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Rita Moreno: Legacy of a Hollywood Pioneer and Humanitarian

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Multi-award-winning actress, singer and dancer, Rita Moreno, blazed an iconic trail as the first mainstream Hispanic actress to grace Hollywood when she exploded onto the big screen as Anita in 1961’s classic film, West Side Story.

The role earned her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, crowning her the first Hispanic performer to ever win an Academy Award. But even after taking home Hollywood’s top prize, Moreno’s career started and stalled repeatedly throughout the 1960s as she fought to be cast in roles that didn’t box her in to antiquated stereotypes.

Though film roles for a leading lady of color were far and few between at the time, Rita Moreno turned her attention to television and music, taking home a Grammy Award in 1973 for Best Children’s Album during her stint on the popular children’s television program and, The Electric Company. Then came a Tony Award in 1975 for her work in the Broadway production of, The Ritz. Soon, two prime-time Emmy’s followed in 1977 and 1978. Moreno was hard at work establishing herself as a bonified triple threat. She cemented an indelible legacy as one of the world’s most versatile and talented performers.

One Day at a Time sills, Courtesy of Netflix

Throughout the ensuing decades, Moreno continued to take on roles on her own terms, proving her staying power for six decades. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, she played Sister Peter Marie Reimondo in HBO’s first original and groundbreaking dramatic series, OZ.

One Day at a Time sills, Courtesy of Netflix

Moreno currently stars as Abuelita Lydia Riera, the hilarious and spicy grandmother on the new incarnation of Norman Lear’s television creation, One Day at a Time, now streaming its third season on Netflix. The show’s official premise is, “Two Cultures, One Familia.” It’s an updated twist on the 1975 hit series starring Bonnie Franklin, Mackenzie Phillips, Valerie Bertinelli and Pat Harrington, but with a twist. The reboot centers around a Hispanic American family, no doubt Lear’s way of thumbing his nose at some of the more racist rhetoric flung through 2016’s presidential campaign.

One Day at a Time sills, Courtesy of Netflix

In 2014, Actor Morgan Freeman presented Moreno with the Screen Actor’s Guild  Lifetime Achievement Award, calling her “a world class actress, singer and dancer,” and just as significantly, “a fighter, who battled to break free of racial and sexual barriers that plagued Hollywood’s golden age.” Before there was Rosie Perez, Salma Hyek or Jennifer Lopez, there was the inimitable Rita Moreno.

One Day at a Time sills, Courtesy of Netflix

Recently, Moreno got the call from Steven Spielberg, for a forthcoming remake of the film that made her an icon, West Side Story. Moreno will play a role in the film as well as Executive Produce. I recently sat down with Rita Moreno to discuss her one-of-a-kind career and journey.

TME: When you won your Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1962 for the film, West Side Story, you thought you would then transcend racial stereotypes with the parts you would be offered.

Rita Moreno: And I was very disappointed (laughs). Not only disappointed, but it really, really broke my heart.

TME: I feel you. I’ve experienced it as a journalist, not in terms of ethnic discrimination, but the bewilderment of hitting a peak and then stalling. Your famous quote about this phase of your career was, “I showed them. I didn’t work for seven years.”

RM: When I say, “I showed them,” of course, I’m being facetious.

TME: Of course. And in this business, it’s very hard to turn down work. Writers write, Actors act, etc. It’s what you do, and you crave it.

RM: Not only crave it. It pays the rent.

TME: Yeah, and then there’s that! (Laughs) Any regrets about taking that stance?

RM: I think it was a very good decision on my part, because the only thing that was being offered, really, were gang movies, and they certainly weren’t as interesting as West Side Story. I think it would have depressed the heck out of me to go back to that stuff. It paid off in the sense that I had peace of mind and I didn’t feel like I was being insulted.

TME: Let’s talk about the amazing Norman Lear and the One Day at a Time reboot on Netflix you’re starring in.

RM: Isn’t he something?!

TME: I think he is a genius!

RM: He is a genius, you’re right. He’s still going strong. He’s going to be 96, and he can speak and he can walk (laughs). He’s a remarkable man, and a lovely, lovely person.

TME: All in the Family is my favorite sitcom of all time.

RM: Oh, it’s one of my favorite shows too!

TME: The way he has tackled race, gender, religion, sexuality… on and on, has helped to re-shape our society. The original One Day at a Time with Bonnie Franklin, Mackenzie Phillips, Valerie Bertinelli and Pat Harrington that premiered in 1975 was very progressive in that single motherhood was much more taboo at that time. With this updated version, there’s an extra layer to the story in that the family are Hispanic Americans. After all you went through in terms of fighting for roles that accurately represent Hispanic people, do you feel a sense of vindication at portraying a positive representation of a Hispanic family on television?

RM: Vindication implies that I’m still angry. No, I don’t feel any sense of vindication. I’m just so happy and so proud that Hispanics have more representation. I think we’re still not there. I think we are underrepresented. But feeling vindictive is a waste of time, don’t you think?

TME: Wrong choice of words. Perhaps a better way to put it would be, “a sense of wholeness.” I was watching an episode earlier, and there’s a scene where your character, Lydia, is talking about the racial slurs she had to endure in her generation. When her daughter and granddaughter ask her for specifics, Lydia summons up the courage to say the word “spic” out loud. The context of the scene is that she is dis-empowering that word that was so painful for her. To be able to stand there and say it, and dis-empower the word…

RM: What was so remarkable about that scene is that kids don’t even [fully] understand that word. It’s bizarre. Lydia is carrying on and on about the word “spic,” and everybody in the room is like, “Yeah, so?” It was a terrible word in my time. I love that!

TME: I have to give so much credit to the show’s creator, Norman Lear. The courage to look something in the eye and stare it down, man, and incorporate comedy into it is amazing.

RM: That’s a wonderful way to put it, yes. You’re right.

Allison Kugel: What do you hope viewers of the updated ODAAT will learn about Hispanic American families?

RM: It’s what I think they are learning, because we have now gained an American audience as well. We always, of course, had the Hispanic community watching the show. People who are not Hispanic are learning that family is family, is family. It’s universal. That’s what Norman was hoping for. You want the universality of the situation to work on people, and that’s what has happened. The moment of, “Oh My God. We’re like that too!” Just add in some spice and some deliciousness, which is the Hispanic nature of the show.

TME: If you live in a smaller town in the United States, where you are only surrounded by people who are just like you, it’s so easy to dismiss other types of people, because you don’t have to get to know them. Once you get to know people who are different from you and you see their humanity, it becomes much harder to be dismissive.

RM: Yeah. And I find that a lot of people who watch our show just love Lydia. She’s so outrageous and so big. Children love Lydia. Go figure!

TME: Because your character is that bridge between what was and what is. You’re teetering on the edge between the old school stuff that you came of age with, while trying to embrace the world we’re living in now.

RM: She’s familiar with what she calls “JouTube.” (Moreno puts on a Cuban accent) and “SnapChap.” (Laughs) But she’s familiar with it, which is terrific. It’s because we have a room full of young writers who are all into that kind of stuff. For the new season, there’s an episode that guest stars Gloria Estefan. It’s hilarious. She plays my sister, and all I can tell you is we hate each other. The whole episode is centered around a funeral of an aunt, and Gloria’s character comes to town to attend the funeral. Gloria is absolutely, deliciously funny! And of course, we’re both over the top as we’re trying to do air kisses that are about three feet apart.

TME: When you hear other Hispanic performers speak, and I know I have heard this from Jennifer Lopez, they always refer to you as the gold standard of excellence and inspiration. You were the performer who made them believe that this career was achievable for them. Have you had a chance to speak to any of the younger Latino actors and singers about your influence on them?

RM: I’ve heard it from Jennifer, and I’ve heard it from Rosie Perez, and also from Andy Garcia.

TME: As someone who emigrated to the states from Puerto Rico as a young girl and who wanted to be a performer, who did you look to as a blueprint?

RM: Well, you know what? No, there were no role models when I was young and in the movies in my late teens. There was nobody. So, I chose one for myself. I chose Elizabeth Taylor because she was close to my age and she was brunette (laughs); and she was beautiful and gorgeous. I made her my role model. But, you know, there was just nobody that looked like me in a public [space]. The Hispanic community very often calls me La Pionera, the Pioneer.

TME: How do you define yourself as a human being?

RM: I’m a family person before anything else. I have a daughter, Fernanda Louisa, that I’m insane about. And I have two grandsons, and that is where I live. They are in my heart all the time. I adore them, and I don’t have much family; I never did because I left Puerto Rico with my mom on a ship, and that was the end of family. I never saw them again. I had a brother that I never saw. His name was Francisco.

TME: And there was no contact after you left Puerto Rico? That was it?

RM: No, and I attribute that to my mom. For whatever reasons, she just stayed away. I don’t know how to explain it, because I don’t understand it. By the time I did try to find him, I couldn’t find him.  About a month or two after my book came out (Rita Moreno: A Memoir/Celebra Books), I heard that he died. I have a half-brother, Sam Alverio, because that’s my true [last] name. I’m Rosa Dolores Alverío (she speaks her full birth name, punctuated with the pride of a strong Puerto Rican accent). I speak to him on the phone now and then. That’s about it. Like many Hispanic people, I’m sure I have tons and tons of distant cousins.

TME: How do you find peace in your heart regarding the brother who passed away?

RM: I just have to tell myself that it’s not my fault. My mom, for whatever reason, she always had difficulties with men. I had four stepfathers. It doesn’t make me happy, but that’s the reality of the situation.

TME: Let’s talk about the upcoming remake of the film West Side Story. That’s a hell of a segue!

RM: Isn’t that astonishing though? Talk about coming full circle.

TME: How did you become involved as Executive Producer?

RM: [Steven Spielberg] always wanted to do the film, and he was a good friend of Robert Wise, who co-directed the original film with Jerome Robbins. When the original West Side Story film came out [in 1961] Steven was crazy about it, and that’s when he got very close to Robert Wise. He said he just hounded him about how the film was shot. It’s something he always wanted to re-do. The interesting thing is that he’s not updating it. It will still take place in 1957. It’s Romeo and Juliet. What’s wonderful about the young girl that he chose for the remake (17-year-old newcomer, Rachel Zegler) is a young girl.

Natalie Wood was a woman. I was a woman, playing Anita. I was really, way too old for that role. But that’s how it happened, then. Tony Kushner is doing the script. He wrote Angels in America. They both thought that the original part of Doc (the candy store owner in the 1961 film played by Ned Glass) was not fully realized, which I think is true. They both agreed that they weren’t terribly interested in that role for the remake. One, or both of them said, “What about Rita Moreno as Doc’s wife?” So, the storyline in the new film will be that Doc passed away, and now it’s Valentina who runs the candy store. They offered the Executive Producer credit to me, because Steven feels that I am the bridge to this movie.

TME: You’re offering all this first-person insight into what went on during the filming of the original movie.

RM: Exactly. He’s asked me a lot of questions, and he will probably ask even more. We talk about the shots all the time, because, you know, the director of the original film, Bob Wise, was really an editor. He was a great, great editor. He did Citizen Kane with Orson Welles.

TME: With the original West Side Story, Natalie Wood who played Maria, was not Hispanic. She also didn’t sing. She lip synced the songs (Marni Nixon voiced Natalie Wood’s songs in the original West Side Story). This isn’t a knock at Natalie Wood, who did a great job in the role, but with the times we’re living in now, people would now be hyper-sensitive to something like that. Is the young actress who will play Maria in the remake, of Puerto Rican descent?

RM: She’s Hispanic and that’s what counts. I think she’s Columbian. Here’s the thing; she’s Hispanic, she sings and she’s seventeen. With Romeo and Juliet, that’s how old Juliet was supposed to be. She’s very young. Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner have been absolutely crazy when it comes to finding Hispanic people to play the Hispanic roles. They even called the University of Puerto Rico and made an appointment for a panel meeting with an audience who were allowed to ask questions about the movie, and [express] how they felt about it. So, they really, really killed themselves with respect to that. But I did tell Steven, I said, “You know there are always people with agendas. There will always be somebody who’s not happy with it because of… whatever. So, get used to that. It’s going to happen.”

TME: You can’t make everybody happy. I remember when Jennifer Lopez played Selena Quintanilla in the biopic, Selena, and people were in an uproar because Jennifer’s not Mexican like Selena was.

RM: That just makes me furious. Let’s put it this way, if I’m playing a Jewish person in a movie, is it going to matter if I am a Sephardic Jew or a Russian Jew? It’s outrageous. You can’t always find the one you want because we’re now talking about someone who can sing and who knows music who can dance, come on!

TME: I’m sure you’ve heard the acronym, EGOT – for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony winner. You are one.

RM: Mine has one extra letter. I’m a KEGOT. The “K” is for a Kennedy Center Honors award. How do you like that?

TME: Where are all these awards displayed throughout your home?

RM: They’re on several shelves, because I have a bunch of them. And, Oh My God, this year I’m getting so many. I have a feeling that they’re all saying to each other, “Quick, let’s honor her before she kicks the bucket!” Now it’s getting ridiculous, and I’ve actually turned some of them down.

TME: You could get a really big, ostentatious wall unit curio and make it the awards curio.

(Rita bursts out laughing at this idea)

RM: There is a thing called overexposure. I’m really trying to cool it a little bit.

TME: How do you process all of that? It’s hard enough to break through as a performer, but you’ve won every coveted award there is. Do you process it through your ego? Do you process it through your heart? Do you see it from a higher perspective?

RM: When I pass by all of these awards in the living room, and my living room is two steps down from the rest of the house, so I don’t go in there often… but when I’m in the living room and I look at these shelves, I sometimes stop and look at them and say, “My God. What an extraordinary journey this has been.” This little Puerto Rican girl; born in Puerto Rico, brought up in the United States… how astonishing is that? It’s fabulous and I cannot be casual about it. I’m not. I’m absolutely stunned.

TME: You feel a sense of awe. It’s not, “Look at me.” It’s, “Look at this amazing journey.”

RM: Oh. hell no! I feel a sense of awe. How did this happen?! I say that to myself, “How on earth did this happen? Wow!” I wish so much that my mom was alive to see this. Oh God, I miss her so much. She would be so proud. She did live long enough to attend the Oscars with me.

Season three of “One Day at a Time” is now streaming on Netflix. Follow Rita Moreno on Twitter and Instagram @theritamoreno.

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Frogfathers lessons from the Normandy surf

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Frog Fathers: Lessons from the Normandy Surf” is a deeply moving documentary directed by Bob Whitney, narrated by John C McGinley, and presented by World of Warships and FORCE BLUE. It chronicles the journey of four Navy SEAL veterans revisiting the site of the D-Day landings to honor their forefathers and gain a deeper understanding of the sacrifices made during World War II.

The film’s strength lies in its raw emotional impact and historical significance. It blends personal narratives with archival footage, offering a poignant tribute to the bravery and resilience of those who fought on June 6, 1944. The veterans’ reflections and the cinematography effectively capture the solemnity and reverence of their pilgrimage.

While the documentary focuses primarily on the veterans’ experiences, it also serves as an educational tool, highlighting the strategic importance of the Normandy invasion and its pivotal role in shaping modern history. The film’s respectful approach and engaging storytelling make it a compelling watch for anyone interested in military history and the enduring legacy of the D-Day heroes.

Overall, “Frog Fathers” is a powerful and heartfelt documentary that honors the past while inspiring present and future generations to remember the sacrifices made for freedom 

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American Horror Story: Delicate

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As most of us are already aware, the 12th Season of AHS has been fraught with all kinds of differences to the previous seasons, mainly in that this is the first one to be based entirely off a novel, ‘Delicate Condition’ by Danielle Valentine. The first half of the season aired in October 2023 to mediocre reviews, while the SAG-AFTRA strike caused production and airing delays for the latter half of the season, and the episodes of Part 2 were all cut to less than an hour long apiece. And none of that is even getting into the disjointed attempt at storytelling for Season 12, so let’s dive into this! 

Meet Anna Victoria Alcott (Emma Roberts), former young ling star of Hollywood now struggling to recapture fame as an adult, who wants a baby, very very badly. Bad enough to drive herself and her husband Dex (Matt Czuchry) through multiple unsuccessful rounds of IVF (in-vitro fertilization), bad enough to keep trying no matter how crushing each failure turns out to be, bad enough to involve her purported best friend and bougie publicist Siobhan Corbyn (Kim Kardashian) in her struggles, and maybe, just maybe, bad enough to give up on a burgeoning resurgence of her career after interest in her comeback role for The Auteur begins garnering her Oscar-worthy attention. 

So, Anna and Dex are going to go through yet another round of IVF, likely one of their last attempts at it, from a different doctor, Dr. Andrew Hill (Denis O’Hare), and clinic based on Siobhan’s recommendation. And already, strange things are beginning to happen to Anna – her appointments that she set herself begin springing up incorrectly, a doom saying woman called Preacher (Julia White) shows up spouting warnings about trusting no one, dire warnings appear in unlikely places, and BTW, it seems as though long-suffering but good-nurtured Dex has a side-piece too. It doesn’t help that Dex’s new partner at his art gallery, Sonia Shawcross (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), bears a striking resemblance to his dead ex-wife Adeline, either. Those spiked emerald heels start appearing weirdly too, and it seems as though no one will listen to Anna as she grows more and more suspicious that some sort of sinister cult has designs on her as-yet-unborn baby. At the same time, Anna tries to live the life of a successful returning actress, attending parties and gallery openings while draping her rapidly-expanding middle in shimmering fabrics and actively ‘campaigning’ for that little golden statue that most actors covet. Competition is fierce, even among her co-stars of The Auteur, and while Anna wants to be supportive of her fellow entertainers, she clearly appears to be incapable of doing both at the same time – wanting the baby and the little gold award at the same time is too much to ask, apparently. 

Elsewhere, mostly in the past, various women in states of desperation formed from one situation or another are visited by sinister-looking women in prim black dresses, headgear reminiscent of – to me anyway – an odd cross betwixt birds and bunnies, my guess is an ostensive nod to fertility in general, and a general feeling of blood-bound witchery about them at critical moments of crossroad choices. 

Though the second half of the season moves a good deal faster than the first, the attempts at callbacks and reminder flashes to Part 1 hit with all the impact of a dropped bag of garbage onto their friends Talia’s (Julia Canfield) borrowed bougie kitchen floor – splat, into incomprehensible silence, from all parties, both characters and audience, concerned. Even the reminders that, in Part 1 of Delicate Dex’s mother Virginia Harding (Debra Monk) did indeed have perfectly valid memories of abuse at the hands of a black cult and Dex’s own father Dex Sr. (Reed Birney), the revelation pales and peels away in the face of Dex’s true parentage. 

Which brings us back around full circle kinda sorta, to the only real character worth a damn in this entire miserable season of strange feminism and aspirations of world domination through a kind of idiotic Rosemary’s Baby nightmare scenario, we should have known she’d steal the show when Kardashian was cast for it, Siobhan Corbyn, leader of the blood cult her high and mighty (old) self. Throughout the whole show her character has remained exactly the same, and it’s a wonder Anna can stare at her all stupefied while Siobhan does her villain speech at the end of the last episode. Siobhan never masked her ambition or greed, her mysterious protective vibe and even deep love for Anna, and can always be counted on to have secret plans of her own, already in motion, bitch. 

The idea that Anna herself was used as a surrogate for Siobhan and her incestuous eugenicist plans, plus the sweet little demon baby she just birthed, has an ironic the-world-is-tilting-the-wrong-way kind of witchy madness to it. Sure, Anna really can have it all, the baby and the golden statue, if only she joins the patriarchy-crushing cabal of blood witches with world domination plans, got it. 

I have questions, or I would have, but things are moving on and Anna is being saved by … Dex’s dead ex, Adaline the former member of the coven right okay her, she’s going to show back up and offer Anna a simple chant to Hestia her patron Goddess, and that is somehow enough to deal with Siobhan entirely – poof. And finally, after all that rigamarole, decades of planning and scheming and witchy plotting finally settled, Anna really can have it all as a White Witch of Hollywood, heaven help us, with her perfectly human baby and that damned little golden statue, clutched in an only slightly desperate grip. 

As with any season of AHS there are a great deal of statements that could be implied just under the skin of the season – the canker way of ambition, the millenia-old pain of a woman giving birth, the savagery and bloodshed that comes with bringing forth life, pushback against both the patriarchy and ultra-feminism, the absolute desperation of humans wanting to have a child, and perhaps strangest and most open to interpretation of all, what it means to be feminine. The worlds population of women who can’t or don’t or simply won’t have children, for any reason or none, are relegated to servants, expendable servants at that, for this new world order that Siobhan is proposing, and that is far too close a comfort to things like outright slavery. A dictator is a dictator, no matter how great she looks in those emerald spiked heels. 

It’s not the really beautiful grotesquerie that Ryan Murphy and his AHS gang are often known for, nor is it utterly terrible and should be burned at the stake. What Delicate should be, is put back together with missing and cut footage, an hour long per episode again come on folks, fleshed some more of Siobhan’s baby-stealing adventures in the past and given us an actual reason to like anything about the whiny Anna, at least the Part 2 we as longtime AHS fans deserve. Toss in some more spidery hijinks! Give us the actual origin of those weird feather bunny-ear headdresses! 

American Horror Story Delicate the whole season can be seen on FX! 

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Jurassic Park: Unraveling the Mystery in a World Gone Prehistoric!

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Hold onto your hats, dino fans! The highly anticipated sequel to the adrenaline-pumping Camp Cretaceous saga is here, and it’s taking us on a wild ride six years in the making. Following the harrowing events of Camp Cretaceous, our beloved “Nublar Six” are back, but they’re not out of the woods just yet. In fact, they’re about to plunge headfirst into a world where dinosaurs roam freely alongside dangerous humans, and trust us when we say, it’s a Jurassic jungle out there!

Picture this: a world where survival isn’t just about avoiding sharp-toothed predators but also navigating the treacherous waters of human greed and deceit. As our resilient heroes reunite in the aftermath of a heart-wrenching tragedy, they quickly realize that danger lurks around every corner, and trust is a luxury they can’t afford. 

But wait, there’s more! Prepare to embark on a globetrotting adventure like no other as the Nublar Six find themselves thrust into the heart of a conspiracy that threatens not only the fragile balance between dinosaurs and humanity but also their very existence. From the lush jungles of Isla Nublar to the bustling streets of bustling cities, buckle up for a rollercoaster ride of epic proportions as our intrepid group races against time to uncover the truth about one of their own and, ultimately, save both dinosaur and humankind from certain doom.

So, dear readers, if you thought you’d seen it all in Jurassic Park, think again! With heart-stopping action, pulse-pounding suspense, and jaw-dropping revelations, this latest installment promises to be a game-changer in the Jurassic universe. Get ready to roar with excitement because Jurassic Park: Unraveling the Mystery is about to take a bite out of your imagination and leave you hungry for more!

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