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Rita Moreno Continues to Build on Her Prized Legacy

It’s fitting that “Remember Me” is the name of Rita Moreno’s new road-trip comedy. Since her 1950 film debut (as Rosita Moreno) in “So Young, So Bad,” the Emmy-, Tony-, Grammy- and Oscar-winning actress has created many unforgettable characters — the loose-lipped Zelda Zanders in “Singing in the Rain,” the firebrand Anita in “West Side Story,” the zany Googie Gomez in “The Ritz” and the compassionate Sister Reimondo in “Oz,” to name a few — more than earning her a Legend Award at this year’s Newport Beach Film Festival.

She’s received so many honors, in fact, she “stopped counting — I think now they’re saying, ‘Quick, let’s get her before she kicks the bucket!’” the 84-year-old says with a hearty laugh. After the radiant star sang youthfully during her 2014 SAG Life Achievement Award speech, that seems like a lifetime away. “(SAG) said ‘You have one minute,’” she recalls. “I said, ‘I’m Puerto Rican! I can’t even say hello in one minute!’”

Amidst all the industry talk about improving diversity, Moreno was a key pioneer. But things have been tough even for her: she’d already won an Oscar and Golden Globe when she joined PBS’ The Electric Company for its 1971-77 run. “I could not get (another) job,” she admits. “So many people at the time said ‘Don’t do a children’s show. You’ll get stuck in it forever.’ But I also took it because I thought it was a community service, and I still believe that.” Though she says the biz “has gotten tons better” for people of color, “things are still difficult.”

But not for her. “The trouble right now is I am literally the most busy I’ve ever been in my life!” she says, incredulously, pointing to lectures, concerts and her “One Day at a Time” reboot for Netflix. Any plans to retire? “Oh, hell, no! To get paid for what you love doing is just the ideal, and I still love it as much as I did at the beginning. It’s utopia.”

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