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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  April 9, 2013 12:00am-12:30am PDT

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from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with legendary actress rita moreno. was born in puerto rico. she made her way to broadway at the tender age of 13. she earned an oscar, a grammy, a tony, and two emmys. she is the first and only latina to pull off that accomplishment. this is our 10th anniversary, and we are approaching our 2000 anniversary. we continue introducing you to the folks who make this possible. joining us is sheila. i have known her for more than 20 years. i am honored to have you on this
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program. be here.itizen honored to the conversations you have are amazing. it is such a blessing. tavis: why don't you introduce us? >> we are glad you joined us. a conversation with rita moreno is coming up right now. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminating hunger and we have work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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tavis: rita moreno was born in puerto rico and growth in the bronx and made her broadway debut at the age of 13. she went on to hollywood, excelling in movies like the king and i, west side story, and she has picked up an oscar, an attorney, two emmys, a grammy, emmys, a- a tony, two grammy, and was awarded a medal of honor. she has written a fascinating memoir about her remarkable life. entitleditled --
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"rita moreno: a memoir." i cannot begin this without showing a clip from west side story. sinkpuerto rico, let it back in the ocean ♪ ♪ always the hurricane blowing, always the population growing and the money away owing ♪ ♪ and the sunlight, and the native screaming ♪ island, smoke on your spipe ♪ tavis: when you see these clips all these years later, you think what? >> i love it. it takes you back to a time when i finally got a chance to do
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what i was able to do for years before that where i got to play a real hispanic person, not those things i did forever, where i say, why you know love me no more.o love but i got toy now, do nothing but that, and finally, came this wonderful of a hispanic woman with overuse. ovaries. it was nothing but joy. i was so proud. it is a great film. butdialogue is very dated,
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it is still a treasure. tavis: you wanted it, and you got it. what did you have to do to get the part? >> i had to audition. is that what you mean? tavis: how difficult or easy was it to land the parts? >> i had to audition for all the parts required of me. i did an acting audition, and the thing that scares me most was dancing, because i had not been danced at that time for at least 10 years. that is like asking someone to play five sets of tennis a day. i cannot do it. you cannot do it. they love i found out me for the part, but the one remaining audition was can she pull off this kind of dancing? i was of his spanish dancer.
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it was nothing like the kind of dancing you have to do in the west side story. i kill myself. i worked so hard in the dance studio. i registered for every class there was. i work from 9 in the morning until 9:00 at night just dancing. it was very frightening, because i thought, if i lose this, knowing they want me really and i am going to want to die. i did the audition with my heart in my throat. a friend of mine taught me some steps. those were the steps to "america" but were taught in the audition. most people do not now in an audition -- do not know in an audition you are taught the
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steps right now. now do it up to speed. i got through it, and i had to do the steps my friend taught me. jerome robbins was very anxious about it. he was a co-director and was dying to know how i did, and his assistant said, she needs some work. she has style. she is curvaceous and funny, but he said, you know what is really impressive? she learned so fast. i knew those steps. >> you get this part. it all works out. you go on to win an academy award. >> and a golden globe. tois: give me two seconds set this up. you know the story. i know you know where i want to go with this.
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i have had countless confrontations in my career on tv and radio and my shows about what an academy award is worth for a person of color. if you and i had hours to talk, i would give you my list. >> i love where you are going. no one has brought this upo. tavis: i would give you my list of persons of color and i believe have won academy awards and continue to elevate their game after they won. that is to say hollywood gave them additional opportunities to continue perfecting their craft as opposed to winning an academy award and we do not see them for years or you start doing a bunch of crap after you won an academy award, so that is a long way. after you won your academy
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award, how long until you did your next film? >> seven years. tavis: seven years. not seven months. seven years. >> i did not do a film for seven years. once i had that man in my grasp, i thought, no more stereotypical. i am not going to do any movies like that. i showed them. cut off my nose to spite my face. i was determined. i got the highest accolade in my for fashion -- in my profession, and i am not going to devalue it by going back to those horrible gang movies. that was all i was offered. i was offered something, but i did not do a film for seven whole years. tavis: talk to me about how you
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emotionally navigated that and how you professionally navigated that the dearth of opportunity. >> emotionally it was hard for me. i could not believe i was not getting any offers. normally you are supposed to have reams of offers from all kinds of places. a lot of people felt i was very talented, because they voted for me, including those in a position to employ me but did not, and it is because for whatever reason, i played the hispanic character, and they could not think beyond that box, and i navigated it a lot better, because i said, i will do theater. i will do tv. i will do summer stock. i will do whatever i can to and to what i love best
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earn some points in terms of enriching my talent. i have a long way to go. i thought i was good at west side story, but when i look at it, i could have done this. i could have done that, and i did not get a second chance to do this or that. tavis: what did you think you had to work on? what did you see immediately that you had to work on to continue to perfect your gift? >> i felt i had to work on my was neveroice compan, which very exciting. tavis: it works for me. >> it did not for me. morest felt i needed experience, and unfortunately, the only experience i could get was more movies, but i was not getting more movies, so i
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did the next best thing, which is to go to theater. theater is the one place where people of color or different nationalities had a better break, a better chance of doing roles on stage than you would in film or television. even now, the door is ajar. it is not wide open. you have got to push pretty hard still. we are not talking about somebody like jennifer lopez. she is some kind of female who defies belief and understanding, but it is still very difficult. parcellts offfered grandmothers who speak with an accent. but they are so bad.
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i am 85 now. >> i am not buying it. now -- i am 81 now. >> i am not buying it. >> i deliberately state might stage because it keeps me honest. -- state my age because it keeps me on a spirited >> one thing i like is the duty and transparency. i have never understood people who write a memoir and do not want to tell the truth. i had to talk about it. the publishers were so interested. you have to write about your life. i had to do that. i put myself on the carpet about certain things, but but as part of living. tavis: i want to your response
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-- to hear your response. you were one of the first was through the door. you were there first. >> rita hayworth was not considered hispanic. tavis: that is true. what is your sense of what the progress has or has 19? >> -- or has not been a? >> it is different. i have a big black audience i am proud to say, and i get out, how come you are the only one so far that ever got an oscar? the answer is not that difficult. you cannot or should not be nominated for an oscar unless you have turned in a performance that is special. you are not going to turn in a performance that is special if you do not get the right role. and the decade-long at a time
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when an unusual movie was being came along at a time when an unusual movie was being made. playing itill somewhere. you have got to stop at some writing latina roles for black roles. while those have a place, there is only one place. ghettoizeise -- ourselves as well as victimize ourselves. i hear people say, if they did not -- or is not my fault. they do not like black people. i am very much like bill cosby. i just say, that is true. what are you going to do about
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it? are you going to sit here and wine? you will end up washing dishes. you want to be a star. what is the star? fancy cars? my middle name is perseverance. believed i had talent, even when i felt like a very unserious person. i spent a lot of time believing i was not worthy. even then, i knew i had something special, and maybe that is what it takes. people need to have that kind of a particular chord driving them. them.e driving i felt i had talent. tavis: since we are talking about that. i want to say great. this week on this program, wednesday, thursday, friday
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night, we are going to broadcast highlights of a wonderful conversation i moderated in chicago last week called latino and asian and now: beyond the latino nation: beyond the numbers. twoeople gathered on stage, all day panels to talk about the aspirations, and dreams of the latino community, and it was not just about immigration. we talked about all the things the matter for this growing community, so that will be broadcast wednesday night of this week. >> that sounds fabulous. >> there is so much in this book i am going to bounce around. veryere very active,
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politically and socially engaged. you were at the march on washington, which we will commemorate celebrating the 50th anniversary of that come august of this year. >> i always get goose bumps. you into this? >> i have a wonderful roommate. i met her in group therapy. group therapy. >> she was very political, and i was always attracted to people who knew more than i did. i never finished school. i am not very educated. she got me very involved, and i began to understand being in service, this is what is really about. being in service and being
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involved in something greater than you is what makes a person complete and hold. -- whole. the very first thing i did for activism is an anti-atom bomb rally 100 years ago, and i felt wonderful at it, and i was told people taking pictures of me were not fans. it was the fbi. i got scared i got scared, and i thought, i am not afford to let that stop me. after that you thought, that is natural. that is something more sophisticated and more political. first, let me state about the martin luther king talk. i have a dream
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speech. >> we were 10 feet away from him. we were sitting at the monument. brando. >> we were not talking to each other then, but there we were in the sweltering heat. i have never felt such heat. i think my scalp and burned. i saw every drop of perspiration on that man's face, and i was mesmerized. i keep hoping i will see my face. it never showed up. -- and when he went off book, i thought i would have a heart attack. every once in awhile, i would look around me to the back, because we were facing dr. king, and the sea of wanting,
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manying, needing, faces, of them wearing the uniform of was particular time, which coveralls in denim. that is where i met james foreman, and we became involved. you met james foreman, and you became romantically involved. prior to that you had already been involved with marlon brando, who you were not speaking to. ofwe had a tumultuous kind relationship for almost eight a big-timehe was philanderer. i always feel like people
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collude. you be my daddy, and i will be your little girl. that kind of thing. i became subservient to marlon, because that is the type of man i always chose, a man who was more powerful, and his celebrity was thrilling. here i am. i can at least by association the powerful for the time i am with him for dinner or at the theater. that ended in a serious attempt at suicide on my part. i could not bear the humiliation i kept putting myself through. correct them and say, it could not have happened without me. i feel sorry for myself. i was a rather helpless creature then, but it could not have happened without me, that kind
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of a tempestuous relationship. it was exciting. the thing i liked the most is one time when i got really angry at him for finding ladies' clothing at his house, i got even at the hem. shall i go on? at him.-- angry shall i go on? tavis: please do. >> i read that elvis presley had thought to be at the commissary and wanted to meet me, so after -- of as presley saw me at the commissary and wanted to meet me, so after that they called me and said, my client, and elvis presley -- my client, elvis presley, would like very much to meet you.
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would you like to meet him now? i thought, yes, i would. started alvis, and we kind of relationship. he was not my kind of guy. you had marlon brando on this side and elvis presley. he was beautiful. perfect teeth. gorgeous, but he was a country boy. him, but iver met cannot imagine day, any more charismatic than brando. >> i do not think elvis is charismatic. there were many other wonderful words but applied but not charisma. marlon would fill a room the moment he entered it. the walls would start to sweat.
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tavis: you and i were supposed to do this for one night, and i have barely scratched the servurface. i would like you tomorrow night. >> i am going to beat miami. >> not in the next 30 minutes. continue this. tomorrow night, part 2, the new book is called "rita moreno: a memoir." i have got a lot more questions. i know she has got a lot more answers. we will see you next time. until then, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with moreno of which turned
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more called -- with her new "rita moreno: ata more memoir." >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is right thing. by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminating hunger and we have work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more.
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