Three-time Tony Award winner Chita Rivera has been lighting up Broadway stages since the ‘50s. She originated the role of Anita in the 1957 production of West Side Story, which eventually led her to meet her future husband, Tony Mordente. The couple were married for nearly a decade before divorcing in 1966.
Chita and Tony walked down the aisle in 1957 after starring in the show that would later be adapted into one of the most popular musical films of all time. The couple welcomed their only child together, daughter Lisa Mordente, in July 1958. Both Chita and Tony went on to star in the West End production of West Side Story after Lisa’s birth.
In 1961, Tony was cast as Action in the West Side Story film that won 10 Academy Awards. He once again worked with Chita in Bye Bye Birdie in 1961. The New York native served as an understudy while she played the female lead, Rosie Alvarez. The family traveled to England often to perform when Lisa was very young.
“My daughter was a year old the first time we went there and the second time, with Birdie, she was 3 years old,” Chita told The Cinematic Journal in June 2020. “Each one of those shows was a big hit and the audiences were wonderful. I’ve had the opportunity to not just work in England, but to live, have neighbors, and have a life there. We have many many friends in England.”
The couple divorced five years after performing in Bye Bye Birdie but maintained a great relationship over the years. Tony continued to snag minor roles on Broadway, film and television and worked as a choreographer on several variety shows. The Breakfast at Tiffany’s choreographer led a successful arc on the hit ‘70s sitcom Rhoda. He later landed a recurring role on the acclaimed drama 7th Heaven, which lasted for more than 30 episodes.
Tony married Jean G Fraser in 1978, and the pair welcomed one child together. Chita never remarried, but she did gain even more prominence as a Broadway powerhouse. Her marriage to Tony was depicted in her 2005 musical, Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life. The Hunter actor attended the opening of his ex-wife’s show at the Schoenfeld Theatre in New York with Lisa.
In 2007, the famous exes posed for photos on the red carpet at the 19th Annual Gypsy of the Year competition where the original cast members of West Side Story reunited. The Tick, Tick… Boom actress spoke in a 2020 interview about seeing her ex-husband at rehearsals for the production more than 60 years ago. Chita recalled that Tony “literally flew” through the air as he nailed the choreography, per Playbill. Their friendship has lasted throughout their busy careers as they coparented their daughter, who followed in their acting footsteps.