Rita Moreno nearly quit ‘West Side Story’ in 1961



Rita Moreno almost never won the Oscar for the role of Anita in “West Side Story.”

In an interview for ABC News’ “20/20” special “Something’s Coming: West Side Story,” the actress, according to Insider, divulged she nearly quit the production due to offensive lyrics.

In the song “America,” which is an argument between Anita’s character and her boyfriend, Puerto Rico is called an “ugly” island and an “island of tropic disease.”

Moreno, who hails from Puerto Rico, said it was “awful” to hear those lyrics.

“It felt horrible. And I thought, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t do this to my people,’” the 89-year-old star said in the interview.

Fortunately for Moreno, the writers changed the script and she was “saved,” she continued. Within days, she received new words to the song, which now read: “Puerto Rico, my heart’s devotion, let it sink back in the ocean.”

Rita Moreno
Moreno, who played Anita in 1961, almost called it quits after hearing offensive lyrics in the movie’s songs.
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Rita Moreno wins Oscar
Moreno won Best Supporting Actress for her role in “West Side Story.”
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But this isn’t the first time the “One Day at a Time” star has told the tale of almost calling it quits. Earlier this year on “Good Morning America,” Moreno voiced her concern over the lyrics and discussed the issue on “The View” in December 2020.

The lyrical incident also wasn’t the only issue that arose. EGOT winner Moreno also spoke out against using brownface on actors, which she recalled in the “20/20” interview, adding that she wasn’t listened to by producers.

Rita Moreno
The nearly 90-year-old actress stars in the newest adaptation of the film in a different role.
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West Side Story cast
She stars alongside a slew of actors, such as Ansel Elgort, who plays Tony.
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In her own documentary, which was produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Moreno opened up even more about the filming of the original “West Side Story” film and her life hardships, including a suicide attempt.

She has since recalled how an on-screen rape scene triggered past sexual assault she experience from an agent at the age of 16 in an interview with “60 Minutes.”

Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris
Moreno starred alongside Natalie Wood and George Chakiris in the original film.
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George Chakiris, Rita Moreno and Rock Hudson
After her Oscar win for playing Anita, Moreno basked in the achievement with Chakiris and Rock Hudson.
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“All of those scars that I thought were healed just opened up. I was like a wounded animal when I did it again,” she said in the interview. “That is the scene that I know got me the Oscar.”

Moreno’s recollection of her shot to fame comes as Steven Spielberg’s rendition of “West Side Story” debuts, starring Ansel Elgort as Tony. Originally Anita in 1961, Moreno plays the role of Valentina, inspired by the character of corner store owner Doc, in the remake.

Rita Moreno
In the interview, Moreno recalls feeling “horrible” upon hearing anti-Puerto Rico rhetoric in the song.

At the film’s premiere last week, the cast paid tribute to the late Stephen Sondheim, whose impact on “West Side Story” echoed through the most recent adaptation, having worked with the team of actors on the movie.

Justin Peck, the New York City Ballet’s resident choreographer, told Page Six that one of the last phone calls he received from Sondheim was to “gush” over the film.


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