Chita Rivera might not have won an Oscar for her portrayal of the beloved Anita of “West Side Story,” but she is the Broadway star that first put the no-nonsense Latina on the map. Long before Rita Moreno won her Oscar for her performance of the Puerto Rican shark girl who loved America, Rivera captivated audiences with the work she did for the character on stage. Still, despite never getting quite the same amount of credit as Moreno did in Hollywood, Rivera has established herself as a legendary Broadway icon in her own right.
As a winner of not one, but two Tony Awards for Best Lead Actress in A Musical, the Puerto Rican entertainer will now be honored by the award for her lifetime achievements and contribution to theater.
The Broadway legend became the first Latino American to have ever received a Kennedy Center Honors award back in 2002.
The Broadway veteran found fame in 1957 when she landed the original role of Anita in the Broadway production of “West Side Story.” In the six decades since, the performer has scored 10 Tony nods and two wins. Her first Tony Award came in 1984 for her performance in “The Rink” and again seven years later for her 1993 role in “Kiss of The Spider Woman.” Rivera has been known as the pioneer of Broadway roles, having also been the originator of characters like Velma Kelly in “Chicago” and Rosie in “Bye, Bye Birdie.” Besides her many Tony nominations and awards, Rivera was also honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 by President Barack Obama.
In a statement issued to the Hollywood Reporter, Rivera spoke of what the award means to her saying, “I could never have imagined the amazing journey I have had in the theater. I would not trade my life in the theater for anything as the theater is life.”
Rivera and Moreno’s public relationship served as a shining example of Latina empowerment.
There’s no doubting the entertainment’s industry love some girl on girl fighting. Still, despite the many female stars who fell victim to Hollywood’s efforts to create dramatic rivalries (the bitter relationship between Betty Davis and Joan Crawford is still talked about to this day, and it’s hard to find a mainstream digital media site that has not analyzed the female stars of Sex and The City bit by bit), Rivera and Moreno remained respectful toward each other throughout their careers. Despite various efforts to muster up friction (there is even a play about Chita’s life that includes a fight between the two stars), both actresses have expressed their fondness for one another. Rivera, who has often been mistaken for Moreno in interviews, once called Moreno a “great friend” after she had to correct a Fox news host who believed she had played Anita on screen.
In a 2009 profile interview, Moreno said of attempts to cause controversy between the two actresses, “Oh, it’s gotten very old and boring at this point. Chita performed at the Rrazz Room recently, and of course I went to see her, and we laughed and carried on a lot. And she came to see my show at Feinstein’s in New York, which was really delicious because she has the most raucous, dirty laugh you’ve ever heard.”