Rita Moreno's best-selling autobiography is a fascinating read — the story of a Puerto Rican who fought prejudice in the Hollywood studio system, had a longterm affair with Marlon Brando, dated Elvis Presley and won two Emmys, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony.
But Moreno didn't exactly jump at the chance to write it.
"People had been after me for years and years and years, and I kept saying, 'No, no, no, no.' It just seemed like too much trouble," she said. "And then I did a play about my life … and that finally convinced me that there was a book in it.
"I found, to my astonishment, that I'm very interesting," she said with a laugh. "Who knew?"
Of course, her story didn't end when "Rita Moreno: A Memoir" was published in 2013. At age 84, she's still working. She emceed the opening of Salt Lake's new Eccles Theater in October. And that came shortly after she finished starring in the 13-episode Netflix reboot of the sitcom "One Day at a Time," which begins streaming Friday, Jan. 6.
She's been performing since she was a child, but she's not ready to retire.
"Why the hell would I stay home, for Pete's sake? … I'm doing what I love," Moreno said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune.
Offered the part on "One Day at a Time," she didn't hesitate — because of the involvement of legendary TV producer Norman Lear, the man behind groundbreaking shows like "All in the Family," "The Jeffersons," "Sanford and Son," "Chico and the Man" and more.
"He's somebody I have always wanted to work with, and I thought, 'Well, that's not going to happen.' Especially as I was getting older and he was getting older," she said. "Who would've thunk? Here we are, these two old farts getting together for what really has turned out to be a spectacularly wonderful series."
Lear was equally enthusiastic about working with Moreno. "It's one of the great delights," he said. "She's a terrific woman. A great performer."
The original 1975-84 sitcom "One Day at a Time" was somewhat shocking for its era. It centered on a woman (Bonnie Franklin) who was divorcing her husband to raise two daughters (Valerie Bertinelli, Mackenzie Phillips) alone. And she had a younger boyfriend.
"Leave it to Norman to come up with the idea of doing the same issues-oriented show — with a Cuban family," Moreno said. "Well, that's just too marvelous.
"I'm just delighted. And it's funny as hell. And, very like Norman, it always has his poignant moments, which you never expect in a sitcom."
In the new version, Justina Machado stars as Penelope, who's just out of the Army, after serving in Afghanistan, and just out of a marriage. Penelope is a nurse who's the single mother of two — a highly opinionated teenage daughter, Elena (Isabella Gomez), and a more easygoing preteen son, Alex (Marcel Ruiz).
There's still a building manager named Schneider (Todd Grinnell), but this time he's younger and has plenty of money and considerable success with women. (Pat Harrington Jr. played the original Schneider.)
Moreno stars as Penelope's sometimes-intimidating mother, Lydia, who lives with the family and helps raise the children.
"I love playing Lydia. She's hilarious," Moreno said. "She's a real drama queen. I love that."
(Nanette Fabray played the grandmother in the original, but appeared in only 42 of 209 episodes.)
Lear is more than a producer in name only. He was in the writing room. He was at rehearsals and run-throughs. He even warmed the audience up before tapings, spending 10-15 minutes taking questions and talking to them.
"He was completely invested in it," Moreno said. "It was marvelous! And, by the way, he's 94!
"Suddenly, I felt like an 84-year-old child, which is hilarious," she added, with a laugh.
Lear guffawed when he heard what Moreno had said.
"Well, working with me she is a kid," he said, as he laughed.
The woman whose career has included everything from "The King and I" to "West Side Story," "The Electric Company" to "Oz" said performing in a sitcom in front of a live studio audience was a challenge.
"You really get nervous when you have lots of dialogue and you're learning a half-hour show every single week," Moreno said. "But, boy, does it keep you alert and alive!
"Memorizing a script every week was really keeping me jumping. And I thought — this is a good thing for someone my age, who, like almost everyone my age, is beginning to have trouble with her memory. Nothing major. Just the where-the-hell-are-the-keys kind of thing."
She doesn't have any trouble remembering when opportunities were few for minority actors in Hollywood. When the few roles for Latino actors were little more than stereotypes.
"It's certainly changed," Moreno said. "For a very, very long time, that door was barely ajar. Now there are really quite a few Hispanics playing roles in television. Now, we have to open the door wider."
Open it to more than just parts as drug dealers, gang members and their long-suffering mothers.
"Now we have to start doing real stories about real people," Moreno said. "And that, I think, is going to be slower. Quite a bit slower. For one thing, I think that bias dies very slowly. It's like molasses."
But the new "One Day at a Time" certainly is a big step in the right direction.
"Oh, absolutely," Moreno said. "And also, it's a show about a Cuban family that doesn't leave out the world. That's very important. You don't want to get so ethnic that you leave out half of the world. They strike a glorious balance on this show."
All 13 episodes of the new "One Day At a Time" begin streaming on Friday, Jan. 6, on Netflix.