Morgan Freeman's induction as the 39th recipient of the AFI Life Achievement Award on June 9 brought out such big-name stars as Sidney Poitier, Clint Eastwood, Tim Robbins, Matthew McConaughey, Don Cheadle, Garth Brooks, Matthew Broderick, Helen Mirren, and Samuel L. Jackson. But the most poignant moment of the evening was Rita Moreno's heartfelt tribute that took the audience (myself included) back to the early '70s when she and Morgan taught many in attendance how to spell.
In her speech, airing Sunday night (9/8c) as part of TV Land's broadcast of the black-tie gala, Rita, 79, reminisced about the six years she and Morgan, now 74, spent on PBS' wacky educational children's series, The Electric Company. Some of you may still remember Rita belting out, 'Hey you guyyssss!' or Rita and Morgan in silhouette sounding out two fragments to form a word. Shhh...Out: Shout! Yell... Ow: Yellow! (Two 'Best Of' sets are available on DVD.)
Rita, currently co-starrring on TV Land's new Fran Drescher sitcom, Happily Divorced, recalls her years co-starring with a man who would go on to big screen glory in such classics as Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank Redemption and Million Dollar Baby.
TV Guide Magazine: When you started on The Electric Company, you already had starred in such big-screen blockbusters as West Side Story and Carnal Knowledge. Why do a kiddie show at that time in your career?
Rita Moreno: At the time, my colleagues warned me not to do it. They said, 'God, if you do that you will never work as an adult again.' But I thought it was really important to teach children. And Morgan has always been really invested in education for children. I thought, 'to hell with it. If I don't work in film, I'll do theater.'
TV Guide Magazine: What do you remember most about working with Morgan on the show?
Rita: Morgan was the highlight of my time there. We would break each other up terribly. There are a couple episodes where you can see us trying desperately not to laugh. The work he did after he left the show was stunning. No wonder he'd get impatient on our set sometimes. That man just wanted to go out and do some heavy acting.
TV Guide Magazine: Your best memory of the man?
Rita: He did something wonderful for me when I was given the star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Someone very well known was going to do the emcee chores and at the last minute pulled out. We called Morgan, and on his own dime, he flew from Mississippi to L.A. and did my emcee chores. I will never forget that generosity.
TV Guide Magazine: What were some of the characters you and Morgan played on The Electric Company?
Rita: He played a vampire and I played an evil little girl named Pandora with big golden curls who was the brat of the century. She scared everybody. He came in to bite her neck and she was so nasty that she drove him away. We would also do these skits on movie sets. He played a character named Marcello, who would hold the cue cards and was terrified of my character. Whenever an actor got the words wrong she'd yell, 'Marcello!' He'd come out terrified and I'd take my crop and beat the hell out of his cue cards.
TV Guide Magazine: What do you remember about forming those words in silhouette?
Rita: Those were very difficult to do. We had a lot of problems working in front of that screen for hours. And then of course a lot of kids would do bad words in that style when they got older. Shhh --: Sh--! Fu---Fu--!!.
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