Nearly four decades after becoming the only Latin artist to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony, Rita Moreno receives a Kennedy Center Honor.
Rita Moreno with Rock Hudson at the 1962 Academy Awards after he presented her with the Oscar for best supporting actress for her performance as Anita in West Side Story.
The 34th Academy Awards ceremony, held on April 9, 1962, was a more staid affair than we’re used to today. No superstar selfies with Ellen; no A-list celebrities sharing a pizza. But when Rock Hudson announced Rita Moreno’s win for best supporting actress—her fellow nominees were Judy Garland, Lotte Lenya, Fay Bainter, and Una Merkel—the actress and singer, elegantly attired in a sleeveless frock with metallic accents and a bateau neckline, radiated warmth. And her acceptance speech, 11 words in its entirety, was all charm: “I can’t believe it! Good Lord. I leave you with that!”
Moreno has built a career of more than 50 years on just that combination of elegance, poise, and charm—not to mention her genuine triple-threat talent—and she will be in company every bit as illustrious on December 6 when she is saluted at the Kennedy Center Honors alongside the Eagles, Carole King, George Lucas, Cicely Tyson, and Seiji Ozawa.
I first met Rita in 2013, backstage at the Kennedy Center during the Latino Inaugural. Since then, we’ve developed a wonderful friendship. She has always been proud of her heritage, famously refusing to accept roles based on caricature or stereotype (the “Lolitas and Conchitas,” she calls them). It’s fitting, then, that she was the first Hispanic actress to win an Oscar and the only one so far to complete an EGOT—showbiz shorthand for winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony.
Now Moreno joins an even more rarefied group: those who have added a Kennedy Center Honor to their EGOT—a KEGOT, if you will. Her peers include Richard Rodgers, Helen Hayes, Mel Brooks, and Mike Nichols. But it’s fair to say that this multi-hyphenate talent is truly in a class by herself.
Adrienne Arsht is a member of the board of trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.