West Side Story


2h 35m 1961
West Side Story

Brief Synopsis

A young couple from dueling street gangs falls in love.

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Musical
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1961
Premiere Information
New York opening: 18 Oct 1961; Los Angeles opening: 13 Dec 1961
Production Company
B & P Enterprises, Inc.; Beta Productions; Seven Arts Productions, Inc.; The Mirisch Company, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, USA; New York, New York, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the musical West Side Story , book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, conceived, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, produced by Robert E. Griffith and Harold S. Prince, by arrangement with Roger L. Stevens (New York, 26 Sep 1957).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 35m
Sound
4-Track Stereo (35 mm magnetic prints), 70 mm 6-Track (Westrex Recording System) (70 mm prints), Mono (35 mm optical prints)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.20 : 1

Synopsis

In the slums of the upper West Side of Manhattan, New York, a gang of Polish-American teenagers called the Jets compete with a rival gang of recently immigrated Puerto Ricans, the Sharks, to "own" the neighborhood streets. The tension between them is marked by their bullying and tormenting of one another, and when a series of incidents erupts into a fistfight on a playground, two policemen, the bigoted Lt. Schrank and Officer Krupke, arrive in time to break it up. Afterward, Riff, the leader of the Jets, suggests to his companions that they settle their differences with the Sharks once and for all by challenging them to a "rumble," which is their term for a street fight. Although Riff warns that the Sharks may choose to fight with zip guns or knives rather than fists, the Jets are enthusiastic about his idea. For support, Riff meets with Tony, a former member of the Jets who is like a brother and who now works in a candy store owned by good-hearted Doc. Riff asks Tony to attend a dance at the gym, an area considered neutral territory where Riff can present the challenge to Bernardo, the Shark's leader. Tony, who has lost interest in promoting violence, reluctantly agrees to accompany him out of friendship. When Tony confides that he has been having premonitions that something special is about to happen to him, Riff suggests that it may be waiting for him at the dance. Meanwhile, Bernardo's younger sister Maria and his girl friend, Anita, both of whom work at a bridal shop, are finishing a dress for Maria to wear to the dance, which will be her first since immigrating to America a month earlier. Although Bernardo has hopes of her marrying his comrade Chino, Maria tells Anita that she does not have special feelings for her brother's friend. That evening, at the gym where the dance is held, Bernardo is introducing Maria to other Puerto Ricans, when several members of the Jets arrive. Both gangs are poised to fight, when Glad Hand, the social worker, and Krupke intervene. The dancing continues and soon becomes a competition between the rival gangs and their women, who refuse to intermingle. From opposite sides of the dance floor, Tony and Maria spot each other and, entranced, move toward each other and begin to dance. Seeing them together, Bernardo protectively pulls Maria away, telling her that Tony is only interested in sexual favors, and orders Chino to take her home. Before Bernardo leaves, he and Riff agree to meet later at Doc's for a "war council," where they will determine the time and place of the rumble. At his family's apartment, Bernardo lectures Maria about the dangers in America, but Anita half-jokingly scolds him, saying that in their new country, women are free to see whom they wish. Anita and Bernardo meet with their friends on the rooftop, where they engage in a lively discussion about the pros and cons of living in America. Although the women tease the men that life in America is better than in their home country, the men complain that it is only better if you are white. Meanwhile, Tony walks the streets in a daze, bewitched by the thought of Maria. She is in her room, preparing for bed, when she hears Tony calling out her name from the alley below and climbs through the window to the fire escape to be with him. Believing that Maria is the fulfillment of his premonition, Tony is eager to acknowledge publicly his love for her, but Maria is aware that their families will not approve. After admitting their love for each other and marveling at how their lives have changed in one evening, they part, agreeing to meet the next day at the bridal shop after closing time. At Doc's shop, the Jets are restlessly waiting for the Sharks to arrive, when the police drive up. Although Krupke is suspicious that the gang is up to mischief, he is called away and the boys then make fun of him, as well as social workers, judges, psychiatrists and all those who have failed to alleviate the poverty and violence in which they have been reared. When the Sharks arrive, the two gangs decide the time and location of the fight, but as they discuss weapons, Tony, who has by then returned to help close the shop for the evening, convinces them to have a "fair fight," using nothing but fists. Schrank enters, prompting the two gangs to pretend to get along, and demands to know what they are planning. When no one will talk to him, he harasses the Puerto Ricans, ordering them out, and then tells the Jets that he wants his beat clear of the immigrants as much as they do. When the Jets still refuse to confide in him, he tauntingly refers to their family members as drug addicts and prostitutes. After everyone leaves the shop, Doc expresses his dismay at Schrank's behavior, but Tony, who is buoyed by love, believes that everything will be all right. The next day, Maria's co-workers notice her happiness and she admits that she feels "pretty." Anita is still at the shop when Tony arrives, but grudgingly allows them time together. Although Tony has no plans to attend the fight, Maria urges him to go and stop it from happening. Then, they playfully pretend to have a wedding, with store mannequins in attendance. Later, in the evening, the Jets and the Sharks prepare for the rumble, while Anita prepares for a romantic interlude with Bernardo when he returns. While helping Doc, Tony can think of nothing but Maria, who is at home, waiting impatiently for the end of the evening, when she and Tony can be together. At the appointed place, the Sharks and the Jets meet, and the best fighter from each gang, Bernardo and Ice, respectively, prepare to fight as the others look on. When Tony arrives, his efforts to stop the fight inadvertently escalate the battle into a knife fight between Riff and Bernardo. When Bernardo unexpectedly kills Riff, Tony, in a fit of passion, takes the dead Riff's knife and stabs Bernardo. Although Tony is immediately overcome with shame for killing Maria's brother, the other gang members join the fight, but all flee when they hear the sound of a police siren. Waiting on the rooftop for Tony, Maria is surprised when Chino arrives to tell her that Tony killed Bernardo. Praying that he is lying, Maria runs to her room and finds Tony, who confesses. Although she wants to hate him, she finds she cannot and says that the problem is not with either of them, but everything around them. Together, they envision a place where they can go that is free of prejudices. Outside, the police cruise the streets, but the gang members evade them. The Jets meet, stunned, because they never expected anyone would be killed. When their anxiety leads to internal bickering, Ice, who is now their leader, tells them to be "cool." When they learn from an eavesdropping tomboy, Anybodys, that Chino is carrying a gun and bent on revenge against Tony, they organize to protect him. Anita, who discovers that Maria has been with Tony, is offended that she would remain faithful to a boy who would kill her brother, but is soon won over by Maria's love for Tony and warns her about Chino's mission. Although Maria and Tony had planned to rendezvous at Doc's and leave town together, when Schrank detains Maria to question her about Bernardo's death, Anita agrees to tell Tony that she will soon be with him. However, when Anita enters the candy store, the Jets, suspicious of her motives, prevent her from finding Tony, then attempt to rape her. Doc enters in time to stop them, but, in anger, Anita says that Chino, jealous of Maria's love for Tony, shot her dead. When Doc informs Tony, who is hiding in the cellar, of Maria's presumed death, Tony goes out to the street, yelling for Chino to kill him, too. When he arrives at the playground, Tony sees Maria, alive, and runs toward her, but Chino steps out of the shadows and shoots him. Tony falls into Maria's arms and as he dies, he and Maria talk about the place of which they had dreamed. Members of both gangs are gathering, and as they edge toward each other menacingly, Maria steps between them and takes the gun from Chino. Threatening both gangs with the gun, she accuses all of them of killing Tony, Riff and Bernardo. When Schrank and Krupke arrive, Maria kisses Tony and after she says "Te adoro, Anton," members of the two gangs, united at least for a while, help to carry Tony's body away.

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Movie Clip

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Musical
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1961
Premiere Information
New York opening: 18 Oct 1961; Los Angeles opening: 13 Dec 1961
Production Company
B & P Enterprises, Inc.; Beta Productions; Seven Arts Productions, Inc.; The Mirisch Company, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, USA; New York, New York, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the musical West Side Story , book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, conceived, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, produced by Robert E. Griffith and Harold S. Prince, by arrangement with Roger L. Stevens (New York, 26 Sep 1957).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 35m
Sound
4-Track Stereo (35 mm magnetic prints), 70 mm 6-Track (Westrex Recording System) (70 mm prints), Mono (35 mm optical prints)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.20 : 1

Award Wins

Best Art Direction

1961
Boris Leven

Best Cinematography

1961

Best Costume Design

1961
Irene Sharaff

Best Director

1961
Jerome Robbins

Best Director

1961
Robert Wise

Best Editing

1961
Thomas Stanford

Best Picture

1961

Best Score

1961

Best Sound

1961

Best Supporting Actor

1961
George Chakiris

Best Supporting Actress

1961
Rita Moreno

Award Nominations

Best Writing, Screenplay

1962

Articles

5 Things You Likely Didn't Know About WEST SIDE STORY (1961)


West Side Story--the original 1961 film version, that is--has long since become part of our national unconscious. From the first weeks of its release onward, it has been, for millions, far more than just another movie musical. While researching my new book West Side Story: The Jets, The Sharks, and the Making of a Classic (Running Press/TCM), I was surprised by the ongoing love this film inspires. Perhaps I shouldn't be, but the fact is that West Side Story has been so popular, parodied and "borrowed from" for so many years, that maybe it's a bit easy to take it for granted. Perhaps so, but it remains a film which has spoken to more people more deeply than just about any other musical. So that passion that it inspires--even as a new version looms on the horizon--may count as a "little-known," or at least not immediately apparent, fact about this enormously celebrated, multiple-Oscar-winning and eternally beloved film. Working on the book (due out on June 30, 2020) made me aware of a number of other surprising things as well.

1. Some of the locations where the film was set and partially shot no longer exist. Not simply demolished but gone completely!

It's pretty well known that the film's electrifying opening scenes--the Jets and the Sharks dancing and fighting on the streets of New York--were shot on the sites where they could have really occurred. It was a neighborhood on the West Side of Manhattan known as Lincoln Square, and by mid-1960 it was beyond rundown: it was in the process of being demolished. It's been said that the film was shot on the future site of the performing arts complex known as Lincoln Center, which is not quite accurate. By the time production started, the wrecking ball had already removed much of the neighborhood, but one small section remained: a few blocks northwest of the Lincoln Center site at the 200th block of West 68th Street. The buildings on this block--or, in some cases, just their facades--were allowed to remain until filming completed, then they were destroyed. They were replaced by a group of apartment buildings called Lincoln Towers...but don't go there looking for the street where George Chakiris, Russ Tamblyn and the others danced.

There is no longer a 200th block of West 68th Street - the design of the apartment complex was such that the street was completely erased off the map. You can, however, visit the playground where a good deal of the opening action occurs...only don't try to find it anywhere near Lincoln Center: look, instead, four miles away, on Manhattan's Upper East Side. It's on a stretch of East 110th Street now known as Tito Puente Way, between Second and Third Avenues. Some of it has been altered since 1960, but it's still pretty recognizable - and yes, it still contains a basketball court. (Not open to the public, however, but still very visible.) It's through the magic of movie editing that it isn't apparent that the playground and the street aren't right next to each other.

2. In a musical with a complex and extensive score, musical talent was not a major factor in casting.

For many years, voice dubbing was one of the time-honored ways in which an onstage musical could differ from one on the screen. From the very beginning of musical films (The Jazz Singer) onward, there are multiple examples of onscreen actors whose singing was supplied by someone else. For many years, the process was secret, although it was most often commonly known that many people who were seen and heard to sing in movies were not doing so for themselves. Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball and Cyd Charisse were among those who were dubbed in most, or even all, of their films. Even some actors who did have singing talent (Angela Lansbury, for example, in some of her early films) could find that others had been chosen to supply their vocals. With the "blockbuster" musicals of the 1950s and 1960s--films like South Pacific, Porgy and Bess and My Fair Lady--voice doubles were plentiful.

This was the film world into which West Side Story emerged, and its producers--most especially Associate Producer Saul Chaplin--decided very early on that a performer's ability to sing was not as important as her or his ability to look and act the part. From the very beginning, a number of the actors seriously considered for of the major roles were not singers: Robert Redford, Warren Beatty and Doug McClure as Tony; and Ina Balin, Susan Kohner and Diane Baker as Maria. There were a few exceptions, but for the most part, it was understood that this film would be heavily dubbed. Richard Beymer was never given an opportunity to sing Tony's music, although he said he would have liked to have tried. Natalie Wood did record Maria's songs and then perform to them onscreen, but Chaplin later noted that he never thought she would be doing her own onscreen singing. (This ended up being a very sore point with Wood.) Marni Nixon, who had worked extremely well with Deborah Kerr on the songs for The King and I, was compelled to sing Maria's songs after filming - a tricky and difficult process that was the opposite of the usual procedure. Russ Tamblyn, who did all of his own singing, found out later that Chaplin decided to dub his "Jet Song" with singing by another cast member, Tucker Smith (who plays Ice). Smith, it was felt, did an expert imitation of Tamblyn, only better. Rita Moreno sang all of "America," but was partly dubbed for "Quintet" and "A Boy Like That." Of all five principle actors, George Chakiris was the only one to do all his own singing.

3. Shooting started without Maria.

The process of casting West Side Story was long and arduous, and director Robert Wise's casting surviving notes show the deliberation and the dozens of auditions that went into selecting the cast. While co-director Jerome Robbins would assess dancing ability, Wise was the final judge for acting, appearance and overall suitability. No role was more deliberated over than that of Maria, but even after the other roles were filled and shooting started, the final decision had not been made. Although Natalie Wood's name had been mentioned early on, she was initially dismissed as a "stale" choice for Maria. However, as Wise interviewed and passed on dozens of other prospective Marias, he began to reconsider. At one point, Wood was offered the role and turned it down. Wise continued to test other actors, and the final one to test--Diane Baker--was told that she was a very strong possibility. Shooting began in New York City in August 1960 without a Maria, although it happened that Wood was also in New York shooting Splendor in the Grass. Wise offered her the role again, this time at double the original offer, and this time she said yes. Offered a profit-sharing deal, she opted instead for a straight salary and later acknowledged that this hadn't been the most astute of decisions.

4. Few films of this magnitude have ever been made with two directors at the helm - and, in a way, neither was this one.

Having two directors working in tandem on one film was hardly an unknown concept--it worked quite well on some classic films like The Red Shoes and Singin' in the Rain--but for this, the second most expensive musical made up to that time, it was quite a bold move. It was also quite logical, all things considered: Robert Wise was a versatile and accomplished director with virtually no musical experience, while Jerome Robbins was one of the most brilliant figures in Broadway musicals but had only done a small amount of film work. Thus, the two men's talents were complementary...and their personalities were completely dissimilar. Wise was a calm "hands-off" kind of figure on the set, while Robbins was hard-driving, temperamental and a take-after-take perfectionist. These differences quickly manifested themselves during the early New York City shoot when Wise would approve a take and then Robbins demand that it be done again (and again and again). Very quickly, both the schedule and budget began inflating in a way that Wise (who was also the credited producer) and executive producers Harold and Walter Mirisch found alarming.

The New York shoot ended up taking twice the time originally planned, and things were no better when the company began filming on the California soundstages. It was about at the midway point that the Mirisches and Wise determined that with the majority of Robbins's choreography already rehearsed and/or filmed, Wise could finish the film on his own. Robbins's reaction to his firing was predictably explosive, and most of the cast members were shocked that, given his intimate association with West Side Story, he would be discharged. Ironically enough, Wise's pace as the sole director was only a little faster than it had been with Robbins, and-in such a massive and complicated production, speed would have been next to impossible. Months later, Robbins participated in the editing of the final cut of the film, but it would always remain, for him, an unhappy experience. This feeling carried over to the two Academy Awards he received - one shared with Wise for his direction and a special citation for his choreography. Returning east after the Oscar ceremony, Robbins promptly stashed his two statuettes out of sight in his basement.

5. Natalie Wood was unhappy throughout the filming.

Talented and charismatic she was - and remained throughout her career. However, that's not to say that Wood was always secure in her gifts and her abilities. Her most perceptive directors always realized that she required a great deal of reassurance in order to do her best work, and such support was not always forthcoming. When she signed on to play Maria, Wood was finishing up her most difficult film to date, Splendor in the Grass. To play the emotionally tormented character, she had worked hard and sometimes harrowingly with her demanding director, Elia Kazan. To go straight from Splendor to the equally demanding and far different West Side Story was a major challenge and, for Wood, quite a difficult one. She was suddenly confronted with singing and dancing rehearsals, plus the task of cultivating a Puerto Rican accent, and she did not always feel that she was succeeding with these. Such insecurity was not always apparent to some fellow cast members, who found her distant and aloof. She did find major comfort in working with co-director Robbins, with whom she shared a rare rapport. When Robbins was fired, Wood was devastated, and considered walking off the picture. Although she was convinced to stay on, she found little connection with Robert Wise; nor, for that matter, was she happy working with her onscreen romantic partner, Richard Beymer. Aware that, as the production's one "star," much of the film's success rested on her fragile shoulders, she frequently spent her lunch breaks speaking on the phone to her analyst. A difficult situation became worse near the end of shooting when she discovered that her voice would be dubbed. Reportedly, she blamed--and never forgave--Wise for this and found only a little comfort in the fact that in her next film, Gypsy, she would be allowed to sing for herself. Although West Side Story has always been considered one of her career milestones, it was not an experience she recalled with fondness when she cared to recall it at all.

With all these conflicts and difficulties, it might seem to some that it was something of a miracle that West Side Story turned out as well, and as successfully, as it did. Still, there's something very important that needs to be remembered, and it's something that became very obvious to me during my research. To put it plainly: to nearly everyone working on it, West Side Story mattered. It was not just another big movie, not simply a well-made version of a Broadway show. From its directors to all those extraordinarily committed performers cast as Jets and Sharks, this was a film marked by a passionate commitment to getting it all right. It is that fact, as much as the glorious songs and dances, that made it such an event, such a huge award-winner, and--nearly 60 years later--such a treasured and beloved classic. With the new Steven Spielberg version of West Side Story fast approaching, it's useful to recall one eternal truth: a film can be remade, but it cannot be replaced.

5 Things You Likely Didn't Know About West Side Story (1961)

5 Things You Likely Didn't Know About WEST SIDE STORY (1961)

West Side Story--the original 1961 film version, that is--has long since become part of our national unconscious. From the first weeks of its release onward, it has been, for millions, far more than just another movie musical. While researching my new book West Side Story: The Jets, The Sharks, and the Making of a Classic (Running Press/TCM), I was surprised by the ongoing love this film inspires. Perhaps I shouldn't be, but the fact is that West Side Story has been so popular, parodied and "borrowed from" for so many years, that maybe it's a bit easy to take it for granted. Perhaps so, but it remains a film which has spoken to more people more deeply than just about any other musical. So that passion that it inspires--even as a new version looms on the horizon--may count as a "little-known," or at least not immediately apparent, fact about this enormously celebrated, multiple-Oscar-winning and eternally beloved film. Working on the book (due out on June 30, 2020) made me aware of a number of other surprising things as well. 1. Some of the locations where the film was set and partially shot no longer exist. Not simply demolished but gone completely! It's pretty well known that the film's electrifying opening scenes--the Jets and the Sharks dancing and fighting on the streets of New York--were shot on the sites where they could have really occurred. It was a neighborhood on the West Side of Manhattan known as Lincoln Square, and by mid-1960 it was beyond rundown: it was in the process of being demolished. It's been said that the film was shot on the future site of the performing arts complex known as Lincoln Center, which is not quite accurate. By the time production started, the wrecking ball had already removed much of the neighborhood, but one small section remained: a few blocks northwest of the Lincoln Center site at the 200th block of West 68th Street. The buildings on this block--or, in some cases, just their facades--were allowed to remain until filming completed, then they were destroyed. They were replaced by a group of apartment buildings called Lincoln Towers...but don't go there looking for the street where George Chakiris, Russ Tamblyn and the others danced. There is no longer a 200th block of West 68th Street - the design of the apartment complex was such that the street was completely erased off the map. You can, however, visit the playground where a good deal of the opening action occurs...only don't try to find it anywhere near Lincoln Center: look, instead, four miles away, on Manhattan's Upper East Side. It's on a stretch of East 110th Street now known as Tito Puente Way, between Second and Third Avenues. Some of it has been altered since 1960, but it's still pretty recognizable - and yes, it still contains a basketball court. (Not open to the public, however, but still very visible.) It's through the magic of movie editing that it isn't apparent that the playground and the street aren't right next to each other. 2. In a musical with a complex and extensive score, musical talent was not a major factor in casting. For many years, voice dubbing was one of the time-honored ways in which an onstage musical could differ from one on the screen. From the very beginning of musical films (The Jazz Singer) onward, there are multiple examples of onscreen actors whose singing was supplied by someone else. For many years, the process was secret, although it was most often commonly known that many people who were seen and heard to sing in movies were not doing so for themselves. Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball and Cyd Charisse were among those who were dubbed in most, or even all, of their films. Even some actors who did have singing talent (Angela Lansbury, for example, in some of her early films) could find that others had been chosen to supply their vocals. With the "blockbuster" musicals of the 1950s and 1960s--films like South Pacific, Porgy and Bess and My Fair Lady--voice doubles were plentiful. This was the film world into which West Side Story emerged, and its producers--most especially Associate Producer Saul Chaplin--decided very early on that a performer's ability to sing was not as important as her or his ability to look and act the part. From the very beginning, a number of the actors seriously considered for of the major roles were not singers: Robert Redford, Warren Beatty and Doug McClure as Tony; and Ina Balin, Susan Kohner and Diane Baker as Maria. There were a few exceptions, but for the most part, it was understood that this film would be heavily dubbed. Richard Beymer was never given an opportunity to sing Tony's music, although he said he would have liked to have tried. Natalie Wood did record Maria's songs and then perform to them onscreen, but Chaplin later noted that he never thought she would be doing her own onscreen singing. (This ended up being a very sore point with Wood.) Marni Nixon, who had worked extremely well with Deborah Kerr on the songs for The King and I, was compelled to sing Maria's songs after filming - a tricky and difficult process that was the opposite of the usual procedure. Russ Tamblyn, who did all of his own singing, found out later that Chaplin decided to dub his "Jet Song" with singing by another cast member, Tucker Smith (who plays Ice). Smith, it was felt, did an expert imitation of Tamblyn, only better. Rita Moreno sang all of "America," but was partly dubbed for "Quintet" and "A Boy Like That." Of all five principle actors, George Chakiris was the only one to do all his own singing. 3. Shooting started without Maria. The process of casting West Side Story was long and arduous, and director Robert Wise's casting surviving notes show the deliberation and the dozens of auditions that went into selecting the cast. While co-director Jerome Robbins would assess dancing ability, Wise was the final judge for acting, appearance and overall suitability. No role was more deliberated over than that of Maria, but even after the other roles were filled and shooting started, the final decision had not been made. Although Natalie Wood's name had been mentioned early on, she was initially dismissed as a "stale" choice for Maria. However, as Wise interviewed and passed on dozens of other prospective Marias, he began to reconsider. At one point, Wood was offered the role and turned it down. Wise continued to test other actors, and the final one to test--Diane Baker--was told that she was a very strong possibility. Shooting began in New York City in August 1960 without a Maria, although it happened that Wood was also in New York shooting Splendor in the Grass. Wise offered her the role again, this time at double the original offer, and this time she said yes. Offered a profit-sharing deal, she opted instead for a straight salary and later acknowledged that this hadn't been the most astute of decisions. 4. Few films of this magnitude have ever been made with two directors at the helm - and, in a way, neither was this one. Having two directors working in tandem on one film was hardly an unknown concept--it worked quite well on some classic films like The Red Shoes and Singin' in the Rain--but for this, the second most expensive musical made up to that time, it was quite a bold move. It was also quite logical, all things considered: Robert Wise was a versatile and accomplished director with virtually no musical experience, while Jerome Robbins was one of the most brilliant figures in Broadway musicals but had only done a small amount of film work. Thus, the two men's talents were complementary...and their personalities were completely dissimilar. Wise was a calm "hands-off" kind of figure on the set, while Robbins was hard-driving, temperamental and a take-after-take perfectionist. These differences quickly manifested themselves during the early New York City shoot when Wise would approve a take and then Robbins demand that it be done again (and again and again). Very quickly, both the schedule and budget began inflating in a way that Wise (who was also the credited producer) and executive producers Harold and Walter Mirisch found alarming. The New York shoot ended up taking twice the time originally planned, and things were no better when the company began filming on the California soundstages. It was about at the midway point that the Mirisches and Wise determined that with the majority of Robbins's choreography already rehearsed and/or filmed, Wise could finish the film on his own. Robbins's reaction to his firing was predictably explosive, and most of the cast members were shocked that, given his intimate association with West Side Story, he would be discharged. Ironically enough, Wise's pace as the sole director was only a little faster than it had been with Robbins, and-in such a massive and complicated production, speed would have been next to impossible. Months later, Robbins participated in the editing of the final cut of the film, but it would always remain, for him, an unhappy experience. This feeling carried over to the two Academy Awards he received - one shared with Wise for his direction and a special citation for his choreography. Returning east after the Oscar ceremony, Robbins promptly stashed his two statuettes out of sight in his basement. 5. Natalie Wood was unhappy throughout the filming. Talented and charismatic she was - and remained throughout her career. However, that's not to say that Wood was always secure in her gifts and her abilities. Her most perceptive directors always realized that she required a great deal of reassurance in order to do her best work, and such support was not always forthcoming. When she signed on to play Maria, Wood was finishing up her most difficult film to date, Splendor in the Grass. To play the emotionally tormented character, she had worked hard and sometimes harrowingly with her demanding director, Elia Kazan. To go straight from Splendor to the equally demanding and far different West Side Story was a major challenge and, for Wood, quite a difficult one. She was suddenly confronted with singing and dancing rehearsals, plus the task of cultivating a Puerto Rican accent, and she did not always feel that she was succeeding with these. Such insecurity was not always apparent to some fellow cast members, who found her distant and aloof. She did find major comfort in working with co-director Robbins, with whom she shared a rare rapport. When Robbins was fired, Wood was devastated, and considered walking off the picture. Although she was convinced to stay on, she found little connection with Robert Wise; nor, for that matter, was she happy working with her onscreen romantic partner, Richard Beymer. Aware that, as the production's one "star," much of the film's success rested on her fragile shoulders, she frequently spent her lunch breaks speaking on the phone to her analyst. A difficult situation became worse near the end of shooting when she discovered that her voice would be dubbed. Reportedly, she blamed--and never forgave--Wise for this and found only a little comfort in the fact that in her next film, Gypsy, she would be allowed to sing for herself. Although West Side Story has always been considered one of her career milestones, it was not an experience she recalled with fondness when she cared to recall it at all. With all these conflicts and difficulties, it might seem to some that it was something of a miracle that West Side Story turned out as well, and as successfully, as it did. Still, there's something very important that needs to be remembered, and it's something that became very obvious to me during my research. To put it plainly: to nearly everyone working on it, West Side Story mattered. It was not just another big movie, not simply a well-made version of a Broadway show. From its directors to all those extraordinarily committed performers cast as Jets and Sharks, this was a film marked by a passionate commitment to getting it all right. It is that fact, as much as the glorious songs and dances, that made it such an event, such a huge award-winner, and--nearly 60 years later--such a treasured and beloved classic. With the new Steven Spielberg version of West Side Story fast approaching, it's useful to recall one eternal truth: a film can be remade, but it cannot be replaced.

Behind the Camera - Feb. 16 - Behind the Scenes on WEST SIDE STORY


The first order of business in bringing West Side Story to the screen was casting. This was left largely to Robert Wise, who had been chosen as co-director primarily for his work with film actors (stage choreographer-director Jerome Robbins would handle the musical sequences). The Broadway leads, Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence, were deemed too old by 1961, a curious decision considering the "teenagers" in the film were eventually played by people ranging from their early 20s to 30s. For the role of Tony, everyone from Marlon Brando to Elvis Presley was mentioned. Brando, who made his musical debut in Guys and Dolls (1955), was reported by The New York Times as being "very anxious" to do the picture, "however, he wants to play the young lead and is worried at 34 whether this will be plausible on screen." The question turned out to be moot. The producers decided early on not to seek major stars since the project was considered to have enough advance appeal to attract large audiences on its own. Dozens of actors were tested before the male lead was given to Richard Beymer, who had made his mark in George Stevens' film version of The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). Several of the original dancers from the stage musical of West Side Story were brought to play members of the Jets and the Sharks, although the show's Anita, Chita Rivera, was bypassed in favor of Rita Moreno, a Puerto Rican actress known to movie audiences from The King and I (1956). George Chakiris, who played Riff in the London production, was cast as Bernardo. The role of Riff was assigned to gymnastic champ/dancer dancer Russ Tamblyn, even though Arthur Laurents thought the all-American actor "didn't belong" in the picture.

Natalie Wood was Ernest Lehman's choice for Maria, but when it was decided to go with unknowns, she was eliminated, and the long testing process began. Ina Balin was an early favorite, but her deep voice contrasted too much with the soprano requirements of the songs. Barbara Luna was the tentative choice after all the tests, but suddenly Lehman's suggestion was reconsidered. Former child star Wood was just coming off the success of her first adult role in Splendor in the Grass (1961) when she was offered the script for West Side Story and one for Parrish (1961), a melodrama being produced by her studio, Warner Brothers. She thought the latter script was "crap," but knew if she refused it, Jack Warner would make it impossible for her to go to United Artists for West Side Story. So she faked a case of tonsillitis and checked into the hospital to have them removed, effectively ending her obligation to star in Parrish. Her plan almost backfired when she contracted an infection that developed into pneumonia. She was in critical condition for three days, but recovered in time to report to work on West Side Story in April 1961.

The first on-set flare-up occurred because Wood did not like her male co-star. She tried to get Beymer fired from the picture because she didn't think he was strong enough as a singer and a dancer; an odd objection, considering her own shortcomings in the same areas. But Robbins worked Wood 16 hours a day and on weekends to try for the perfection he demanded from his performers. Wood was also having trouble with her Puerto Rican accent and turned to Moreno for help. Exhausted and demoralized from being pushed by a director many have characterized as cruel and sadistic, she even asked to be taken off the picture. The problems were solved by devising simple steps and camera movements to disguise her lack of dance training. Soprano Marni Nixon was brought in to dub her vocals. Other uncredited voiceover talent was also used -Jimmy Bryant to dub Beymer and Betty Wand to enhance Moreno's vocals on one song.

The biggest problems encountered during production, however, came from Robbins. From the beginning, he wanted everything to be done exactly as it was on stage. Mostly he objected to Lehman's repositioning of the songs and placing them in new settings. In scripting the multiple-character song "Quintet," Lehman had tacked cards on his bulletin board with directions, such as "Sharks move toward rumble area," "Maria on the fire escape." Returning from lunch one day, Lehman and producer/scorer Saul Chaplin found that Robbins had scribbled his own comments on the cards: "Jerry vomits," "Jerry leaves town." But the sequence was shot as Lehman wrote it.

No one has ever denied Robbins' brilliance or his great contribution to the film. The dance numbers he devised for the New York location shots were even more powerful and exciting than those on stage, and everyone who watched him work was amazed at his endless stream of great ideas. But he could also be an abrasive and thoughtless collaborator if he didn't get along with his co-workers. And his drive to perfection was often taken out on the dancers that he worked to the point of exhaustion. "They didn't dance out of joy, they danced out of fear," Chaplin wrote later.

Other production headaches occurred during the location shoots in Manhattan, particularly in the area that was then being cleared to build Lincoln Center. Several times rocks were thrown at cast and crew members from the roofs of the abandoned buildings in the neighborhood. Police were on hand, but were of little use in stopping the problem. Finally, the production manager hired a real street gang to help keep order. Meanwhile, Robbins' contract stipulated he would shoot all the musical numbers and the scenes that led into them - which turned out to be almost every scene. That meant Robert Wise would have little to do (and even less, considering Robbins stepped over the line into directing actors in dramatic sequences). A compromise was eventually reached whereby Wise would do the non-musical scenes, but with Robbins' consultation.

One of Wise's major strengths was his experience as an editor. As he watched Robbins shooting scenes from several angles, his editor's eye saw several shots being set up and filmed that Wise knew could never be matched with the other angles. He kept quiet for a while, but as the film began to fall behind schedule and Robbins╒ experiments started eating into the budget, he stepped in with suggestions. But nothing Wise or the producers or production managers said could dissuade Robbins from doing it his own way. At last, United Artists determined the film was already $300,000 over budget with less than a third of it in the can. The decision was made to fire Robbins, over the objections of his only defender - Wise. All the choreography in the film is still the work of Jerome Robbins but the only musical numbers he actually shot were the "Prologue," "America," "Cool," and "Something╒s Coming" (and many consider these the picture's high points). The rest were shot by Wise with Robbins' assistants overseeing his choreography.

by Rob Nixon

Behind the Camera - Feb. 16 - Behind the Scenes on WEST SIDE STORY

The first order of business in bringing West Side Story to the screen was casting. This was left largely to Robert Wise, who had been chosen as co-director primarily for his work with film actors (stage choreographer-director Jerome Robbins would handle the musical sequences). The Broadway leads, Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence, were deemed too old by 1961, a curious decision considering the "teenagers" in the film were eventually played by people ranging from their early 20s to 30s. For the role of Tony, everyone from Marlon Brando to Elvis Presley was mentioned. Brando, who made his musical debut in Guys and Dolls (1955), was reported by The New York Times as being "very anxious" to do the picture, "however, he wants to play the young lead and is worried at 34 whether this will be plausible on screen." The question turned out to be moot. The producers decided early on not to seek major stars since the project was considered to have enough advance appeal to attract large audiences on its own. Dozens of actors were tested before the male lead was given to Richard Beymer, who had made his mark in George Stevens' film version of The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). Several of the original dancers from the stage musical of West Side Story were brought to play members of the Jets and the Sharks, although the show's Anita, Chita Rivera, was bypassed in favor of Rita Moreno, a Puerto Rican actress known to movie audiences from The King and I (1956). George Chakiris, who played Riff in the London production, was cast as Bernardo. The role of Riff was assigned to gymnastic champ/dancer dancer Russ Tamblyn, even though Arthur Laurents thought the all-American actor "didn't belong" in the picture. Natalie Wood was Ernest Lehman's choice for Maria, but when it was decided to go with unknowns, she was eliminated, and the long testing process began. Ina Balin was an early favorite, but her deep voice contrasted too much with the soprano requirements of the songs. Barbara Luna was the tentative choice after all the tests, but suddenly Lehman's suggestion was reconsidered. Former child star Wood was just coming off the success of her first adult role in Splendor in the Grass (1961) when she was offered the script for West Side Story and one for Parrish (1961), a melodrama being produced by her studio, Warner Brothers. She thought the latter script was "crap," but knew if she refused it, Jack Warner would make it impossible for her to go to United Artists for West Side Story. So she faked a case of tonsillitis and checked into the hospital to have them removed, effectively ending her obligation to star in Parrish. Her plan almost backfired when she contracted an infection that developed into pneumonia. She was in critical condition for three days, but recovered in time to report to work on West Side Story in April 1961. The first on-set flare-up occurred because Wood did not like her male co-star. She tried to get Beymer fired from the picture because she didn't think he was strong enough as a singer and a dancer; an odd objection, considering her own shortcomings in the same areas. But Robbins worked Wood 16 hours a day and on weekends to try for the perfection he demanded from his performers. Wood was also having trouble with her Puerto Rican accent and turned to Moreno for help. Exhausted and demoralized from being pushed by a director many have characterized as cruel and sadistic, she even asked to be taken off the picture. The problems were solved by devising simple steps and camera movements to disguise her lack of dance training. Soprano Marni Nixon was brought in to dub her vocals. Other uncredited voiceover talent was also used -Jimmy Bryant to dub Beymer and Betty Wand to enhance Moreno's vocals on one song. The biggest problems encountered during production, however, came from Robbins. From the beginning, he wanted everything to be done exactly as it was on stage. Mostly he objected to Lehman's repositioning of the songs and placing them in new settings. In scripting the multiple-character song "Quintet," Lehman had tacked cards on his bulletin board with directions, such as "Sharks move toward rumble area," "Maria on the fire escape." Returning from lunch one day, Lehman and producer/scorer Saul Chaplin found that Robbins had scribbled his own comments on the cards: "Jerry vomits," "Jerry leaves town." But the sequence was shot as Lehman wrote it. No one has ever denied Robbins' brilliance or his great contribution to the film. The dance numbers he devised for the New York location shots were even more powerful and exciting than those on stage, and everyone who watched him work was amazed at his endless stream of great ideas. But he could also be an abrasive and thoughtless collaborator if he didn't get along with his co-workers. And his drive to perfection was often taken out on the dancers that he worked to the point of exhaustion. "They didn't dance out of joy, they danced out of fear," Chaplin wrote later. Other production headaches occurred during the location shoots in Manhattan, particularly in the area that was then being cleared to build Lincoln Center. Several times rocks were thrown at cast and crew members from the roofs of the abandoned buildings in the neighborhood. Police were on hand, but were of little use in stopping the problem. Finally, the production manager hired a real street gang to help keep order. Meanwhile, Robbins' contract stipulated he would shoot all the musical numbers and the scenes that led into them - which turned out to be almost every scene. That meant Robert Wise would have little to do (and even less, considering Robbins stepped over the line into directing actors in dramatic sequences). A compromise was eventually reached whereby Wise would do the non-musical scenes, but with Robbins' consultation. One of Wise's major strengths was his experience as an editor. As he watched Robbins shooting scenes from several angles, his editor's eye saw several shots being set up and filmed that Wise knew could never be matched with the other angles. He kept quiet for a while, but as the film began to fall behind schedule and Robbins╒ experiments started eating into the budget, he stepped in with suggestions. But nothing Wise or the producers or production managers said could dissuade Robbins from doing it his own way. At last, United Artists determined the film was already $300,000 over budget with less than a third of it in the can. The decision was made to fire Robbins, over the objections of his only defender - Wise. All the choreography in the film is still the work of Jerome Robbins but the only musical numbers he actually shot were the "Prologue," "America," "Cool," and "Something╒s Coming" (and many consider these the picture's high points). The rest were shot by Wise with Robbins' assistants overseeing his choreography. by Rob Nixon

West Side Story


William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet has served as the inspiration for countless interpretations of that classic story - from the 1936 film adaptation by George Cukor to the recent interracial musical romance, Save the Last Dance For Me (2000). But West Side Story (1961) is easily the most dynamic and visually exhilarating version of this famous star-crossed romance. From its imaginative staging (a poor neighborhood in New York City's West Side) to the gravity-defying choreography of Jerome Robbins to the beloved music score by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story convincingly updates the Shakespeare story for modern times adding the topical issue of racial prejudice for dramatic impact. The Montagues are now identified as the Jets, an Anglo street gang, while the Capulets have been transformed into the Sharks, a rival Puerto Rican gang. The character of Friar Lawrence is now a neighborhood druggist and other updated parallels include Bernardo killing Riff (just as Tybalt killed Mercutio) and Tony killing Bernardo (just as Romeo killed Tybalt). Only the double suicide ending of Romeo and Juliet has been altered.

West Side Story enjoyed a first wave of success on the Broadway stage, with Carol Lawrence and Larry Kent as the leads. Typical of Hollywood, a new cast was assembled for the film version with the exception of George Chakiris, who played Riff, not Bernardo, in the London production. Initially, everyone from Marlon Brando (34 years of age at the time) to Elvis Presley was rumored to be interested in the role of Tony but it was Keir Dullea who originally tested for the part. When he refused to cut his long, wavy blonde hair so he would look like a gang member, former child actor Richard Beymer tested for the part and was hired. The role of Maria was also originally slated for a relative newcomer - Barbara Luna - but when the producers saw Natalie Wood test for the role they knew they had found their Maria. Unfortunately, Wood was not up to the operatic demands of the role. Even though she worked with Jerome Robbins sixteen hours a day to reach perfection and knew all her songs by heart, her voice was eventually dubbed by Marni Nixon, who would later dub Audrey Hepburn's singing voice in My Fair Lady (1964). Beymer was not a professional singer either and his singing voice was dubbed by Jimmy Bryant. Initially Wood campaigned to have Beymer replaced because she didn't like him but the producers refused to honor her wishes and she kept her animosity in check for the remainder of the shoot.

As expected, the film version of West Side Story was an epic undertaking for United Artists so it was decided that two directors were needed. Hollywood veteran Robert Wise was chosen to handle the dramatic and technical end while Jerome Robbins would focus on the musical sequences. However, both men couldn't have been more different in temperament or how they approached their craft and clashed from the beginning. Robbins wanted everything to be completely faithful to his stage production and resisted any changes. In his autobiography, Oscar-winning composer, arranger, and musical director Saul Chaplin discussed Robbins' confrontational personality: "Jerry was by far the most exciting choreographer I had ever watched. He seemed to have an endless stream of exciting ideas...At the same time, he was such an insane perfectionist that it was impossible for any of the dancers to achieve the standards he demanded immediately. To make matters worse, he had a very low tolerance point. When he was displeased, he heaped such verbal abuse on the dancers that the place took on the atmosphere of a concentration camp. They didn't dance out of joy, they danced out of fear....I wondered how he ever got anyone to work for him until I asked one of the dancers. The reply was "How else would I ever get a chance to dance like that?" I didn't invent the notion, but it's further proof that being a successful dancer requires a certain degree of masochism."

Eventually, the studio was forced to remove Robbins when he caused the production to go over budget due to his refusal to stick to the arranged shooting schedule. Other problems included some dangerous location shooting (rocks were thrown at crew members from rooftops during filming around an abandoned section of West Sixty-eighth street) and ineffectual police surveillance while shooting on a rundown section of 110th Street (the crew eventually hired a local street gang for protection). Yet somehow Robert Wise completed the film, despite having to assemble Robbins' unfinished "Prologue" number, which became one of the most important sequences in the film.

When West Side Story opened theatrically, it quickly became the number two box office hit of the year (101 Dalmatians took the number one spot). Hollywood was wild about the film too and awarded it ten Oscars including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Rita Moreno), Best Supporting Actor (George Chakiris), Best Color Cinematography, and Best Director. The latter category brought Wise and Robbins together again to accept the award though neither acknowledged the other in their acceptance speeches. As for Natalie Wood, she created quite a sensation at the Oscar ceremony by appearing with Warren Beatty (Their romance broke up the Natalie Wood-Robert Wagner marriage). Ironically, she was up for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Splendor in the Grass, not West Side Story, but lost to Sophia Loren in Two Women.

Producer: Robert Wise
Director: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise
Screenplay: Ernest Lehman
Production Design: Boris Leven
Cinematography: Daniel L. Fapp
Costume Design: Irene Sharaff
Film Editing: Thomas Stanford
Original Music: Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein (also songs)
Principal Cast: Natalie Wood (Maria), Richard Beymer (Tony), Russ Tamblyn (Riff), Rita Moreno (Anita), George Chakiris (Bernardo), Simon Oakland (Lt. Schrank), Ned Glass (Doc), William Bramley (Officer Krupke), Tucker Smith (Ice).
C-152m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Jeff Stafford

West Side Story

William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet has served as the inspiration for countless interpretations of that classic story - from the 1936 film adaptation by George Cukor to the recent interracial musical romance, Save the Last Dance For Me (2000). But West Side Story (1961) is easily the most dynamic and visually exhilarating version of this famous star-crossed romance. From its imaginative staging (a poor neighborhood in New York City's West Side) to the gravity-defying choreography of Jerome Robbins to the beloved music score by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, West Side Story convincingly updates the Shakespeare story for modern times adding the topical issue of racial prejudice for dramatic impact. The Montagues are now identified as the Jets, an Anglo street gang, while the Capulets have been transformed into the Sharks, a rival Puerto Rican gang. The character of Friar Lawrence is now a neighborhood druggist and other updated parallels include Bernardo killing Riff (just as Tybalt killed Mercutio) and Tony killing Bernardo (just as Romeo killed Tybalt). Only the double suicide ending of Romeo and Juliet has been altered. West Side Story enjoyed a first wave of success on the Broadway stage, with Carol Lawrence and Larry Kent as the leads. Typical of Hollywood, a new cast was assembled for the film version with the exception of George Chakiris, who played Riff, not Bernardo, in the London production. Initially, everyone from Marlon Brando (34 years of age at the time) to Elvis Presley was rumored to be interested in the role of Tony but it was Keir Dullea who originally tested for the part. When he refused to cut his long, wavy blonde hair so he would look like a gang member, former child actor Richard Beymer tested for the part and was hired. The role of Maria was also originally slated for a relative newcomer - Barbara Luna - but when the producers saw Natalie Wood test for the role they knew they had found their Maria. Unfortunately, Wood was not up to the operatic demands of the role. Even though she worked with Jerome Robbins sixteen hours a day to reach perfection and knew all her songs by heart, her voice was eventually dubbed by Marni Nixon, who would later dub Audrey Hepburn's singing voice in My Fair Lady (1964). Beymer was not a professional singer either and his singing voice was dubbed by Jimmy Bryant. Initially Wood campaigned to have Beymer replaced because she didn't like him but the producers refused to honor her wishes and she kept her animosity in check for the remainder of the shoot. As expected, the film version of West Side Story was an epic undertaking for United Artists so it was decided that two directors were needed. Hollywood veteran Robert Wise was chosen to handle the dramatic and technical end while Jerome Robbins would focus on the musical sequences. However, both men couldn't have been more different in temperament or how they approached their craft and clashed from the beginning. Robbins wanted everything to be completely faithful to his stage production and resisted any changes. In his autobiography, Oscar-winning composer, arranger, and musical director Saul Chaplin discussed Robbins' confrontational personality: "Jerry was by far the most exciting choreographer I had ever watched. He seemed to have an endless stream of exciting ideas...At the same time, he was such an insane perfectionist that it was impossible for any of the dancers to achieve the standards he demanded immediately. To make matters worse, he had a very low tolerance point. When he was displeased, he heaped such verbal abuse on the dancers that the place took on the atmosphere of a concentration camp. They didn't dance out of joy, they danced out of fear....I wondered how he ever got anyone to work for him until I asked one of the dancers. The reply was "How else would I ever get a chance to dance like that?" I didn't invent the notion, but it's further proof that being a successful dancer requires a certain degree of masochism." Eventually, the studio was forced to remove Robbins when he caused the production to go over budget due to his refusal to stick to the arranged shooting schedule. Other problems included some dangerous location shooting (rocks were thrown at crew members from rooftops during filming around an abandoned section of West Sixty-eighth street) and ineffectual police surveillance while shooting on a rundown section of 110th Street (the crew eventually hired a local street gang for protection). Yet somehow Robert Wise completed the film, despite having to assemble Robbins' unfinished "Prologue" number, which became one of the most important sequences in the film. When West Side Story opened theatrically, it quickly became the number two box office hit of the year (101 Dalmatians took the number one spot). Hollywood was wild about the film too and awarded it ten Oscars including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Rita Moreno), Best Supporting Actor (George Chakiris), Best Color Cinematography, and Best Director. The latter category brought Wise and Robbins together again to accept the award though neither acknowledged the other in their acceptance speeches. As for Natalie Wood, she created quite a sensation at the Oscar ceremony by appearing with Warren Beatty (Their romance broke up the Natalie Wood-Robert Wagner marriage). Ironically, she was up for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Splendor in the Grass, not West Side Story, but lost to Sophia Loren in Two Women. Producer: Robert Wise Director: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise Screenplay: Ernest Lehman Production Design: Boris Leven Cinematography: Daniel L. Fapp Costume Design: Irene Sharaff Film Editing: Thomas Stanford Original Music: Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein (also songs) Principal Cast: Natalie Wood (Maria), Richard Beymer (Tony), Russ Tamblyn (Riff), Rita Moreno (Anita), George Chakiris (Bernardo), Simon Oakland (Lt. Schrank), Ned Glass (Doc), William Bramley (Officer Krupke), Tucker Smith (Ice). C-152m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. by Jeff Stafford

Robert Wise (1914-2005)


Robert Wise, who died at age 91 on September 14, was the noted film editor of Citizen Kane (1941) and other movies before he became a producer and director, and all his works are marked by striking visual rhythms. He is best remembered for two enormously popular musicals, West Side Story (1959) and The Sound of Music (1965), which brought him a total of four Oscars® -- each winning for Best Picture and Best Director. (Wise's directorial award for West Side Story was shared with Jerome Robbins.)

Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Ind., Wise was a child of the Depression who quit college to earn a living in the movie industry. He began as an assistant cutter at RKO, where he worked his way up to the position of film editor and earned an Oscar® nomination for his bravura work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. He also edited The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for Welles, along with several other RKO films.

Wise became a director by default when RKO and producer Val Lewton assigned him to The Curse of the Cat People (1944) after Gunther von Fritsch failed to meet the film's production schedule. Wise turned the film into a first-rate psychological thriller, and enjoyed equal success with another Lewton horror film, The Body Snatcher (1945).

Critical praise also was showered upon Wise's Born to Kill (1947), a crime melodrama; and Blood on the Moon (1948), an unusual psychological Western starring Robert Mitchum. Even more highly regarded was The Set-Up (1949), a no-punches-pulled boxing drama that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Wise moved on from RKO in the early 1950s, directing one of the movies' classic alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, for 20th Century Fox.

At MGM he directed Executive Suite (1954), a compelling all-star boardroom drama; Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film bio of boxer Rocky Graziano that established Paul Newman as a major star; and The Haunting (1963), a chilling haunted-hause melodrama. His films for United Artists include Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a submarine drama with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster; I Want to Live! (1958), a harrowing account of a convicted murderess on Death Row, with Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning performance; and the crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

Wise served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He was awarded the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966, and the Directors Guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988. He remained active as a director through the 1970s. His final film, Rooftops (1989) was a musical with an urban setting that recalled West Side Story.

The films in TCM's salute to Robert Wise are Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Executive Suite (1954), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), B>West Side Story (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and The Haunting (1963).

by Roger Fristoe

Robert Wise (1914-2005)

Robert Wise, who died at age 91 on September 14, was the noted film editor of Citizen Kane (1941) and other movies before he became a producer and director, and all his works are marked by striking visual rhythms. He is best remembered for two enormously popular musicals, West Side Story (1959) and The Sound of Music (1965), which brought him a total of four Oscars® -- each winning for Best Picture and Best Director. (Wise's directorial award for West Side Story was shared with Jerome Robbins.) Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Ind., Wise was a child of the Depression who quit college to earn a living in the movie industry. He began as an assistant cutter at RKO, where he worked his way up to the position of film editor and earned an Oscar® nomination for his bravura work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. He also edited The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for Welles, along with several other RKO films. Wise became a director by default when RKO and producer Val Lewton assigned him to The Curse of the Cat People (1944) after Gunther von Fritsch failed to meet the film's production schedule. Wise turned the film into a first-rate psychological thriller, and enjoyed equal success with another Lewton horror film, The Body Snatcher (1945). Critical praise also was showered upon Wise's Born to Kill (1947), a crime melodrama; and Blood on the Moon (1948), an unusual psychological Western starring Robert Mitchum. Even more highly regarded was The Set-Up (1949), a no-punches-pulled boxing drama that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Wise moved on from RKO in the early 1950s, directing one of the movies' classic alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, for 20th Century Fox. At MGM he directed Executive Suite (1954), a compelling all-star boardroom drama; Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film bio of boxer Rocky Graziano that established Paul Newman as a major star; and The Haunting (1963), a chilling haunted-hause melodrama. His films for United Artists include Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a submarine drama with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster; I Want to Live! (1958), a harrowing account of a convicted murderess on Death Row, with Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning performance; and the crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). Wise served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He was awarded the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966, and the Directors Guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988. He remained active as a director through the 1970s. His final film, Rooftops (1989) was a musical with an urban setting that recalled West Side Story. The films in TCM's salute to Robert Wise are Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Executive Suite (1954), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), B>West Side Story (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and The Haunting (1963). by Roger Fristoe

Ernest Lehman (1915-2005)


Ernest Lehman, the acclaimed screenwriter who did everything from stranding Cary Grant in a cornfield (North by Northwest) to seeing Julie Andrews help the Von Trap family escape the Nazis in (The Sound of Music) died on July 2 in Los Angeles following an undisclosed illness. He was 89.

Born on December 8, 1915 in New York City, Lehman graduated from New York's City College with a degree in English. After graduation he found work as a writer for many mediums: radio, theater, and popular magazines of the day like Collier's before landing his first story in Hollywood for the comedy, The Inside Story (1948). The success of that film didn't lead immediately to screenwriting some of Hollywood's biggest hits, but his persistancy to break into the silver screen paid off by the mid-'50s: the delicious Audrey Hepburn comedy Sabrina (1954, his first Oscar® nomination and first Golden Globe award); Paul Newman's first hit based on the life of Rocky Graziano Somebody Up There Likes Me; and his razor sharp expose of the publicity world based on his own experiences as an assistant for a theatre publicist The Sweet Smell of Success (1957).

Lehman's verasitily and gift for playful dialogue came to the fore for Alfred Hitchcock's memorable North by Northwes (1959, his second Oscar® nomination); and he showed a knack for moving potentially stiff Broadway fodder into swift cinematic fare with West Side Story (1961, a third Oscar® nomination); The Sound of Music (1965); Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966); and Hello, Dolly! (1969, the last two being his final Oscar® nominations for screenwriting).

Lehman took his turn as a director when he adapted Philip Roth's comic novel Portnoy's Complaint (1972) for film, and despite some good reviews, it wasn't a commercial hit. He wrote just two more screenplays before retiring: an underrated comic mystery gem for Hitchcock Family Plot (1976); and the big budget Robert Shaw espionage drama Black Sunday (1977). Lehman served as president of the Writers Guild of America from 1983-85. After going zero for five with his Oscar® nominations, the Academy made it up to him in 2001, by presenting him with an honorary Academy Award for his "body of varied and enduring work." Lehman is survived by his wife Laurie and three children.

by Michael T. Toole

Ernest Lehman (1915-2005)

Ernest Lehman, the acclaimed screenwriter who did everything from stranding Cary Grant in a cornfield (North by Northwest) to seeing Julie Andrews help the Von Trap family escape the Nazis in (The Sound of Music) died on July 2 in Los Angeles following an undisclosed illness. He was 89. Born on December 8, 1915 in New York City, Lehman graduated from New York's City College with a degree in English. After graduation he found work as a writer for many mediums: radio, theater, and popular magazines of the day like Collier's before landing his first story in Hollywood for the comedy, The Inside Story (1948). The success of that film didn't lead immediately to screenwriting some of Hollywood's biggest hits, but his persistancy to break into the silver screen paid off by the mid-'50s: the delicious Audrey Hepburn comedy Sabrina (1954, his first Oscar® nomination and first Golden Globe award); Paul Newman's first hit based on the life of Rocky Graziano Somebody Up There Likes Me; and his razor sharp expose of the publicity world based on his own experiences as an assistant for a theatre publicist The Sweet Smell of Success (1957). Lehman's verasitily and gift for playful dialogue came to the fore for Alfred Hitchcock's memorable North by Northwes (1959, his second Oscar® nomination); and he showed a knack for moving potentially stiff Broadway fodder into swift cinematic fare with West Side Story (1961, a third Oscar® nomination); The Sound of Music (1965); Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966); and Hello, Dolly! (1969, the last two being his final Oscar® nominations for screenwriting). Lehman took his turn as a director when he adapted Philip Roth's comic novel Portnoy's Complaint (1972) for film, and despite some good reviews, it wasn't a commercial hit. He wrote just two more screenplays before retiring: an underrated comic mystery gem for Hitchcock Family Plot (1976); and the big budget Robert Shaw espionage drama Black Sunday (1977). Lehman served as president of the Writers Guild of America from 1983-85. After going zero for five with his Oscar® nominations, the Academy made it up to him in 2001, by presenting him with an honorary Academy Award for his "body of varied and enduring work." Lehman is survived by his wife Laurie and three children. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Play it cool boy, real cool.
- Ice
Now I know Tony like I know me and I guarentee you can count him in
- Riff
In, out, let's get crackin'
- Action
Where you gonna find Bernardo?
- Gee-tar
He'll be at the dance tonight at the gym
- Riff
But the gym's neutral territory
- A-Rab
Well end your suffering little man. Why don't you pack up your gear and clear out of here?
- Tony
Look, Tony, I've never asked the time of day from a clock but I'm asking you, come to the dance tonight. I already told the gang you'd be there. If you don't show I'll be marked lousy.
- Riff
What time?
- Tony
Ten.
- Riff
Ten it is.
- Tony
Womb to tomb!
- Riff
My brother is a silly watchdog!
- Maria
Ah, my sister is a precious jewel!
- Bernardo
What am I, cut glass?
- Anita

Trivia

The original stage version of Maria's song "I Feel Pretty" included the lyrics "I feel pretty and witty and bright / And I pity / Any girl who isn't me tonight." In the film this night scene was changed to the daytime, and presumably for this reason, the rhyming words "bright" and "tonight" were changed to "gay" and "today."

Borrowed its plot from William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet".

Natalie Wood's singing was dubbed by Marni Nixon.

The actors in the rival gangs were instructed to play pranks on each other off the set to keep tensions high.

Richard Beymer's singing voice was dubbed by Jimmy Bryant.

Notes

The film begins with a whistled phrase of three notes, which recurs throughout the score and is later revealed to be the Jets' signal to one another. Many of the songs in the score are based on the musical intervals in this phrase. A four-and-a-half minute overture then plays against an abstract drawing of Manhattan skyscrapers, at the end of which the title appears. The drawing dissolves into aerial shots of New York City, showing locations from the Battery to the upper West Side, while repetitions of the whistled phrase, traffic noises, and bongo riffs are heard on the soundtrack.
       The camera moves into an urban, concrete playground, where members of the Jets are leaning against a fence, rhythmically snapping their fingers. They strut around, looking for trouble, and gradually begin to dance. When the Sharks appear, the conflict between the two gangs is represented by stylized dancing. The dance builds to a choreographed fistfight, which ends with the arrival of "Lt. Schrank" and "Officer Krupke," after which the film's dialog begins. An intermission occurs at approximately one hour and twenty minutes into the film. Many end credits appear to be handwritten on a wall, like graffiti. All cast members' names are listed, followed by "as" and their respective character names. Although most reviews state that West Side Story's running time is 155 minutes, which is the approximate length of the print viewed, the film's copyright record incorrectly lists the duration as 251 minutes.
       As noted in Filmfacts, the stage version of the musical play opened on Broadway on September 26, 1957 to critical and popular acclaim. The show ran for an initial 732 performances, followed by a successful national tour, another 249 performances in New York City and a two-year run in London. West Side Story was directed and choreographed by the innovative Jerome Robbins, who stated in an added feature presentation in the 2003 DVD release that he had been interested in creating a contemporary version of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet since the late 1940s and that Arthur Laurents, the show's writer, and composer Leonard Bernstein added the gang theme to the story. The show marked the first Broadway success of composer Stephen Sondheim, who was the lyricist for West Side Story. The show was innovative on many levels, as it featured Robbins' mixing of contemporary popular dance with classical styles and integrated the dance sequences seamlessly into the songs and action of the story. The gritty, urban tenement setting, the use of street language and the serious exploration of societal problems such as bigotry and juvenile delinquency were a marked change from the standard musical of the time. Several songs from the show ("Tonight," "Maria," "I Feel Pretty," "America" and "Somewhere") became standard repertoire for singers and other musicians, and the song "Quintet" was notable for its presentation of the points of view of five sets of characters.
       A November 1959 Daily Variety news item reported that producer-director Robert Wise planned to make the film as a joint venture of his B & P Productions, The Mirisch Company and Seven Arts Productions, for release by United Artists. A December 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Robbins would co-direct with Wise. Although Robbins and Wise are listed as co-directors onscreen, Robbins was asked to leave the production early during the shooting. Filmfacts reported the rumor that Robbins was taking too much time with the dances, and that the two directors had disagreements. Providing a more diplomatic explanation, Wise stated in a December 1960 Daily Variety article that Jerome's departure was not due to artistic differences or his co-director's personal failings, but because it was taking too long to coordinate their respective ideas, and because Wise had been with the film project about a year longer than Robbins, it was he who remained. By the time Robbins left, he had completed choreographing all but two numbers, and several of his assistants, Margaret Banks, Tommy Abbott and Tony Mordente, remained with the production, assuring that Robbins' basic choreography, which was mostly retained from the theater production, was executed correctly. Robbins also retained film editing rights, although the extent and length of time of his participation during post-produciton has not been determined.
       Although none of the leads from the Broadway show were re-cast in the film, William Bramley ("Officer Krupke") and Abbott ("Gee-tar") reprised their Broadway roles in the film, and Mordente ("Action") and David Winters ("A-rab") had appeared in the Broadway production in other roles. George Chakiris, who played "Bernardo" in the film, had portrayed "Riff" in the London production. According to the December 1960 Daily Variety article, eleven members of the film's cast had appeared in one of the stage productions, while several others had never acted professionally before being cast in the film. Irene Sharaff served as costume designer for both the film and the Broadway production, and Mordente, Abbott and Howard Jeffrey served as dance assistants for both versions. According to a December 1991 Variety article, actress Stefanie Powers, who was then going by the name of Taffy Paul, was hired as a dancer for the film, but soon dropped out, as she was underage and by law required on-set tutoring and a shortened shooting schedule. According to a February 1961 Los Angeles Mirror article, the only school-aged cast member in the film was Susan Oakes, who portrayed the tomboy "Anybodys." Modern sources add Christopher Culkin, Elaine Joyce, Lee Theodore and Lou Ruggerio to the cast.
       As noted in Filmfacts and the Variety review, Jimmy Bryant and Marni Nixon dubbed the singing voices of the leads, Richard Beymer ("Tony") and Natalie Wood ("Maria"). According to a featurette about the film on the 2003 DVD release, Tucker Smith, who portrayed "Ice" in the film, also served as a singing double for Russ Tamblyn for at least one song. February 1963 Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Herald Express news items reported that professional ghost singer Betty Wand filed a $60,000 damage suit against B & P Enterprises, Inc., the producers and the Columbia Broadcast System, claiming that she had provided the singing voice for Rita Moreno ("Anita") on two songs, "A Boy Like That" and "I Have a Love," on an emergency basis and that, without her knowledge, her voice was used in the soundtrack album. A cross suit filed by CBS asked that B & P be held liable for any damages on the grounds that the company released the soundtrack album believing that Moreno sang the songs. According to the Los Angeles Herald Express news item, Wand's suit was settled out of court, although the amount of the settlement was not reported.
       As noted in the December 1960 Daily Variety article, only a few changes were made to the theatrical script. Among them, the prologue was lengthened from four-and-one-half minutes to eight minutes. In the song "America," which originally was sung only by the Puerto Rican women, the men's point of view was added. Two numbers, "Cool" and "Gee, Officer Krupke," were moved to other positions within the story; some of the lyrics of "Krupke" were altered slightly; and the character of Krupke is not seen onscreen during the song, as he was in the staged version.
       According to the studio production notes, when the film began production in August 1960, the women were rehearsing in Hollywood at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios, while twenty-two actors were taken to New York City to film the prologue in the areas of 68th Street, which was demolished shortly after filming to build Lincoln Center, and 110th Street in the Puerto Rican district. According to a September 1960 Los Angeles Times article, the troupe shot on the New York streets for five weeks. The article reported that Robbins felt that the film necessitated more realistic sets than the stage production's stylized sets, and that he adapted his stage choreography to match the more realistic settings in the picture. In the DVD release's additional material, cast members reminisced that Robbins, for whom they had fond memories, worked them very hard, and described injuries from dancing on the street pavements. They also recalled that Eliot Feld, who portrayed "Baby John," caught pneumonia after they returned to shoot the rest of the film at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios.
       According to the Variety review, the film cost $6,000,000 to produce. An October 1961 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that, because of the film's extraordinary box office and critical success at its New York opening at the Rivoli Theatre, there was discussion about moving forward the film's domestic and foreign release. Most reviewers praised the film with superlative descriptions, such as "a cinematic masterpiece" (New York Times), "a milestone in movie musicals"(Hollywood Reporter) and "a triumphant work of art" (Saturday Review (of Literature)), and Senator Clair Engle, according to a July 1962 Hollywood Reporter news item, lauded the film for its American flavor "in type, character and spirit." A March 1962 Daily Variety news item stated that the film was proving itself to be the strongest box office hit in many areas overseas in United Artists' history. May 1966 Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety news items reported that the film ran for four years at Paris' George V Theatre, the longest run in French motion picture history at that time.
       August 1961 Variety and Daily Variety articles reported that a different style of subtitles were to be used for foreign bookings. The articles reported that song lyrics, which were usually left out due to "dubbing difficulties," would probably appear in italics. A March 1962 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that the United Artist exhibition contract carried a clause that required an extra monthly inspection of prints and equipment, to ensure that the reproduction of sight and sound in the theaters would maintain the same quality as when they were recorded. The news item quoted Wise as stating that United Artists hired a projection technician, Bill Betcher, to check the theaters. A September 1961 Variety article reported that music arrangers, who had made similar complaints about Flower Drum Song, criticized the film for not giving onscreen credits to arrangers and that committee members from the Music Branch of AMPAS had been petitioned to review the matter. According to a September 1961 Hollywood Reporter news item, while West Side Story was still in its roadshow engagement, Columbia Records released its soundtrack album, which would later win a Grammy award. In addition, the news item reported that Capitol Records was producing a recording by the Stan Kenton Orchestra and by the dual piano team of Ferrante and Teicher, and that single records of the songs from the film were expected to be released.
       In early December 1961, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Wood's footprint was the 136th to be imprinted in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. West Side Story won ten Academy Awards, the second highest number of Oscars received for an individual film at that time. Besides Best Motion Picture, the film also won Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Chakiris), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Moren0), Art Direction (Boris Leven and Victor A. Gengelin), Cinematography (Daniel L. Fapp), Costume Design (Sharaff), Best Director (Wise and Robbins), Best Film Editing (Thomas Stanford), Best Musical Score (Saul Chaplin, Johnny Green, Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal) and Best Sound. The film was also nominated for Best Screenplay (Ernest Lehman). West Side Story won Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy, Best Supporting Actor (Chakiris) and Best Supporting Actress (Moreno). Beymer was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor-Musical or Comedy, and Wise and Robbins were nominated for Best Director. Among the many other awards the film received were the Directors Guild of America Award (Wise, Robbins and assistant director Robert E. Relyea), the Writers Guild of America's Best Written American Musical and the Newspaper Guild's 1962 Page One Award in Motion Picture for the "vivid and eloquent picturing of a phase of [New York] city's life." According to a January 1962 Box Office article, West Side Story was on the top ten best movies of 1961 lists for the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics and seven other New York daily newspapers.
       According to a May 1966 Daily Variety news item, Mirisch rejected a record $3,000,000 offer from a television network to broadcast the film because the company had plans for a theatrical re-release within the next few years. An August 1968 Variety news item reported that United Artists was reissuing the film that fall. An October 1979 Variety article reported that United Artists was ordered to pay nearly $400,000 to the original authors of West Side Story as their share of $4,000,000 in U.S. network and foreign television packaging revenues. The ruling was made after an eighteen-month audit and a two-and-a-half years of arbitration by the American Arbitration Association.
       Several moments from West Side Story, as well as the songs and phrases from the song, have become iconic in other motion pictures, television shows and commercials. The fingers snapping of the defiant youths, the three-note signature phrase, the "rumble" and the love scene on the fire escape are a few of the moments from the film that have often been referred to or parodied in other works over the years. Many artists have recorded songs from West Side Story, and in 1961, Bernstein composed an orchestral work, "Symphonic Dances from West Side Story", based on his film score.
       In 2007, West Side Story was ranked 51st on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies-10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films. The film was also ranked 3rd on AFI's 100 Greatest Love Stories, 2nd on AFI's Twenty-five Top Musicals, and the songs "Somewhere," "America" and " Tonight" were ranked 20th, 35th and 59th, respectively, of AFI's 100 Top Movie Songs of All Time.

Miscellaneous Notes

Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1961 National Board of Review.

Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1961 New York Times Film Critics.

Released in United States Fall October 18, 1961

Re-released in United States September 28, 1990

Released in United States March 1977

Released in United States 1982

Released in United States October 26, 1989

Released in United States January 12, 1991

Shown at Greater Fort Lauderdale Film Festival (Tribute to Natalie Wood) October 26, 1989.

Shown at Palm Springs International Film Festival (30th Anniversary Screening) January 12, 1991.

Released in USA on video.

Selected in 1997 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

Released in United States Fall October 18, 1961

Re-released in United States September 28, 1990 (Los Angeles)

Released in United States March 1977 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Mighty Musical Movie Marathon) March 9-27, 1977.)

Released in United States 1982 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Natalie Wood: A Retrospective) March 16 - April 1, 1982.)

Released in United States October 26, 1989 (Shown at Greater Fort Lauderdale Film Festival (Tribute to Natalie Wood) October 26, 1989.)

Released in United States January 12, 1991 (Shown at Palm Springs International Film Festival (30th Anniversary Screening) January 12, 1991.)

Voted Best Picture of the Year by the 1961 New York Film Critics Association.