Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pioneer Actress Marquita Rivera Honored By The Puerto Rican Senate

The late Marquita Rivera, a Puerto Rican pioneer on Broadway and in Hollywood, was honored by the Puerto Rico Senate on Thursday, December 1, 2011 for her career achievements as the first native Puerto Rican actress to dance on Broadway and to appear in a major Hollywood motion picture when she made her American movie debut as a specialty performer in Road to Rio (1947) with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

The activity included films of Rivera, an acclaimed actress, singer and dancer. The Fajardo-born, New York-raised entertainer studied dance and flamenco at an early age and was a childhood friend of bandleader Tito Puente.

The ceremony, attended by two of Rivera’s seven children, Eugene Biscardi III and Jessica Wolford, included the unveiling of a portrait of the multi-talented entertainer. The painting, by local artist Juan Cuevas, takes its title from one of Rivera’s nicknames, "Queen of La Conga."

Rivera toured the country as a dancer and produced her own shows on Broadway. She also had a successful acting career in Mexico before taking her talents to Hollywood.

Marquita Rivera, born María Heroína Rivera de Santiago on May 18, 1922 to Don Jesús Rivera de Pérez and Doña Clara Asunción Castro de Santiago in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, was an actress, singer, and dancer who rose to international prominence in the 1940s and became notably known as the "Queen of Latin Rhythm." She enjoyed a strong musical career in the United States, Mexico, and in her native Puerto Rico.

The youngest in her large family, she began to study flamenco and castanets at the age of six with Eduardo Cansino, the father of Hollywood actress Rita Hayworth.

She became the featured dancer in the original "Cuban Pete" soundie with her childhood friend, Tito Puente playing the drums and the Puerto Rican bandleader Noro Morales playing the piano.

At the age of sixteen, Marquita Rivera was chosen to dance before Britain's King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, during their visit to the 1939 New York World's Fair. This was an honor that she would remember for the rest of her life.

Marquita also shared stages with such illustrious stars as Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney, Ann Miller, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Merv Griffin, and Betty Hutton. She was also a marquee name back in her homeland of Puerto Rico where she entertained at popular venues such as Zero's Nightclub with orchestra leader Miguelito Miranda and the El San Juan Theatre. She was dubbed "The Latin Hurricane" for her rapid and fiery dance routines.

In the mid-1940s, Marquita headlined at the infamous Lírico Theatre in Mexico City and was noticed by legendary film director Fernando Soler, who offered Rivera a movie contract with Azteca Studios. She acted for him in both the film drama Me persigue una mujer (1947) with José Torvay and David Silva, and the comedy El conquistador (1947), also starring Torvay and Enrique Herrera.

In 1948, Marquita Rivera was awarded the Key to the City of San Juan by Mayor Felisa de Rincón. in recognition of her achievements on Broadway as a dancer, and as an actress in Mexico, and Hollywood.

Marquita married and had seven children, Marquita, her namesake, Eugene, Jessica, Louis, Robert, Joseph, and Lucrezia.

In 1963, Marquita Rivera made a special appearance at Carnegie Hall at an International Mother's Day Gala Concert, to represent Puerto Rico.

Marquita Rivera, legendary performer and Latin icon, was the collective spirit and embodiment of her people.

Singer, actress, castanet player, flamenco dancer - all of these facets and more made up the lovely and talented "Latin Hurricane" Marquita Rivera, a trailblazing musical performer in her time and a legend in ours.

Through her legacy, people will remember Puerto Rico's contribution to the Arts in mainstream America.

During the 1930s and 1940s, Marquita Rivera gained international notoriety in the name of her beloved Puerto Rico that she always represented with pride in her heart and love in her soul for the island she called home.

She died in Los Angeles, California in 2002. In addition to her seven chilren, she left behind 17 grandchildren and a great grandchild.

For more information on Marquita Rivera, click here.