Tony Mordente, “West Side Story” actor and ex-husband of the late Chita Rivera, dies at 88

Mordente directed dozens of TV shows, including "Family Ties," "Walker, Texas Ranger," and "7th Heaven."

Tony Mordente, who was part of the cast in the original stage show of West Side Story, as well as the 1961 film version, and went on to direct TV, died on Tuesday, June 11, in Henderson, Nev., according to his online obituary. He was 88.

On the stage, the Broadway actor, dancer, and choreographer played a Jet named A-Rab in the original 1957 production about feuding teenage gangs that was inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Later that year, he married his costar Chita Rivera, who originated the role of Anita and would go on to become a Broadway legend and Tony winner.

Although Rivera was not given a role in the 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story, Mordente was, albeit in a different role. Instead of playing A-Rab, he took the part of a short-tempered Jet named Action in the movie musical directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, staring Natalie Wood as Maria and Rita Moreno as Anita.

<p>Silver Screen Collection/Getty</p> Tony Mordente in the original "West Side Story" movie.

Silver Screen Collection/Getty

Tony Mordente in the original "West Side Story" movie.

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Mordente recalled in a 2007 interview for the PBS series American Masters that the stage cast members playing the rivals stayed to their own during production, so there was blowback when he began dating his costar. (Rivera died earlier this year at age 91.)

"It just so happened that the the Jet boys didn't speak to me for about two weeks of rehearsal, I was completely shut out. I mean, they were really angry," Mordente said.

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Eventually, he reconciled with them.

"I sat down with them in the dressing room in a rehearsal period and I just said, 'Hey, look, guys, I'm part of the Jets. You know, I mean, what I'm doing out there is my personal life. We got to keep our gang together."

Mordente and Rivera had a daughter, Lisa, who followed in her parents' footsteps and was nominated for a Best Actress Tony in 1982 for the musical Marlowe. The couple divorced in 1966.

<p>MediaPunch/Shutterstock</p> In December 2005, Tony Mordente arrives at "Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life" in New York City.


In December 2005, Tony Mordente arrives at "Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life" in New York City.

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Beginning in the '70s, Mordente directed dozens of TV shows. His credits include Rhoda; M*A*S*H; Family Ties; The A-Team; Matlock; Walker, Texas Ranger; and the final series he directed, 7th Heaven.

He married Jean Fraser in 1978.

Mordente's survivors include daughters Lisa and Adriana.

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.