Russ Tamblyn

Russ Tamblyn


Also Known As
Rusty Tamblyn, Russell Tamblyn
Birth Place
Los Angeles, California, USA
December 30, 1934


A boundlessly energetic presence in films for over five decades, Russ Tamblyn's extraordinary talent as a dancer was a key element to some of Hollywood's greatest musicals, including "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (1954) and "West Side Story" (1961). A juvenile performer from the age of 13, he played all-American kids in "Father of the Bride" and "Retreat, Hell!" (1952) before display...

Photos & Videos

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers - Publicity Stills
High School Confidential! - Lobby Card Set
How the West Was Won - Program Book

Family & Companions

Venetia Stevenson
Actor. Divorced; daughter of director Robert Stevenson and actor Anna Lee.
Elizabeth Kempton
Las Vegas showgirl. Married 1960; divorced.
Bonnie Tamblyn
Mother of Amber.


Tamblyn has exhibited his artwork at the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His work including poetry has been featured in international arts publications.


A boundlessly energetic presence in films for over five decades, Russ Tamblyn's extraordinary talent as a dancer was a key element to some of Hollywood's greatest musicals, including "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (1954) and "West Side Story" (1961). A juvenile performer from the age of 13, he played all-American kids in "Father of the Bride" and "Retreat, Hell!" (1952) before displaying his tremendous strength and agility in Michael Kidd's intense routines for "Seven Brides" (1954). He also fared well in straight dramatic roles, earning an Oscar nomination for "Peyton Place" (1957) before landing the role that largely defined his career: the devil-may-care Riff, leader of the Jets, in "West Side Story." As time went on, Tamblyn increasingly devoted his energies to the fine arts while still making appearances in film. David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" (ABC, 1990-91) gave his profile a brief boost, but he preferred to manage the acting career of his daughter, Amber Tamblyn, as well as work on eclectic stage shows like Neil Young's "Greendale" tour than returning to the Hollywood scene. However, his best screen work kept his legacy in the public eye for decades.

He was born Russell Irving Tamblyn on Dec. 30, 1935 in Los Angeles, the older of two boys by actors Eddie Tamblyn and his wife, Sally Triplett. His younger brother, Larry, found fame in the 1960s as a pop singer and keyboardist for the garage rock group the Standells of "Dirty Water" fame. Russ Tamblyn followed his parents' footsteps into an acting career while parlaying a natural grace and athleticism into acrobatics and dance. At 10, he was discovered by actor Lloyd Bridges, who gave him his first stage role in a play he was directing called "Stone Jungle." Three years later, he made his screen debut as a student opposite fellow child star Dean Stockwell in "The Boy with Green Hair" (1948). The following year, he landed his first starring role as a troubled kid who became the batboy for the Cleveland Indians in the low-budget drama "The Kid from Cleveland" (1949), which featured appearances by some of the club's real players, including Satchel Paige, Hank Greenberg and Lou Boudreau. Billed as Rusty Tamblyn, he soon landed a string of notable bit parts, including the young Saul in Cecil B. DeMille's epic "Samson and Delilah" (1949) and a young gun obsessive who grew into trigger-happy stickup artist John Dall in the noir classic "Gun Crazy" (1950). In 1950, he graduated to the major studios as Spencer Tracy's youngest son in "Father of the Bride" (1950) and its sequel, "Father's Little Dividend" (1951).

After honing his gymnastic skills at North Hollywood High School, the 17-year-old Tamblyn gave an impressive turn as a teenaged Marine on the frontlines in Korea in "Retreat, Hell!" (1952). His onscreen maturity landed him a long-term contract with MGM, where, billed as Russ Tamblyn, he essayed energetic young men in "The Winning Team" (1952) and "Take the High Ground" (1952) before earning his breakout role as Gideon Pontipee, the youngest of seven ill-mannered mountain men who must be groomed into suitable husbands in the musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (1954). Tamblyn's extraordinary agility and stamina were a perfect match for Michael Kidd's intense and often grueling choreography, and led to more dancing and singing on screen, including an uncredited appearance alongside the cream of MGM's musical talent in "Deep in My Heart" (1954) and as a youthful sailor in "Hit the Deck" (1955). He further impressed audience by dancing atop shovels used as stilts in the Western "The Fastest Gun Alive" (1956). Such feats led to his uncredited role as choreography advisor to Elvis Presley in "Jailhouse Rock" (1956).

Unfortunately, the late 1950s were a fallow period for movie musicals, and Tamblyn was forced to tackle straight dramatic roles. He fared better than most former musical stars, beginning with 1956's "The Young Guns" as an impressionable youth who fell in with a gang of rustlers. The following year, he received an Oscar nomination as a young man chafing against the hypocritical repression of small-town "Peyton Place" (1957), which also earned him a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer. After a dazzling turn as a young police informant who posed as a jive-spouting hipster to infiltrate a drug ring in the gleefully glib "High School Confidential!" (1958), Tamblyn became the face of the new musical movement of the early 1960s. He was the diminutive lead in George Pal's special effects-laded "tom thumb" (1958), which aided greatly in his portrayal of Riff in Robert Wise's "West Side Story" (1961).

Though actor George Chakiris had played Riff in the London production of "West Side Story," Tamblyn's boundless energy and physical skill made him a favorite for the ebullient character. Though his singing voice was partially dubbed in "The Jet Song" by co-star Tucker Smith, his seemingly limitless abilities and insouciant charm made Riff both a highlight of the film and his most enduring role. Surprisingly, Tamblyn himself was disappointed by the performance, which may have contributed to his gradual disentanglement from Hollywood in the years that followed. Initially, Tamblyn enjoyed plum roles in big-budget projects like the Oscar-winning "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" (1962), for which he reprised Tom Thumb, and Robert Wise's horror classic "The Haunting" (1963) as the jocular, skeptical owner of a ghost-plagued mansion.

In 1964, his contract with MGM had run out, and there were only dismal B-grade musicals like "Follow the Boys" (1963) and foreign productions like "The Long Ships" (1964) on his horizon. Tamblyn soon fired his agent and began devoting himself to the burgeoning counterculture with longtime friends and fellow dropouts like Dean Stockwell and Dennis Hopper. His work in collage drew praise from the art world, while his acting career dwindled into television work and low-budget films like "War of the Gargantuas" (1966), a giant monster movie for Japan's Toho Studios, which had created Godzilla. By the late '60s, he had fallen in with exploitation director and cult favorite Al Adamson, who directed Tamblyn in four films, including "The Female Bunch" (1969), which was shot on location at the Spahn Ranch, where the Manson Family called home, and the woeful "Dracula vs. Frankenstein" (1971). He also joined Dennis Hopper in Peru for the experimental "Last Movie" (1971), which helped to cast a pall over the actor's career for over two decades. Tamblyn descended further into obscurity, working largely in regional theater productions before resurfacing in 1982 as co-writer, choreographer and co-star of "Human Highway," a surreal, post-apocalyptic musical fantasy produced by and starring rocker Neil Young. Roundly dismissed during its initial release, the film later gained cult status on home video.

In the mid-1980s, Tamblyn enjoyed a recurring role as a choreographer on "Fame" (syndicated, 1982-87) and aided in the show's numerous dance numbers. He returned to no-budget horror and science fiction until 1990, when he received a welcome jolt of recognition from David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" (ABC, 1990-91). Virtually unrecognizable to "West Side Story" fans under a mane of frizzy hair and beard, Tamblyn played the eccentric psychiatrist Dr. Lawrence Jacoby, who saw the ill-fated Laura Palmer as a patient before her demise. One of his castmates was "West Side Story" co-star Richard Beymer, who played red herring Ben Horne. The cult appeal of "Twin Peaks" kept Tamblyn busy with low-budget films and TV appearances for the next decade. Between assignments, he managed the career of his daughter, Amber Tamblyn, who found fame as the star of "Joan of Arcadia" (CBS, 2003-05), on which her father occasionally appeared as God in the form of a dog walker. Her godparents were actors Dean Stockwell and Dennis Hopper. From 2003 to 2005, Tamblyn received rave reviews as director, choreographer and performer on Neil Young's "Greendale" tour. He returned to Hollywood filmmaking in 2011 with a small part in the neo-noir "Drive."



Cast (Feature Film)

Hits (2014)
Django Unchained (2012)
Running Mates (2006)
Inherit the Wind (1999)
My Magic Dog (1998)
Invisible Dad (1998)
Johnny Mysto Boy Wizard (1998)
Invisible Mom (1996)
Attack of the 60 Ft. Centerfold (1995)
Cabin Boy (1994)
Wizards Of The Demon Sword (1991)
Blood Screams (1990)
Aftershock (1990)
The Phantom Empire (1989)
B.O.R.N. (1989)
Necromancer (1988)
Professor Charles Delonge
Cyclone (1987)
Commando Squad (1987)
The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal (1985)
Human Highway (1982)
Black Heat (1976)
Win, Place or Steal (1975)
The Female Bunch (1971)
The Last Movie (1971)
Member of Billy's gang
Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)
Satan's Sadists (1969)
Free Grass (1969)
Son of a Gunfighter (1966)
The War of the Gargantuas (1966)
Dr. Paul Stewart
The Long Ships (1964)
Follow the Boys (1963)
Lieutenant Smith
The Haunting (1963)
Luke Sannerson
How the West Was Won (1963)
Reb soldier
The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)
The Woodsman
West Side Story (1961)
Cimarron (1960)
William "The Kid" Hardy
tom thumb (1958)
tom thumb
High School Confidential! (1958)
Tony Baker/Mike Wilson
Peyton Place (1957)
Norman Page
Don't Go Near the Water (1957)
Ensign Tyson
The Last Hunt (1956)
Jimmy [O'Brien]
The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)
Eric Doolittle
The Young Guns (1956)
Tully [Rice]
Hit the Deck (1955)
Danny Xavier Smith
Many Rivers to Cross (1955)
Shields [Cherne]
Deep in My Heart (1954)
Berrison, Jr.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
Take the High Ground! (1953)
Paul Jamison
Retreat, Hell! (1952)
Jimmy McDermid
The Winning Team (1952)
Willie Alexander
Cave of Outlaws (1951)
Pete Carver, as a boy
Father's Little Dividend (1951)
Tommy Banks
Gun Crazy (1950)
Bart Tare, age 14
Samson and Delilah (1950)
Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950)
The Vicious Years (1950)
Father of the Bride (1950)
Tommy Banks
The Black Book (1949)
Blanchard's son
The Kid from Cleveland (1949)
Johnny Barrows
The Boy with Green Hair (1948)

Writer (Feature Film)

Human Highway (1982)

Cast (Special)

TV Road Trip: New York (2003)
The Golden Globe's 50th Anniversary Celebration (1994)
Dennis Hopper (1991)

Life Events


Landed stage debut at age ten in "Stone Jungle"


Made film debut in Joseph Losey's "The Boy With Green Hair," his first appearance with fellow child actor Dean Stockwell


Demonstrated acrobatic dancing skills in his first musical Stanley Donen's "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers"


Cast in first film-starring role in "The Young Guns"


Nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in the popular melodrama "Peyton Place"


Co-starred as Riff in Robert Wise's hit musical "West Side Story"


Made last significant appearance in a major Hollywood release for three decades in Wise's "The Haunting"


Cast in last significant appearance in a big-budget release, the international co-production "The Long Ships" starring Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier


Starred in his first feature for exploitation producer-director Al Adamson, "Satan's Sadists"


Appeared briefly in Dennis Hopper's disastrous "The Last Movie"


Made feature screenwriting debut, co-writing with Neil Young, Dean Stockwell, Jeanne Fields and James Beshears in) "Human Highway"; directed by Young under a pseudonym (also acted)


Guest-starred on the sci-fi drama "Quantum Leap," co-starring Stockwell


Portrayed Dr. Lawrence Jacoby, a recurring character on the cult TV series "Twin Peaks"


Appeared as an interview subject on the Cinemax documentary "Dennis Hopper: Crazy About the Movies"


Made TV-movie debut on HBO romantic comedy "Running Mates"


Guest-starred on daytime series "General Hospital"


Landed a three-episode arc on CBS drama "Joan of Arcadia"


Appeared on the British series "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret"


Acted opposite Ryan Gosling in the action film "Drive"

Photo Collections

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers - Publicity Stills
Here are a number of Publicity Stills from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
High School Confidential! - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from Albert Zugsmith's High School Confidential! (1958). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
How the West Was Won - Program Book
Here is the souvenir Program Book sold at Roadshow engagements for the 1962 epic in Cinerama, How the West Was Won.
Hit the Deck - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Hit the Deck (1955), starring Jane Powell, Tony Martin, and Debbie Reynolds.


Movie Clip

Don't Go Near The Water (1957) -- (Movie Clip) It Is Not Customary Nearly 90 minutes in, P-R Lt. Siegel has drawn the short straw, required to escort a lady correspondent, presumed to be elderly or worse, when Eva Gabor appears as Miss Aldridge, disorienting all including Russ Tamblyn as Tyson, Jeff Richards as Lt. Pendleton, and Howard Smith as the admiral, in MGM’s Don’t Go Near The Water,1957.
Don't Go Near The Water (1957) -- (Movie Clip) Playin' With His Sexton Opening the straightforward MGM/Glenn Ford service comedy (his first following the hit The Teahouse Of The August Moon, 1956), narration by Keenan Wynn (who appears later as a nutty newsman) introducing Fred Clark as the CO, with Ford, Russ Tamblyn and Ike Gibson as Pratt, in Don’t Go Near The Water,1957, featuring Gia Scala, Anne Francis and Eva Gabor.
Long Ships, The (1964) -- (Movie Clip) To Lift The Curse Crafty Viking sea captain Rolfe (Richard Widmark) stages the sacrifice of a maiden to satisfy the rebellions Sven (Edward Judd) in The Long Ships, 1964.
West Side Story (1961) -- (Movie Clip) Jet Song One of the earliest, briefest and best-remembered songs from the piece, Leonard Bernstein music, Stephen Sondheim lyric, Jerome Robbins’ dance, Russ Tamblyn leading the New York street gang (Tucker Smith, Tony Mordente, David Winters et al), in West Side Story, 1961.
Hit The Deck (1955) -- (Movie Clip) A Kiss Or Two First scene and first song for Debbie Reynolds, tune by Vincent Youmans, Leo Robin and Clifford Grey, with sailor Danny (Russ Tamblyn) visiting rehearsal, concerned that his un-worldly sister (Jane Powell, not seen here) is expecting to audition, in MGM’s Hit The Deck, 1955.
Hit The Deck (1955) -- (Movie Clip) Hallelujah! The first number in the MGM/Joe Pasternak version of the Vincent Youmans, Clifford Grey/Leo Robin Broadway musical, Arctic-stationed sailors Russ Tamblyn, Vic Damone and Tony Martin (starting left, center and right) scheming to make a birthday cake for their C-O, in Hit The Deck, 1955.
Hit The Deck (1955) -- (Movie Clip) Lucky Bird We’ve just met top-billed Jane Powell as San Franciscan Susan, sister of sailor Danny (Russ Tamblyn), who’s returned from his Arctic tour of duty with a present, song by Vincent Youmans, Leo Robin and Clifford Grey, in the MGM Pasternak-unit musical Hit The Deck, 1955.
How The West Was Won (1962) -- (Movie Clip) You Can't Fight Front And Rear Confused Union solder Zeb (George Peppard) and a Confederate acquaintance (Russ Tamblyn) are discussing deserting together when they overhear a talk between generals Sherman (John Wayne) and Grant (Harry Morgan), during the Battle Of Shiloh, in John Ford’s brief segment of How The West Was Won, 1962.
West Side Story (1961) -- (Movie Clip) Gee, Officer Krupke! Russ Tamblyn as Riff, leader of the Polish-American "Jets," entertains his buddies with the popular novelty number by Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein, William Bramley his subject, Jerome Robbins choregoraphy in West Side Story, 1961.
tom thumb (1958) -- (Movie Clip) Sent By The Beautiful Lady? The rustling is the first appearance of the title character (Russ Tamblyn), whose arrival has been foretold to John the woodcutter (Bernard Miles) and whose wife (Jessie Matthews) shares his delight, in producer-director George Pal’s musical take on the sort-of Brothers Grimm tale, tom thumb, 1958.
tom thumb (1958) -- (Movie Clip) This Is My Song Russ Tamblyn (title character) awakens, his first night in the home of his quasi-adoptive parents, greeted by Dal McKennon as the voice of Con-fu-shon, and the first of the original songs wholly credited to Peggy Lee, in director George Pal’s England-made musical tom thumb, 1958.
tom thumb (1958) -- (Movie Clip) He Can Wiggle Through The Keyhole! The tiny title character (Russ Tamblyn) joins his new adoptive woodcutter dad (Bernard Miles) for a first day at work when two new characters appear in the forest, Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers as Ivan and Antony, with a plot in mind, in producer-director George Pal’s tom thumb, 1958.


Father's Little Dividend - (Original Trailer) In the sequel to Father of the Bride (1950), Spencer Tracy discovers the joys and pains of grandfatherhood.
Cimarron (1960) - (Original Trailer) A pioneer couple plays a major role in the settling of Oklahoma in Cimarron (1960), directed by Anthony Mann and starring Glenn Ford & Maria Schell.
Follow the Boys (1963) - (Original Trailer) If Connie Francis and Paula Prentiss want to return to Where The Boys Are, they'll have to Follow The Boys (1963) in this similar follow-up.
Deep in My Heart -- (Original Trailer) Jose Ferrer stars in Deep in My Heart (1954), MGM's all-star biography of Broadway songsmith Sigmund Romberg.
Haunting, The - (Original Trailer) A team of psychic investigators moves into a haunted house that destroys all who live there in The Haunting (1963), directed by Robert Wise (Telluride Film Festival honoree 1979).
Son of a Gunfighter - (Original Trailer) An outlaw and his gunslinger son (Russ Tamblyn) work out their family issues with firearms in Son of a Gunfighter (1966).
Don't Go Near The Water - (Original Trailer) Navy office workers scheme to build a recreation hall on a remote Pacific island in the military comedy Don't Go Near The Water (1957) starring Glenn Ford.
High School Confidential - (Original Trailer) Russ Tamblyn goes undercover as a student to bust a narco ring in High School Confidential (1958) with Mamie Van Doren and Jerry Lee Lewis.
tom thumb - (Re-Issue Trailer) A six-inch-tall boy takes on a pair of comical crooks in the fantasy film, tom thumb (1958), directed by George Pal and starring Russ Tamblyn.
Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, The - (Teaser Trailer) Laurence Harvey stars in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962), a film biography of the German storytellers.
Many Rivers to Cross - (Original Trailer) Eleanor Parker pursues trapper Robert Taylor through 18th Century Kentucky in the frontier comedy Many Rivers To Cross (1955).
Fastest Gun Alive, The -- (Original Trailer) Glenn Ford is The Fastest Gun Alive (1956), a reformed gunslinger whose past keeps catching up with him.


Edward Tamblyn
Sally Tripplet
Amber Rose Tamblyn
Actor. Mother, Bonnie Tamblyn; appeared on ABC soap "General Hospital".


Venetia Stevenson
Actor. Divorced; daughter of director Robert Stevenson and actor Anna Lee.
Elizabeth Kempton
Las Vegas showgirl. Married 1960; divorced.
Bonnie Tamblyn
Mother of Amber.



Tamblyn has exhibited his artwork at the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His work including poetry has been featured in international arts publications.