West Side Story stars George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn spoke about their memories of Natalie Wood and the upcoming Steven Spielberg film.
The film will open the festival this Thursday night in honor of the 60th anniversary being celebrated this year. Stars Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, and Russ Tamblyn participated in new interviews exclusive for the occasion. In addition to TCM, the 1961 classic will also be available to stream through HBO Max.
Be sure to check back throughout the week for more coverage of the TCM Classic Film Festival!
What was it like to work alongside Natalie Wood in this film and did Steven Spielberg call on you for the new West Side Story film coming out this year?
George Chakiris: Well, working alongside Natalie was terrific. She was darling. She was friendly. And by the way, I think when we talk about Natalie today, try to remember that when we were doing West Side Story, she was 23. Okay. We can forgive anybody anything but when it happens that long ago but we don’t have to forgive her for anything because she was perfect. She was gregarious. She was fun. She was intelligent. She was really engaging with us.
One of the things that I’ve always loved about Natalie in West Side Story and in anything she ever did was what I call her personal quality. I think an actor or actress’s personal quality is something additional that we feel or don’t feel about someone when you see them on the screen. Audrey Hepburn had a great personal quality and so on. Natalie actually had that extraordinary personal quality. I’m reminded of what a wonderful actress Natalie was as a kid. You could see however old she was when she first started—she was very young—but you can see her gifts as an actress even when she was quite young. So again, working with Natalie, to me, was great. I remember the first time I saw her, I remember thinking, Wow, what a face. What a beautiful, beautiful face. You can’t film that that face babbling even if you try but to me, she was glorious. I really loved her.
Russ Tamblyn: I did not get a chance to work with Natalie.
George Chakiris: You missed all those scenes.
Russ Tamblyn: I thought the last scene in West Side Story, I thought Natalie just did an incredible job. Yeah. And also, I’d known her for years and years before West Side Story. I probably knew her for 10 or 20 years before the film. We were friends and used to hang out together with Dennis Hopper and—
I think the Steven Spielberg project is going to be interesting because they actually got a Puerto Rican girl that could sing and didn’t have to have singing for her. Evidently, she’s quite good. She was also a Broadway performer. I’m looking forward to seeing Spielberg’s version My hunch is—a lot of people say, well, do you think it’s going to be better or worse or what? I said, I think my own guess is—I haven’t seen a frame of the film of Spielberg film but I did go to the set and visit him. He was extremely generous. None of the Jets were working that day but when they heard I was coming, they all came to the set anyway and we had lunch together. They were just terrific and I really just loved them. I can’t wait to see the movie and see what he’s done with it.
What I believe is that there are going to be things in it that are going to be better, believe it or not—because I know a lot of people have said our film was perfect and you can’t get any better than that. But my hunch is that there are gonna be some things that are gonna be better in it. And some things that aren’t going to be that are going to be worse or not be as well. But we’ll see what happens. Steven Spielberg’s the most successful director, producer, and filmmaker in Hollywood so I don’t think he can go too far wrong. He’s got a lot of great people that were working on the film and a lot of Broadway performers. I’m looking forward to seeing it and of course, Rita, seeing her play the doc in it is going to be pretty amazing. She’s also an executive producer of it so she has nothing but high praise and said it’s moving.
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