Chita Rivera was a mom to one child, whom she welcomed with her ex-husband Tony Mordente in July 1958
Chita Rivera will be remembered as a loving mother by her daughter, Lisa Mordente.
The Tony-winning Broadway star welcomed Mordente on July 30, 1958, with her then-husband, Tony Mordente. She was starring in the original production of West Side Story at the time, originating the role of Anita, and was so vital to the show that it was temporarily postponed when she gave birth to Mordente.
On Jan. 30, 2024, Mordente and Merle Frimarck, Rivera’s friend, announced that Rivera had died after a short illness. "It is with immense personal sorrow that I announce the death of the beloved Broadway icon Chita Rivera. My dear friend of over 40 years was 91," Frimarck shared in a statement.
Prior to her death, Mordente grew up in her mother's theater orbit, attending shows and developing a love for theater, which later turned into her own career.
"It was so natural, there was not a feeling of we have to be careful in showbiz and home and this and that — it's just that's how it was," she shared on the Children of Song podcast in April 2018. "When Mom was in rehearsal for something, I'd come with her. I grew up watching these amazing shows, the originals of certain things like Fiddler in the Roof."
From her West Side Story roots to her own Tony Award nomination, here’s everything to know about Chita Rivera’s daughter, Lisa Mordente.
Her birth postponed the production of West Side Story
Rivera fell in love with Mordente’s father, who played a Jet, while rehearsing for Anita, a member of the rival Sharks, for the original production West Side Story. Soon enough, she was expecting — and had no qualms performing when she was six months pregnant, she told CBS News in April 2023.
"My gynecologist had a heart attack when he finally saw the show,” she said. “But I had kept in shape."
Ahead of Mordente's birth, the show went on pause so Rivera could welcome her daughter. It then resumed production in London once Rivera returned.
She feels a special connection to West Side Story
Having been born as the first “half Jet, half Shark” — a forbidden pairing — Mordente said she always felt a special connection to the musical. During her appearance on the Children of Song podcast, Mordente shared that she would often get emotional during seemingly random parts of the musical. When she told her mother about it, Rivera told her she had specific memories associated with those parts.
“I would get emotional at certain points … and I would say that to mom and she would say, ‘Yeah I was in the wings when everybody was doing that and I would cry’ and I thought ‘Wow, osmosis,’ ” Mordente said. “I feel very much a part of West Side Story.”
She was able to separate her mom from her famous persona
Though her mom often brought Mordente with her to set or to the stage, the legend’s daughter said she could always note the difference between her mom at work and at home.
Mordente described her mom as “unaffected” by her success and fame in an interview with The Washington Times in December 2002.
“She taught me the difference between showbiz life and real life and [how] never the twain shall meet,” she said. “We had dinner at 4 p.m. every day at the table with place mats and no TV. There was Mom, and there was the lady I would sit in the orchestra pit and watch onstage. I never got the two mixed up.”
She followed in her mother’s footsteps as a Broadway actress
When she was a teenager, an agent reached out to Rivera to invite Mordente to audition for a show. While some parents have trepidations about their children following in their footsteps, Rivera said she was encouraging of her daughter going into acting if that’s what she wanted to do.
“I believe in if there are several doors and there’s a crack in one of the doors and the light is coming through, peek. You don’t have to open up, just peek,” she said on the Children of Song podcast. “Because I think there’s signs constantly that we have to be aware of, good and bad.”
Mordente worked in both TV and Broadway, starring in shows like Viva Valdez and Doc. On the theater stage, Mordente worked on 1978’s musical Platinum and 1981’s Marlowe.
She has a Tony nomination
In 1982, Mordente was nominated for a Tony Award for best actress in a musical for Marlowe.
“It’s all I knew, and I was blessed to be around people that were past professional — just like the deal,” she said on Children of Song of being a professional actress at such a young age. “It wasn’t extraordinary to me in that that’s just what you were supposed to be.”
She threw her mom a 90th birthday party one year before her death
When Rivera turned 90 in January 2023, Mordente threw her a big birthday party to celebrate the major milestone.
“I just had a birthday, and it was a biggie. I can’t get over the number. Ninety!” Rivera told AARP in March 2023. “My daughter, Lisa, threw me a party at a replica 1920s speakeasy in Manhattan. It was amazing — but when I spied a celebratory banner with that huge number, I shivered. That’s when my polite side, my Chita side, came out: I let them keep those decorations up.”
Before her death a year later, Rivera lived in upstate New York, with her daughter by her side when she passed.
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