My LA to Z: Rita Moreno

The singer, dancer and actress tells us where she keeps those killer legs in shape when she’s in town and how she fell in love with the Watts Towers


Rita Moreno won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for West Side Story (if you’ve never seen her performance as Anita in one of the most exciting five minutes in movie musical history, you’re loco), an Emmy for both The Muppet Show and The Rockford Files, a Grammy for an Electric Company album, and a Tony for The Ritz. On Thursday, February 19, Angelenos will have a rare opportunity—as in, it’s been a few decades since she’s done this—to see Moreno perform live in town, in a cabaret act at the newly opened Conga Room at L.A. Live. Go here for tickets. Moreno, who has lived in Berkeley with her husband for the last 16 years, was a longtime resident of L.A. prior to that and still visits. Here’s what she likes.


Will Rogers State Park

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!

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Graumans Chinese Theatre

What a great place! When we did premieres, you put on your gown and tux and your car stopped in front of the theater, red carpet. You know the opening scene of Singing in the Rain? [Moreno was in the film] That’s how it looked! They were sticking microphones in your faces, there were TV reel cameras. People still respond to that kind of glamour.

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Brentwood Country Mart

I love it! The food places, with all the little boutiques squeezed between. Of course the barbecue place—even more than the barbecue, I love their julienned French fries. That firepit that you sit around on the benches, too—I love the whole area, it’s just gorgeous.

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Even when I’m in town for a day, we rent a car and do it. Just breathtaking.





Watts Towers

When I first went to California, in the ’50s, I was quite young and a rather callow starlet. A friend took me here and it shook me up. I was so moved by it, I was enlightened. It was very exotic to go there, to see Sam Rodia’s amazing tribute to his United States of America rising out of the rubble. There were still places that didn’t have bottlecaps or ceramics yet. I met Mr. Rodia, he was there and very accessible. A very sweet and humble man, and weathered. He looked like an old wallet, he’d been out in the sun so much. I asked him why he did it, and he said, “because I love this country so much. I don’t have money and I don’t have the means to do something fancy, so I decided to erect this and dedicate it to this wonderful country.”

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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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Central Market

We always made a once-a-month sojourn there. We would go down there and buy food, because I love to cook. I cook a lot of Puerto Rican, Caribbean—sweet plantains, fruits, vegetables.

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It’s really a terrific museum, with great and innovative programs in a remarkable space.

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The MGM Lot

You have to envision this little Puerto Rican girl coming into the studio of her dreams—the home of Gene Kelly and Ann Miller, of Judy Garland, for Pete’s sake! All the time I was under contract there, three years, I was visiting sets constantly. I didn’t have anything else to do! I’d have lunch in the commissary, and I remember Elizabeth Taylor coming in and I almost wet my knickers. It had this amazing, beautiful gate like Paramount. When I did Carnal Knowledge with Jack Nicholson, he told me, “I used to wait for you at the gates. You always wore these very tight clothes, you were very tan and very hot.” I just sat there with my jaw dropped! MGM was Oz, it was my dream come true.

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Images courtesy of (in order): (1) Flickr/by Jeremy & Susanne  (2) Flickr/by Minamie’s Photo, (3), (4) Flickr/by flismac, (5) Flickr/by Nitro101, (6), (7) Flickr/by vmiramontes, (8) Flickr/ by Daquella manera, (9)