West Side Story: Rita Moreno nearly quit original film over lyrics calling Puerto Rico an ‘ugly island’

Original lyrics to ‘America’ were changed by Stephen Sondheim

West Side Story trailer

Rita Moreno has admitted that she almost quit the original West Side Story film after being asked to sing offensive lyrics about Puerto Rico.

The 89-year-old starred in the 1961 film as Anita, for which she won an Academy Award, and now has a role in Steven Spielberg’s film version.

Appearing on ABC News special Something’s Coming: West Side Story, Moreno admitted that she originally butted up against the original lyrics to “America”, in which she and Bernardo (George Chakiris) argue about whether the US or her native Puerto Rico is better.

“One day before we actually started rehearsals, I looked at the score and there it is… ‘Puerto Rico, you ugly island. Island of tropic diseases,’” Moreno recalled.

“It felt awful. It felt horrible. And I thought, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t do this to my people.’ I got this close to not doing it.”

The lyrics to the song were changed by Stephen Sondheim during rehearsals, with Moreno greatly relieved to read the new opening lines. “Within days, I got [a] new script. And when I looked at ‘America’, it went, ‘My heart’s devotion, let it sink back in the ocean.’ And I was saved.”

In another recent interview, Moreno opened up about dating Elvis Presley, admitting that she did it to make Marlon Brando jealous.

West Side Story comes to UK cinemas on Friday 10 December.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in