production. He was asked to prepare scenes
to audition for Riff and Bernardo, the leader
of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. He was
cast as Bernardo.
“People in the Hispanic community always
thought I was Hispanic,” he says. “Because I’m
Mediterranean, Greek, it wasn’t a long shot to
Jerome Robbins encouraged the two
“gangs” to stay separate. “There was actually
this competitive, in the best sense of the word,
thing between the Jets and the Sharks, with one-
upmanship, one gang against the other gang,”
Chakiris relates. “It was a great device to under-
JOE OSBORNE/VEN TURA FILM FESTIVAL
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 53
Chakiris (left) and Tamblyn (right) today. Below: Russ Tamblyn (left) and George Chakiris (right) as Riff and Bernardo.
line and keep the danger always present.”
In an industry where casts usually go
separate ways after production, Chakiris says
this film created a special bond. “We all stay
in touch,” he says. “We all shared this incred-
ible experience together.”
As for the film itself, Chakiris says,
© MGM/FOX. ALL RIGH TS RESERVED
“People continue to love it; it does not seem to
be a generational piece.… It’s so relevant in
terms of its basic messages. There was so
much in this film that people can identify
with in our lives today, and not just in 1961.”
“I really thought I was going to do Tony,”
says Russ Tamblyn ( www.russtamblyn.com).
He was so focused on that role that he even
advised another actor how to audition for Riff.
When he was offered the part of Riff,
MGM, to whom he was under contract, initially turned it down, saying playing a gang
leader would not be good for his image.
Tamblyn went to his bosses and begged.
Talking about the competition between
the two “gangs,” as encouraged by Robbins,
Tamblyn recalls, “We played a lot of tricks on
each other. In New York, we were shooting on
the street. George [Chakiris] climbed up on a
fire escape and hung a sign that said ‘S;;;;;.’
And all the Jets ran over to me and said, ‘Are
you gonna let him get away with that?’ I had
to climb up and tear it down.
“It’s the best movie I’ve ever done,”
Tamblyn says, proudly. “Here, 50 years after
we made the movie, half a century later, it’s
still being honored in a big way. Fox has made
this Blu-ray rendition that is just beautiful
and so clear, and you see so many things that
you missed in the original.” C
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