropical breezes
always the pineapples growning
always the coffe blossoms blowing

Puerto Rico
You ugly island
Island of tropic diseases
Always the hurricanes blowing
Always the population growing
And the money owing
And the babies crying
And the bullets flying

Film changed the first to lines to:
Puerto Rico my heart's devotion
let it sink back in the Ocean
(not improved imo)

last two lines changed to:
And the sunlight streaming
And the natives steaming
(lame!)...perhaps bullets flying was considered too racist to the censors in 1961.

Automobiles in America
Chromium Steel in America
Wire spoked wheel in America
Quite a big deal in America
(typical brilliant Sondheim lyrics)

changed in the film to:

Skyscrapers bloom in America
Caddillacs zoom in America
Industry boom in America

and then the boys answer with:
12 in a room in America
(actually, that line I like)....but enough for the loss of the deleted stanza.

Anyway, my ADD brain digresses once again. Back to Rita. I really need to revisit some of her things I'm not familiar with. But I always loved her from the Electric Company and found her (and the writing) to be curiously sophisticated for a target audience of kids aged 10-12. Years later when I was familiar with her other work like Carnal Knowledge, and the fact that she played Anita in the film version of WSSI was always wondering if I was remembering correctly and if she was the woman that I used to love watching in a show by the Children's Television Workshop. Was I losing my mind? Did I dream it? A movie star on the pre-adolescent, almost PG version of Sesame Street?

Her role in Oz was wonderful. A really great part and opportunity to show off her talents in a heavy drama. Was she nominated for an Emmy for this work? She definitely deserved at least one for a few seasons on that show. Playing a modern nun/counselor in a max security prison, showcasing very raw dialogue and great dynamic tension between her and Chris Meloni's brilliant sociopath Keller.

Happy birthday Rita, the world's a better place with you in it.

Nathan, thanks for the Muppet Show clip. Adorable.


Middento said...

Hey, I have a different question, Ritafiles: I've heard a rumor that Moreno has a number that got cut from Singin' in the Rain. How truthful is that rumor?

Robb said...

I'm nearly certain that Audrey won a grammy for "Audrey Hepburn's Enchanted Tales", an album of fairy tales read by her.It's lovely.

Tonio Kruger said...

Happy birthday tambien, Ms. Moreno.