Read it. Digest it. And after coming up for air after a whirlwind read of George Chakiris’ autobiography, My West Side Story: A Memoir (Lyons Press, $24.95), you realize you were dazzled.
We will explain.
It’s obvious Chakiris loved dancing, a skill so streamlined and stylized that it launched him into a pretty nice career, most notably for West Side Story.
The actor/dancer was first cast in the London production as Riff, gang leader of the Jets. The musical premiered in London in late 1958, and Chakiris received rave reviews, playing the role for almost two years.
The actor, who is of Greek descent, then auditioned for the film version, but the producers thought Chakiris’ dark complexion made him more suitable for the role of Bernardo, leader of the Sharks. (Russ Tamblyn got the role of Riff.)
Switching sides to play Bernardo, brother to Natalie Wood’s Maria and partner to Rita Moreno’s Anita, secured him the role on Broadway after seven months of filming. The film (also co-directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins) returns to theaters for two days only as part of Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies’ TCM Big Screen Classics series with an introduction from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. The beloved movie musical will play in select theaters June 24 and 27 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. local time both days.
The movie not only gained Chakiris a huge following but also the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in Motion Picture.
West Side Story, all three versions, made him a star.
“I know exactly where my gratitude belongs,” Chakiris writes, “and I still marvel at how, unbeknownst to me at the time, the joyful path of my life was paved one night in 1949 when Jerome Robbins sat Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents down in his apartment and announced, ‘I have an idea.'”
It’s obviously Chakiris was not best friends with Jerome Robbins, the legendary choreographer who was a former Communist Party member and named 10 communists in his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Robbins did propel Chakiris into WSS stardom and the actor dishes Robbins. Up to a point. He doesn’t tap dance the legendary truths about the mercurial, relentless Robbins, but in a few breaths he credits him with shaping Bernardo into such a memorable character.
Yet, before his became known for his stage work, Chakiris had made a bunch of films—dancing, of course, but unbilled and in teeny roles He was one of the dancers in Marilyn Monroe’ “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).
It’s sad to know that, though Monroe was 23 years old and Chakiris was 19, they did not became friends, something he misses.
As he writes: “Marilyn had a quality that can’t be taught, or created with wardrobe and makeup, a quality you’re either born with or not. . . . Many decades later I accepted an invitation to participate in a documentary about her. I said then what I’ll always say—I’m sorry I didn’t get to know her, but I’ll always be grateful I had the pleasure working with her.”
Can you spot him in the snippet below?
He appeared as a dancer alongside Rosemary Clooney, as she warbled “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me” in White Christmas (1954). See him?
TV shows, two record albums, sundry stage work and more films were wedges between his years. It’s sad that his film career was so spotty. Two films made in France—Is Paris Burning? (1966) and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967) are really good and still hold up; The Big Cube (1969, watch Lana Turner on LSD!) and Jekyll and Hyde…Together Again (1982) are jokes.
Today, the 86-year-old thespian still creates, this time making sterling silver jewelry—pendants, bracelets, earrings. What started as a hobby blossomed into a full-time business. Chakiris’ stunning works can be seen (and bought) at georgechakiris.com/jewelry.
And before you ask, the answer is no. In the book, Chakiris refuses to confirm his sexual orientation.
He has kept details of his love life hidden from the media’s attention, yet it is widely believed among Hollywood actors and actresses that he is gay – even the popular movie and TV series rating website IMDb has featured him in their “500 Gay Actors & Personalities” list. Some have even claimed that George secretly married his long-term partner sometime in the 2000s, but no proof has been provided to support the claims.
His is a terrible bother to me, born one day after Chakiris came out (of his mother) and into the world. If he is gay, it would serve as a great benefit to those boys and girls, men and women, questioning their sexuality, fighting the bullying, dancing around suicidal thoughts. I have the same feeling about Lily Tomlin and Barry Manilow’s queer denials—the singer especially. Everyone knew he was gay yet for decades he made up girlfriends and excuses. When he finally married his long-time partner and manager Gary Keif in 2004, his excuse for the delay: “I thought it would hurt my career.”
That’s why my Manilow CDs have been destroyed and why Chakiris book was given away.
Not all acting succeeds.
I knew Dolly Rebecca Parton and I would become fast friends when she let me hold her left breast. Before you start calling the tabloids or TMZ, let me explain. It was 1987, and we were in a photographer’s studio on the Upper East Side where Dolly was being photographed for the cover of Redbook.
She was dressed in a handmade denim blouse (size 0), the wig was perfectly placed, the makeup flawless. She eyed the catered buffet and picked up a piece of chicken with her two fire-engine red (fake) fingernails, brought it to her mouth and, plop!, the sliver landed on her blouse, smack-dab on her left . . . well, you get the picture.
The adrenaline kicked in. “Quick, Dolly!” I said. “You hold and I’ll wipe.” I poured water on a paper towel and began to very gently dab the spot. Dolly grabbed a portable hair-dryer and with that infectious giggle cooed, “Now quick! You hold and I’ll dry.”
With those seven simple words, my entry into the dizzy, delightful world of Dolly Parton—40DD-17-36—had begun. “One day,” I thought to myself, “I will live to write about this.”
The shoot was a success, and as Dolly climbed into her limo, I whispered, “I feel like your bosom buddy.” Without missing a beat, she said, “And my breast friend.”
And so Dolly—so surgically streamlined so many times she’s starting to look like a Siamese cat—continues to be honored and remembered, in books, TV specials, films, a failed Broadway musical, a Time-Life super-duper (and expen$ive) DVD box set and the marvelous PBS program Dolly Parton: 50 Years at the Opry.
The Queen of Country Music celebrates 50 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Recorded live in Nashville, this amazing special pays tribute to her songs and career with special performances from Dolly and her star guests, including Lady A, Emmylou Harris and Hank Williams, Jr. This incredible concert brings together five decades of hits & memories into one unforgettable evening of entertainment for everyone to enjoy.
There are a symphony of almost undetectable sounds that make up a moment of silence, and Peter Lucian (portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard) is determined to catalogue them all.
Through his job as a New York City “house tuner,” the hyper-methodical Peter works meticulously to diagnose the discordant ambient noises—produced by everything from wind patterns to humming electrical appliances—adversely affecting his clients’ moods.
When he takes on the particularly difficult case of Ellen (Rashida Jones), a lonely woman plagued by chronic exhaustion before Peter offers the opportunity to help her. He finds that the mysteries of the soul may be even greater than the mysteries of sound. Harmony and romance is in the air. Hear them?
You will hear the quiet sound of a DVD spinning in your player . . . welcome to The Sound of Silence (IFC Films), a quietly moving portrait of a harmony-obsessed man learning to embrace the dissonances of human emotion, inviting viewers to hear the world with fresh ears.
First Run Features has released the DVD of Unmarked not only explores these untold stories of the past but also the efforts underway to preserve them.
Throughout the South, vast numbers of African-American gravesites and burial grounds for enslaved persons have been lost or are disappearing through neglect and nature reclaiming the solemn tombstones and markers.
Recently, there has been a rise in the restoration and preservation of these forgotten sites by those who have a personal connection with the deceased or an appreciation of their historical significance.
A history lesson in 40 mesmerizing minutes.
Meet Oleg Pogodin, Irina Pivovarova, Sergey Korotkov, Dmitry Pinchukov and Dmitry Kiselev, the team who wrote (first 4) and directed Spacewalker, a nifty thrilling flick.
In the heat of the Cold War, the USSR and USA compete for supremacy in outer space. Both superpowers race to be the first nation to have a man complete a spacewalk. No price is too high and no risk is too great.