George Chakiris


Actor
George Chakiris

About

Also Known As
George Kerris
Birth Place
Norwood, Ohio, USA
Born
September 16, 1934

Biography

A talented stage and screen dancer, actor George Chakiris rose from the chorus to the role of Bernardo, leader of the Sharks, in the celebrated film version of "West Side Story" (1961). His fiery turn won him an Academy Award, but did not translate into lasting fame. After a sporadic career in Hollywood as heroic young men of various nationalities in "Diamond Head" (1963) and "Kings of t...

Biography

A talented stage and screen dancer, actor George Chakiris rose from the chorus to the role of Bernardo, leader of the Sharks, in the celebrated film version of "West Side Story" (1961). His fiery turn won him an Academy Award, but did not translate into lasting fame. After a sporadic career in Hollywood as heroic young men of various nationalities in "Diamond Head" (1963) and "Kings of the Sun" (1963), he made a handful of fine if little-seen European films, including the charming French musical "Young Girls of Rochefort" (1967), before settling into character turns as heels or middle-aged Lotharios on American primetime and daytime television. He often cited "West Side Story" as his proudest accomplishment. It was undoubtedly the finest showcase for his dancing skills and magnetic screen presence, which went untouched in the half-century since the film's release.

The son of Greek immigrants from Turkey, George Chakiris was born Sept. 16, 1934 in Norwood, OH. His family relocated frequently throughout his childhood before eventually settling in Long Beach, CA. There, Chakiris joined the choir at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, and appeared with them in the 1947 musical "Song of Love" with Katherine Hepburn and Paul Henreid. The experience inspired him to find a way into the movie business, but he lacked the means to do so. After a brief stint at Long Beach City College, he discovered the American College of Dance in Hollywood, and became obsessed with joining the school and learning the craft. Chakiris had been dancing from an early age, often joining his sister in impromptu routines in the family's living room, but his visit to the college solidified his desire to dance in the movies. He took a job at the May Co. department store, which paid for a room on Hollywood Boulevard and the tuition to the school, as well as for night classes in dance, singing and drama. By 1951, he was appearing as a dancer or chorus member in numerous musicals, including the iconic "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number with Marilyn Monroe in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953), "White Christmas" (1954) and "Brigadoon." Most of Chakiris' early appearances were uncredited, though in films like "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T" (1953) and "Meet Me in Las Vegas" (1956), he was billed as George Kerris.

In 1958, he headed for New York City to make his mark on Broadway, but ended up in London for an 18-month stint as Riff in the West End production of "West Side Story." His experience with the show helped him land the part of the hot-blooded Bernardo when Robert Wise began casting for his 1961 film version, which in turn, launched his film career in a spectacular fashion. Wise's "West Side Story" won 10 Academy Awards, including a Best Supporting Actor trophy for Chakiris, as well as a Golden Globe. His success led to a five-picture deal with United Artists, though the terms of the contract were "pay or play;" in other words, if he found no concrete work prior to a payment, the studio would cast him in a film of their choice. This led to a string of high-profile but unremarkable features that frequently cast Chakiris as a headstrong ethnic type. He was a kindly Hawaiian doctor in "Diamond Head" (1963) opposite Charlton Heston, then a Mayan prince in J. Lee Thompson's "Kings of the Sun" (1963) and a Greek resistance fighter in "The High Bright Sun" (1964).

Most of these efforts had little impact on the box office, leading Chakiris to find more substantive work in Europe, most notably as the young hero of Luigi Comencini's award-winning crime film "La ragazza di Bube ("Bebo's Girl" ) (1963) and as a smooth-talking carny in Jacques Demy's beloved musical "The Young Girls of Rochefort" (1967) with Gene Kelly and Catherine Denueve. By the late-1960s, he was concentrating largely on a career as a nightclub singer while spending most of his screen time on television in a variety of guest-starring roles as either suave international villains or well-preserved romantic figures like Shirley Jones' old flame in the final episode of "The Partridge Family" (ABC, 1970-74). In 1974, he received praise for his turn as composer Frederic Chopin in the BBC miniseries "Notorious Woman" with Rosemary Harris as poet George Sand.

By the mid-1980s, Chakiris was a staple of daytime television, with recurring turns on soap operas like "One Life to Live" (ABC, 1968-2012) and "Santa Barbara" (NBC, 1984-1993) as well as a run on "Dallas" (CBS, 1978-1991). After a two-season stint as Professor Peterson, who aided "Superboy" (syndicated, 1988-1992) in fighting crime across Metropolis, he retired from screen acting, though he returned infrequently to the stage for productions of "The King and I" and "Jane Eyre." Chakiris devoted most of his time to creating and designing silver jewelry, which began as a hobby before blossoming into a full-time career.

Life Events

1947

Appeared as a member of the chorus in his film debut "Song of Love"

1953

Played a chorus boy in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

1954

Cast as a dancer in the films "White Christmas," "Brigadoon," and "There's No Business Like Show Business"

1956

Made television debut on the CBS Cole Porter tribute "You're the Top"

1957

Made dramatic acting debut in the war drama "Under Fire"

1961

Landed breakthrough film role as Bernardo in the big screen version of "West Side Story"; received Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role

1962

Landed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with the song "Maria" (No. 110)

1967

Co-starred with Catherine Denueve and Francoise Dorleac in "Le demoiselles de Rochefort/The Young Girl of Rochefort"

1975

Portrayed Chopin in the BBC biographical miniseries "Notorious Woman"

1986

Played recurring role on CBS series "Dallas"

1990

Acted in his last feature "Pale Blood"; released direct-to-video in 1992

1995

Returned to the stage as the King in a Los Angeles production of "The King and I"

1996

Portrayed Rochester in the London stage musical "Jane Eyre"

Photo Collections

Kings of the Sun - Movie Poster
Here is the American One-Sheet Movie Poster from Kings of the Sun (1963), starring Yul Brynner and George Chakiris. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

West Side Story (1961) - America The show-stopping number for Rita Morena in her Academy Award-winning role as Puerto Rican Anita, George Chakiris similarly honored as her boyfriend Bernardo, the song by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, in West Side Story, 1961.
Big Cube, The - Open, Adriana As improbable as anything in the LA counter-culture-clash melodrama The Big Cube, 1969, the opening scene in which Lana Turner portrays a legit theater actress, in a grand statement announcing her retirement from the stage.
Big Cube, The - Tastes Like Acid! At "Club Le Trip," innocent dingbat heiress Lisa (Karin Mossberg) gets initiated by new LSD-friendly pals Johnny (George Chakiris), Lalo (Carlos East) and Bibi (Pamela Rodgers) in The Big Cube, 1969.
Big Cube, The - Cats Like Her Devious ex-medical student Johnny (George Chakiris) with innocent lover Lisa (Karin Mossberg) conspires to send her mother Adriana (Lana Turner) on an LSD trip, about which she complains to confidante Frederick (Richard Egan) in The Big Cube, 1969.
Young Girls Of Rochefort (1967) - Andy Amoreux Jacques Demy directs, his screenplay and lyrics and music by Michel Legrand, a tune performed partly by Solange (Francoise Dorleac), collecting her young brother, but mostly by dazzled American Andy (Gene Kelly), his vocal dubbed in French, in The Young Girls Of Rochefort, 1967.
Young Girls Of Rochefort (1967) - Chanson De Maxence Shooting on the genuine location, Americans George Chakiris and Grover Dale observe as cafe owner Danielle Darrieux and daughter Genevieve Thenier greet Jacques Perrin as sailor Maxence, song by director Jacques Demy and Michel Legrand, in The Young Girls Of Rochefort, 1967.
Young Girls Of Rochefort (1967) - Marins, Amis, Amants Ou Maris Back on the square (on location in the actual town), American troupers and girlfriends Pamela Hart, the co-choreographer, and Leslie North, inform their boyfriends and employers (George Chakiris, Grover Dale) that they’re moving on, in Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls Of Rochefort, 1967.
Flight from Ashiya - Apologize Col. Stevenson (Richard Widmark) is persuaded by Lt. Gregg (George Chakiris) to attempt another rescue run then apologizes to Sgt. Takashima (Yul Brynner) for a racist comment in Flight from Ashiya, 1964.
Flight from Ashiya - Stevenson Col. Stevenson (Richard Widmark) volunteers to fly a rescue mission with Lt. Gregg (George Chakiris), who is then counseled by Sgt. Takashima (Yul Brynner) in Flight from Ashiya, 1964.

Family

Steven Chakiris
Father
Zoe Chakiris
Mother

Bibliography