Another honor for Broadway legend Chita Rivera: The Presidential Medal of Freedom
When writing yesterday about the Presidential Medal of Freedom being awarded to Harvey Milk and Billie Jean King at The White House in a few weeks, I did not mean to give short shrift to Chita Rivera who is also among the 16 individulals who will receive the nation’s highest honor for a civilian.
She’s a showbiz icon whose career in theater has been legendary. She was the original Anita in West Side Story, the original Velma in Chicago and also starred in Bajour, Nine, Mr. Wonderful, Merlin and Bring Back Birdie on Broadway. She won Tonys for The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman and her most recent Tony nomination came three years ago for Chita Rivera: A Dancer’s Life.
And yet, it seems she wasn’t always given the recognition she so deserved and was more than once passed over when show with roles she created onstage were made into feature films.
I chatted with Chita last month at the 13th Annual Los Angeles Tony Awards Party at Skirball Center where she was being honored with the life achievement award. She had also gotten one of the ultimate showbiz awards five years ago when she was a Kennedy Center Honoree and I wondered how she felt about being feted this way.
“It’s weird,” she said of the tributes. “It’s really very nice but when you’re a workhorse, the honor really is being able to do it every night in front of people and if they’re satisfied. Sometimes, you get a little shy when you hear people say really nice things about you, you know?”
“It’s really nice,” she added. “It kind of makes you want to get out there and continue to do it that’s all. It makes you want to not get sick, be in good health and just get up and do it.”