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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

West Side Stories.

The intent here is to emulate the style of column that Larry King used to turn out for USA Today:
run-on thoughts, random thoughts, thoughts seemingly coming out of nowhere,,,,,,,
maybe he still does turn out these columns. It's been a while since I've seen USA Today.........

But there will be a unifying theme, unlike what Larry did, or does.
That theme is the play and movie "West Side Story"..........

There is a strong common thread between "West Side Story" and "A Chorus Line".
Both were primarily dancers shows.
All the prominent performers in both shows were dancers.
Most of the prominent performers in both shows and movies went on to have less than stellar performing careers subsequent to their appearances in these shows and/or movies.
Certainly nowhere as stellar as their work in those shows and/or movies.............

Rita Moreno and Chita Rivera were as close as anyone came to sustaining successful careers.
But even both of them peaked career-wise with "West Side Story"........

The Kennedy Center Honor that has made the least sense so far in its history is the one they handed out to Chita Rivera.
I mean, who, below Exit 9 on the Jersey Turnpike, ever heard of Chita Rivera?
I have a sneaking suspicion that Rita Moreno agrees with me.............

I mentioned that I'd done a pilot with Rita Moreno.
During the time we spent together, she shared anecdotes about the "West Side Story" shoot.
Since the play had been around for a few years by the time they started shooting the film, the cast knew the songs backwards and forwards.
One day on the set, one of the cast members started singing "A boy like that, he'd kill your brother" in the style of Billy Eckstine.
For the unindoctrinated, Billy Eckstine was a very popular black singer who had a deep baritone and a very syrupy style to his voice.
The Billy Eckstine impression caught on, and pretty soon, in their free time, EVERY cast member was singing EVERY song in the score like Billy Eckstine.

If you're not familiar with what Billy Eckstine sounds like, make a trip over to YouTube.
It's a lot funnier if you're familiar with what Billy Eckstine sounds like..............

Most of the performers in "West Side Story" either completely vanished from show business, or died young, or both.
Natalie Wood was only 42 when she fell off the boat.
Larry Kert, the original Tony in the play, died from the AIDS at age 60.
Russ Tamblyn pretty much vanished.
I don't think Richard Beymer was ever heard from again.
Actually, he pretty much wasn't heard from to begin with.
All of his songs were dubbed by someone else.
One of the featured Jets, in both the play and the movie, Tucker Smith, showed up as an extra on a location shoot I was involved with on "Laverne and Shirley".
A lot of us recognized him. We all felt terrible.
He died shortly after that. In his forties.........

"Romeo and Juliet", by William Shakespeare, which "West Side Story" is based on, is a great read...........

Tony Mordente, who played "Action", and was once married to Chita Rivera, became a successful sitcom director.
He worked for me many times.
And I believe that he was a fashion trend setter.
Before him, I had never seen a sitcom director who worked with a sweater draped on his back, with the sleeves tied in front of him.
Pretty soon, EVERY sitcom director comported himself like that.
I don't quite know what message was being sent by it, but the style sure became popular.........

I once had dinner with Carol Lawrence, the original Maria.
She was almost going to do one of my plays.
She was quite gracious and sweet.
Particularly when I told her that I went out of my way to wait until she replaced Chita Rivera in "The Kiss of the Spider Woman" so I could see her in it.
I guess you can tell by now that I'm not a big fan of Chita's...........

Ned Glass, who played Doc, the owner of the candy store in the movie, and was quite good, and was quite good in other things I'd seen him in, was in a pilot I'd written, but let others produce.
So I didn't cast him.
He was unbelievably awful, as was just about everything else about this pilot.
I learned a very good lesson about delegating authority.
The lesson is: Don't delegate authority...............

When I was doing "She's The Sheriff", there was a guest star part that needed to be cast.
They brought in George Chakiris to read for me.
George Chakiris.
The Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor in "West Side Story"
The George Chakiris who apparently had a recent very bad eye job.
The George Chakiris who had much difficulty recognizing a punchline when he saw it.
Maybe it was because of the eye job.
Who can say?
But still, I was reading an Oscar Winner!
I ended up casting someone who was not George Chakiris.............

Anyway, these are my West Side Stories, and I'm sticking to them.............



  1. If I looked at a list, I'm sure I could find Kennedy Center winners more puzzling to *me* than Chita was, but that's primarily a matter of personal taste. Anyway, Chita was born and raised in DC, so I think they were partly honoring a hometown girl. (Hey, DC can be as parochial as anywhere else, and not just about politics and such.) But that certainly means that there are people south of Exit 9 who have heard of her (;-).

    Richard Beymer's wikipedia page lists some semi-prominent things he did both before and after West Side, but yeah, nothing in the "big star" mode.

    Russ Tamblyn's daughter was briefly more "famous" than he'll ever be, but she seems to have disappeared since then also. (She's in "127 Hours," but it ain't exactly about her, and AFAIK she doesn't cut her arm off or anything.)

    Carol Lawrence is perhaps the one whose subsequent obscurity is the most surprising, but maybe she chose to be a full-time mom to Goulet's kids. (Or maybe he insisted, which men could do in those days (;-).)

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About Me

Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."