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|Born||Maria Heroina Rivera de Santiago
May 18, 1922
Fajardo, Puerto Rico
|Died||October 21, 2002
Los Angeles, California
|Occupation||Actress, singer, dancer|
|Spouse(s)||Albert Vernon Ashbrook (1946-49; divorced)
Dr. Eugene N. Biscardi II (1951-?)
Maria Heroina Rivera de Santiago was born in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. She was the youngest in a family of seven sons and five daughters. The de Santiagos moved to New York City when Rivera was a young child and it was there that she started a musical career. Studying dance and flamenco at an early age (6), she originally studied with Rita Hayworth's father, Eduardo Cansino. Hayworth herself gave Rivera a set of castanets as a gift.
Acting and singing career
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A childhood friend of bandleader Tito Puente, Rivera, accompanied by her costume designer mother, went on to earn a featured role as a dancer with "George White's Scandals of 1936", but it was her performance before King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at the 1939 New York World's Fair during their respective royal visits in 1939 that she considered the highlight of her nascent career. She toured Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia in bands headed by Paul Whiteman and Noro Morales. Appearing in many New York venues, including The Apollo, Roxy, Paramount, Loews State, Strand and Radio City Music Hall, Rivera shared their stages with Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney, Ann Miller, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Kathryn Grayson, Victor Borge, Ed Sullivan, Merv Griffin and Betty Hutton.
Rivera put together her own show and performed it at the Latin Quarter (nightclub) and Havana-Madrid in New York. She was also a marquee name back in her homeland where she entertained at venues such as Zero's Nightclub and El San Juan Theatre. In the mid-1940s Rivera was signed by Azteca Studios in Mexico City. She acted for director Fernando Soler in Me perigue una mujer (1947) with Jose Torvay and David Silva, and the comedy El Conquistador (1947), starring Torvay and Enrique Herrera. After her contract ended at Azteca, Rivera went on to sign a Hollywood contract with a Paramount Pictures, and made her American movie debut as lead singer and specialty performer in the Hope-Crosby-Lamour comedy The Road to Rio (1947). Rivera was selected (in a popularity poll by Mexican filmgoers themselves) to star in a Hollywood film biography of the late Mexican spitfire Lupe Vélez. The film was shelved when legal issues involving Ms.Vélez's estate arose.
She continued to work in "hot spots" such as the famous Ciro's nightclub with Desi Arnaz's band. In 1948, Rivera was honored with the Key to the City of San Juan by Mayoress Felisa Rincón de Gautier for her achievements on Broadway, Mexico, and in Hollywood. Today she is being honored with a huge event in Puerto Rico ...November 29, 30 and Dec 1. Marquita Rivera will be given some special honors: a proclamation given by the Senators and House of Representatives of Puerto Rico and then a separate Award by all the Mayors of Puerto Rico to commemorate her achievements as one of the first Latin/American actresses.
Rivera was married to business tycoon Albert Vernon Ashbrook from 1946–49, by whom she had one child, Marquita, her namesake. In 1951, she married physician Eugene N. Biscardi II in New York City. They eventually became a family of seven children.[clarification needed] Of their children, eldest son Eugene Biscardi III is a one-time model-turned-fashion photographer who has appeared occasionally as an actor on film and TV, and daughter Jessica Biscardi is a former model/actress and former "Miss New York".
By the 1950s, Rivera had phased out her career in order to concentrate on raising her large family. In 1963, however, she made a special appearance at Carnegie Hall that featured an all-star lineup, including opera performers Thomas Hayward, Rina Telli, Dino Formichini and James Boxwill, led by Philharmonic conductor Warner S. Bass. She did not appear again publicly until 1977 when she returned to the stage in a limited engagement of her own off-Broadway revue, The Marquita Rivera Show. In the 1980s her husband, Dr. Biscardi, retired and the couple relocated to Los Angeles where Rivera would occasionally make TV appearances. She also traveled frequently throughout the South on the beauty pageant circuit as a judge. Following the death of her husband in 1988, Rivera chose to retire completely from the limelight.
References in popular culture
- Marquita is one of the legacies honored in Miluka Rivera's book “El legado puertorriqueño en Hollywood, los famosos y los olvidados” (The Puerto Rican Legacy in Hollywood, the Famous and the Forgotten) 
- Marquita was the inspiration for the protagonist and is featured on the cover of Mexico City The Golden Years
- 1948: Honored with the Key to the City of San Juan, Puerto Rico by Mayoress Felisa de Rincon, for her achievements on Broadway, Mexico, and in Hollywood.
- 2011: Puerto Rico Senate Legacy Award.
- 2011: Federation of Mayors Award, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
- 2012: City of Chicago Mayors Award of Recognition.
- 2012: Antonio Martorell Award for Artistic Excellence by the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture (IPRAC).
- Hollywood Reporter (2002-11-06). "Obituaries". allbusiness.com. Retrieved 2008-04-14.
- Marquita Rivera profile, prpop.org; accessed September 24, 2016.
- Vogel, Michelle. "The Original Lupe Vélez Biopic…and the Star Who "Almost" Played Her…". Retrieved June 23, 2012.
- Vogel, Michelle. "Lupe Velez: The Life and Career of Hollywood's "Mexican Spitfire"". Retrieved June 23, 2012.
- "Pioneer PR performer Rivera honored". Caribbean Business PR. Retrieved June 23, 2012.
- Rivera, Miluka. "Press". Retrieved June 23, 2012.
- "Recognition of Marquita Rivera". Chicago Cultural Alliance. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
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