Hardscrabble doesn't begin to describe the childhood award-winning actress Rita Moreno (neé Rosita Alverio) experienced growing up in the Bronx. Her idyllic days in Puerto Rico were cut short when she and her family immigrated to the States, dealing with street gang violence and racial slurs.
"Those names really remained in my soul forever and ever," Moreno, 81, recalled during an appearance on Makers, a new video initiative profiling notable women of the past and present.
Moreno found solace in dancing and soon decided she wanted to become a movie star. In 1949 Moreno caught the eye of a talent scout who introduced the then 17-year-old to MGM studio head, Louis B. Mayer. Moreno decided to put her best face forward -- by channeling screen icon Elizabeth Taylor.
"The hair, the eyebrows, the tiny waist," she recalled. "When I went to see Louis B. Mayer, the first thing he said was 'Why, she looks like a young, Spanish Elizabeth Taylor! How does a seven-year contract sound to you, young lady?'
"You can't imagine what it was like for this kid from the ghetto in the Bronx whose name was still Rosita Dolores Alverio," Moreno described of her first days at MGM. "I had died and gone to movie heaven."
But movie heaven didn't offer a lot when it came to meaningful roles for Moreno, who said she played every nationality and was offered inconsequential roles -- that is, until she auditioned and landed the role of Anita in "West Side Story."
Moreno won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance, but life didn't get any easier. To hear what happened to Rita Moreno's career after she won her Oscar, watch the video above.