Former Pacific Palisades Honorary Mayor  Rita Moreno Is Rose Parade Co-Grand Marshal

Co-grand marshals for the Rose Parade are Laurie Hernandez, Rita Moreno and Gina Torres.
Photo: Courtesy of Pasadena Tournament of Roses

“Ain’t It Grand: Moreno a Parade Star” was the headlined story in the L.A. Daily News on December 29. Rita Moreno, actress Gina Torres and Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez will be the co-grand marshals for Wednesday’s Rose Parade.

People in Pacific Palisades already know Moreno is a parade star, because she would have ridden in the Palisades Fourth of July parade in 1988-89, as the town’s honorary mayor.

In a May 1988 AP story (“Names in the News”), Moreno was quoted as saying, “’You may ask how a simple girl like me became honorary mayor of Pacific Palisades? As a matter of fact, I was running for honorary governor of all of California until I handed the final negotiations over to the William Morris Agency, my agents. . .Well, I’ll have to settle for being honorary mayor.’”

In the AP story, she said she planned to be more than a ceremonial mayor. “I certainly plan to break all precedent and get involved. When I told one of the Chamber [of Commerce] directors that I intend to attend meetings, she almost dropped the phone.”

“She [Moreno] plans to push a pilot recycling program and drew cheers with a pointed remark about planned oil drilling along the coast.

“‘I’m rather a conservationist,’ she said. ‘I turned off the pilot light in the gas range years ago. I don’t use the electric dryer. I use a clothesline.’ She also refuses double bags at the grocery store and grows her own tomatoes and herbs.”

Moreno married cardiologist Leonard Gordon in 1965. Shortly after they moved to the Palisades (1620 Amalfi Drive), their daughter Fernanda was born in 1967.

In 1987, the couple bought a penthouse in New York City, but continued to be bi-coastal.

Circling the News advisor Bill Bruns remembers, “One day at the Chamber, Arnie [Wishnick, the Chamber’s former executive director] told me he had seen Rita and her husband next door at the UPS store. They were moving to New York and they had a box they were shipping. They told Arnie the box contained her four major awards/statues: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony.”

Moreno is one of only 15 EGOT winners, and when she completed hers in 1977, she was just the third person to do so. She also won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in “West Side Story” in 1962.

President George W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 and she received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2015. Three years later, she received the Peabody Career Achievement Award.

Moreno was born Rosita Dolores Alverio in Humaco, Puerto Rico, on December 11, 1931. Her mother moved to New York City in 1937, leaving Moreno’s younger brother (and reportedly unfaithful husband) behind.

Moreno made her Broadway debut when she was 13 in “Skydrift” with Arthur Keegan and Eli Wallach.

In a March 1954 Life Magazine story, she was profiled as “Rita Moreno: An Actresses’ Catalog of Sex and Innocence.”

Although she appeared in numerous movies, many of the roles were based on typical sexual and ethnic stereotypes. This was a problem that plagued Moreno throughout her career. However, she managed to dodge those roles in “Singing in the Rain” (1952) and “The King and I” (1956).

It was the film version of “West Side Story” (1961) and her portrayal of Anita that won her an Oscar: the first Hispanic woman to win the acting award.

Bob Hope was the emcee and Rock Hudson called her name as Best Supporting Actress. Moreno said she had not prepared a speech because she thought Judy Garland (“Judgment at Nuremberg”) would win. Accepting the Oscar, she said, “I can’t believe it. Good lord. I leave you with that.”

Moreno won a 1972 Grammy Award for her contribution to The Electric Company’s soundtrack album. In 1975, she received a Tony as Best Featured Actress in a Musical for “The Ritz.” She won Emmy Awards for “The Muppet Show (1976) and The Rockford Files (1974).

In her 2013 book, “Rita Moreno: A Memoir,” Moreno detailed her eight-year relationship with Marlon Brando, which started when she was 22 years old.

Marlon Brando and Rita Moreno in “The Night of the Following Day.”

She also briefly dated Elvis Presley, which was done to make Brando jealous. In a 2017 Vanity Fair story (“Rita Moreno Calls Marlon Brando ‘the Lust of my Life’”), the author noted: “Moreno wrote that ‘Brando was also a difficult personality.’ She said his actions during their relationship hurt her extensively. ‘He broke my heart and came close to crushing my very spirit with his physical infidelities and, worse, with his emotional betrayals.'”

In a May 2019 Closer Weekly story (“Rita Moreno Is the Proud Mom to One Daughter”), Moreno said nothing makes her prouder than her daughter and her two grandsons, 20 and 21, who will ride on the Rose Parade float with their grandma.

“Before her cardiologist husband died [2010], Rita and Leonard moved from L.A. to Berkeley because they ‘fell in love with the area’ — but most importantly, they relocated to be near their two grandsons.”

Still working, Moreno has teamed up with Pacific Palisades resident Steven Spielberg for a remake of “Westside Story,” which will come out in 2020. She also stars in Norman Lear’s remake of “One Day at a Time.”

In a January 2009 L.A. Magazine story (“My LA to Z: Rita Moreno”), she said she liked Will Rogers State Historic Park because “I can’t stand formal exercise. Hiking is the best way to work out the lungs and the legs. We love going there. Sometimes we take a picnic lunch or take our dog. Oh, and those vistas are outstanding!”

The former honorary mayor wrote about Pacific Palisades: “It’s beautiful and manicured in the nicest way. The neighborhood to me is more genuine than Bel-Air or Beverly Hills.”

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One Response to Former Pacific Palisades Honorary Mayor  Rita Moreno Is Rose Parade Co-Grand Marshal

  1. Tom Meade says:

    Thanks, Sue for the who’s who, how, what, why, where, when and now!

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