Rita Moreno sounds off on her career

The 89-year-old tells Bill Whitaker about her longevity in show business and the obstacles she has overcome as she gets set to debut in Steven Spielberg's adaptation of "West Side Story." See their interviews, Sunday on 60 Minutes.

Rita Moreno sounds off on her career
Rita Moreno sounds off on her career 00:34

She's among the small, select circle of actors to have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and a Tony – the prestigious, "EGOT." And those are at the center of many awards Rita Moreno has earned. 

"They're great. It's thrilling," she says, "But in the final analysis, it's not about the awards… that's not what a career is, a career is working."

Moreno has been working consistently, both the stage and screen, for 75 years. She will turn 90 next month and will return to "West Side Story," in director Steven Spielberg's remake that will be released December 10. Bill Whitaker profiles Moreno's rich career, with all its ups and downs, on the next edition of 60 Minutes, Sunday, November 28 at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

She arrived in New York from impoverished Puerto Rico in 1936 at age 5. Within a few years, she was professionally dancing and hit Broadway by age 13. Her career skyrocketed when MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer signed her with the studio when she was still a teenager. 

Moreno would be the first to say it didn't come easy. She reveals a dark tale of 1950s Hollywood, where she endured sexual harassment and was often pigeonholed in what she calls "dusky maiden" roles, caked with brown makeup and using a "universal accent" for many characters.

When she made the cover of Life magazine in 1954, she signed with a new studio and met the "lust of her life," actor Marlon Brando. The tumultuous, 8-year relationship ended when she tried to take her own life.

A few months later, millions of people would watch Moreno as Anita in the 1961 musical, "West Side Story." Moreno explains that Anita, "became my role model, the one who had a sense of herself, who has a sense of self-respect, and a sense of dignity and I had to portray that. And it felt really good." 

After her Oscar win for her performance in "West Side Story," she left Hollywood and moved to New York and found new love and roles on Broadway. She would win a Grammy for the children's show, "The Electric Company," a Tony for her creation of Googie Gomez in, "The Ritz," and later Emmys for, "The Muppet Show," and "The Rockford Files." And in the late 1990s she changed gears dramatically in the HBO drama "Oz," playing Sister Peter Marie, a nun serving as a prison psychologist. "A different kind of nun," says Moreno.  

Now, in the new film version of "West Side Story," Moreno plays the widow of Doc, the candy store owner from the original. Director Steven Spielberg treasured having Moreno as a living bridge to the classic and as an inspiration to the cast, which by his own mandate required casting Hispanic actors to play the roles of the Puerto Ricans. Hollywood can still do better, says Moreno.

"I think Hollywood has changed. I think there are still things yet to be addressed. The representation that Hispanics get is almost nil. There's so many talented people among Hispanics," she tells Whitaker.