Lovely Rita

As time marches on, the pioneers among us become fewer and fewer.

No one lives forever, so the trailblazers become endangered species.

"West Side Story," the film version, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, marking the occasion with its release today on Blu-ray Disc.

So appropriate, as one of its stars, Rita Moreno, closes in on becoming an octogenarian.

It was Moreno's portrayal of Anita that did a couple of things, neither of them insignificant.

First, it garnered Moreno an Oscar.

Then, it eventually opened doors for other Latino performers to get work in Hollywood.

This was not insignificant, because Natalie Wood played the lead Maria in "West Side Story" and another white actor, George Chakiris, played Puerto Rican gang leader Bernardo.

Moreno was a pioneer, and typical of such folks, she didn't realize it at the time.

But she knows it now.

She allows, in an interview with the Associated Press, that she's "happy" that her portrayal of Anita did a lot for Latino actors.

But, half a century later, "I love what Ricardo Montalban once said, because it was very precise," Moreno says, quoting the late Mexican actor. "He said one day that the door was ajar, but not completely open. And that still exists. ... We have known artists in the English-speaking world that are Latin artists, but not enough."

Also lacking, according to Moreno, who will be 80 on December 11, are musicals themselves.

"I'd love to see more musicals because today they're very rare — you barely find them," she says.

The incomparable Rita Moreno

If you want to check out Moreno at some of her finest, rent or download "The Four Seasons," an Alan Alda written and directed comedy vehicle where she plays the Italian wife of Jack Weston's character, Danny.

The role was part of what Moreno told the AP is her belief that she's "a character actress, more than anything, and I think that is one of the reasons I get other parts that don't have anything to do with being Latina necessarily."

Moreno can be seen now as Fran Drescher's mother in the TV series, "Happily Divorced."

Still working, even as 80 beckons.

"Because I've been around so long ... I've gotten to do a lot of things that a lot of Latinos have not been able to do," Moreno says.

Correction. A lot of Latinos have been able to do things that they wouldn't, had it not been for Rita Moreno.


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