TCM gives Rita Moreno a well-timed tribute

Double feature coincides with opening of new 'West Side Story'

Rita Moreno of ‘West Side Story’ and ‘The King and I’ Friday on Turner Classic Movies

Q: The original 1961 screen version of “West Side Story,” which earned you an Oscar, is being shown by Turner Classic Movies the same day the remake — directed by Steven Spielberg — opens in theaters, with “The King and I” on TCM right after that. What do you think of the new “West Side Story,” in which you also appear?

A: You are in for one of the great experiences of all time.  This is a great film. It was probably one of the most thrilling times of my life. Also, let’s not forget — because I certainly can’t, that I am an executive producer on that film. That was a big, big surprise. I didn’t expect anything like that, and Steven offered it. I couldn’t understand why, but I said, “Oh, OK.”  It was great.

Many of the things that were not exactly right or real about the original have been corrected with a vengeance, and that has a great deal to do not only with Steven, but with (screenwriter) Tony Kushner … who, for those who don’t know, wrote “Angels in America.” And he has clarified a lot of those things in that (first) film that weren’t clear, that were fuzzy.

Q: How do you look back now at your early years in Hollywood?

A: I had no mentors. I had nobody to guide me. I had nobody who was saying, “Listen, sweetie, this is what’s happening to you and this is what you really should start doing. You have much more value than you think you have.” Maybe that was a good thing, because if I had suddenly decided to quit and get some self-respect in the movies, I wouldn’t have done a movie again.

Q: With such other recent projects as the “One Day at a Time” reboot and the “American Masters” profile of you (which is streaming on PBS video platforms), it seems that you’re as professionally active as ever. What do you attribute that to?

A: I’m about to be 90. In fact, on Dec. 11, I’ll be 90. And the new “West Side Story” opens on the 10th. I don’t even know what to say about this, except to say that the planets are aligned. I have no idea how this happened, but I have no complaints whatsoever.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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