West Side Story: The Names Behind the Jets and Sharks

When I was 14 in 2002, I watched “West Side Story” for the first time and became obsessed with the movie musical, which premiered 55 years ago in New York City on Oct. 18, 1961. My dad who introduced me to the film later regretted it, because I listened to the soundtrack every night and tried to learn the dances. “West Side Story” is directly responsible for my love of movie musicals which manifested into the weekly Musical Monday.

West Side Story” is one of those movies where you notice or learn something new with every viewing and every detail and aesthetic was carefully planned. When you’re obsessed with a film, you research the heck out of it to learn all you can. One thing that I have always been interested in is the story behind all the dancers that made up the film.

The Sharks and the Jets

The Sharks and the Jets

The lead actors of Natalie Wood (as Maria), Richard Beymer (as Tony), Rita Moreno (as Anita), George Chakiris (as Bernardo), and Russ Tamblyn (as Riff) are all stupendous. But many of us already know their stories.

I really wanted to delve into the actors you don’t know as well: the story behind the actor who played Baby John who is now a renowned in the New York City ballet world. Or there’s the Shark who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. You maybe didn’t know it, but you probably watched Consuelo on “Full House.”

This is the story behind the Jets, the Sharks and their girlfriends. They weren’t the ones who picked up the Academy Awards for “West Side Story” and didn’t even have their name on the marquee, but their dancing is what mesmerized the audiences.

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An influential mermaid

My dear friends at True Classics has invited bloggers to share their “Movie Memories” during the month of June. I am honored that I was invited to participate . Head to True Classics to read the other marvelous posts!

little mermaid

Little Mermaid

I remember sitting in a dim theater and looking at lit up designs on the wall.

It was 1989 and I was about a year old, but I remember. Somehow I have an uncanny memory.

The Little Mermaid” was the last Disney feature film to be animated with hand painted cells and it was my first movie in a movie theater.

Though “The Little Mermaid” isn’t necessarily a classic film, I was very attached to the movie when I was very young. It introduced me to a love of movies and movie characters.

My sisters tell me I used to roll around in the bath water while my mother would try to bathe me pretending to be a mermaid like Ariel. A Christmas Day home video shows me excitedly playing with a new Ariel Barbie while trying to sing tunes from the film.

I even remember telling my mom that I wanted to be a mermaid when I grew up. She said, “You can’t, you have to be born a mermaid.” I found this to be a very puzzling statement.

cinderella2

Cinderella

My parents always took my sisters and me to see the new Disney cartoons but also introduced us to the classic Disney films. Cinderella (1950) was another favorite of mine at a young age.

The Little Mermaid” and “Cinderella” are typical favorite films for little girls between the age of two to six, and maybe even older.

Several years later in 1997, I saw another film that affected the way I viewed movies. In third grade, I fell in love with the Twentieth Century Fox animated film “Anastasia.”

anastasia

Anastasia

I was obsessed.  I wore a locket like in the film, learned the dances, studied Romanov history and wished I was the lost princess Anastasia Romanov. My mom told me that wouldn’t be possible. But this time I understood what she meant.

The movie interested me in history and the 1920s since the song “Paris Holds the Key to Your Heart” has cameos from Josephine Baker and Maurice Chevalier.

Again, another movie changed the way I looked at things.

At the age of 14, my dad decided to introduce me to “West Side Story.” I remember it was March and I was on spring break.

West Side Story mambo scene

West Side Story mambo scene

West Side Story” changed the way I looked at film and solidified my love for classic movies. It’s what led me to watch 501 musicals and thousands of other classic films.

But my film love all started with “The Little Mermaid.”

As I sat in the movie theater, not even two years old, my life was change. Movies became important to me at an early age, shaping my interests and world views.

Who would have thought that a disobedient teenage mermaid could be so influential.

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Actress beauty tip #21: Fashion copied from films

This is the twenty-first installment of the monthly classic actress beauty tips that I have read about and tested.

First, I would like to apologize for not posting a beauty tip in February-it’s the only month I’ve missed a beauty tip and I don’t plan on making it a habit.

March’s beauty tip is going to focus on fashion I have copied from films. For the time being I’ve run out of regiments to test, but I’m still digging around for some.

However, fashion, hairstyles and jewelry are just as important to a film star’s beauty as how she washes her hair or face.

As many of you know, “West Side Story” (1961) is one one of my all-time favorite films. The music, the colors, the sadness, all make the movie perfect, but another thing that has drawn me to the movie are the beautiful outfits.

Who can forget the purple dress Anita wears to the dance and the white dress Maria feels makes her look like a baby? But my favorite three are the yellow dress Maria wears while singing “I Feel Pretty,” the blue dress Maria wears as she waits for Tony after the rumble and the orange dress we get a brief glimpse of Anita wearing in the dress shop when she catches Maria and Tony together.

Anita warning Maria she must be home in 15 minutes-both wearing two of my favorite outfits in "West Side Story."

I buy several vintage clothing items on Ebay that reminds me of classic films: peasant blouses, fiesta skirts, silky formals, pinafore dresses, flashy earrings.

But I rarely find anything in a contemporary clothing store that reminded me of an outfit I’ve seen in a movie. The only other time I’ve seen something similar to a film outfit was a white dress in Dress Barn that made me think of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

Then one day I was in TJMaxx and sticking out of the rack I saw a sleeveless orange dress. I immediately thought of Anita in “West Side Story” and bought it.

Bought this dress at TJMaxx because it reminded me of my favorite movie.

To review: Fashion is important to me, but particularly if it reminds me of something I’ve seen in a movie. The best places to find movie like clothing is on ebay or stores like vintagevixen.com, but sometimes you can get lucky!

UNRELATED REMINDER! Comet’s Gone Too Soon blogathon is on the 9 and 10th. Follow this link for more details and a list of who bloggers are covering- https://cometoverhollywood.com/2012/02/03/upcoming-comet-blogathon-gone-too-soon/ Further updates will come this week.

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Classic film in daily life: Room and Work space

Back in November I said I was going to start writing short snippets detailing classic film in my daily life.  You may remember my post about writing a Media Ethics paper researching whites playing ethnic roles in films. 

As I finish up my last week of college classes forever, I wanted to show how classic film helped to decorate my college dorm room and my desk at our student newspaper office.

I even cleaned up my room for all of you 🙂

My room:

My desk area with Nancy Drew, White Cargo, West Side Story posters on top and Brandon Flowers, Betty Grable and Doris Day below. Also on the desk is a "White Christmas" photo, Robert Osborne bobble head and my desk top background is from "Since You Went Away"

My closer has photos of LIFE magazine photos above it, I tried to be clever and put actresses looking in mirrors on my mirror, Deanna Durbin and Esther Williams autographs on top of TV and Im watching the Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine in "The Guardsman"

 

More LIFE magazines over my bed

 I also have different film books lying around (I’m currently reading Betty Hutton’s “Backstage You Can Have”) and several VHS tapes and DVDs trying waiting to be watched. I didn’t add those because that seemed a bit much.

 My desk in The Johnsonian office:

My desk. Thats me on the desk top background with "I love Robert Osborne" written on the photo. As a joke each editor had their mug shot set as the background and something that defined them written about themselves.

Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Carmen Miranda and Betty Grable help me work.

 

Ruth Chatteron, Harry James, Don Ameche and Betty Grable also decorate my desk.

 Hope you enjoyed your little tour 🙂

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The anniversary of my magnificent obsession

Jets trying to scare the sharks. Photo from LIFE

Today is the anniversary of an event that occurred eight years ago.

It was a Saturday, at the end of my 8th grade spring break.  I had just gotten over being sick and had watched many other great films for the first time while I was couch ridden including “Peyton Place” (1957) and “Singin’ In the Rain” (1952).  But none of them were compared to this film.

On March 8, 2003, my dad thought I should be introduced to “West Side Story” (1961) because of my newly developed interest in classic musicals.   He now shakes his head and says he created a monster.

Who knew snapping fingers, mambos, dancing on roof tops and signal whistles in NYC would be so Earth shattering for a 14-year-old?

I sat there in one of our family’s old corduroy, gold rocking arm chairs, skeptical on what this movie would be like. But after the movie was over, I floated upstairs to my room feeling a change inside me and knowing my movie interests would never be the same.

Maria spotting Tony for the first time

It wasn’t just one scene in “West Side Story” that affected me:  it was the whole movie:
-The beauty of everything blurring around Tony and Maria when they first see each other.
-The emotion that fills Tony’s face as he sings “Maria.”
-The mix of reds and orange hues in the movie set that fit the movie so well.
-The last heart-wrenching 30 minutes of the movie that never fails to make me tear up.

Prior to “West Side Story” I was already well into my old movie interest starting the previous summer when I became fascinated with Audrey Hepburn and then Doris Day.

I’m not sure if I would have appreciated “West Side Story” as much as I did if I hadn’t already had a good classic movie cushion to fall back on.

But “West Side Story” wasn’t just a passing interest, it became a lifestyle.

I perfected my whistling so I could do the signal at the beginning of the movie. I learned how to snap so I could snap like the Sharks and the Jets. I a tried my hardest to learn the mambo and dances from “The Dance at the Gym”-which didn’t work out too well. I printed over 100 photos from the internet and plastered my closet doors with them.

Much to my family’s frustration I also listened to the soundtrack-every night in the shower. It quickly got old for everyone but me.

It is safe to say that I was hyperventilatingly, unhealthily obsessed with “West Side Story.”

I try to play it “Cool” now

I still love the movie, but it is safe to say I’m not longer obsessed. This crazy obsession lasted through my freshman year of high school. It tapered off when I found other great movies like “So Proudly We Hail” (1942), “Since You Went Away” (1944) and “Sunset Boulevard” (1951).

I can still listen to the soundtrack and know exactly what is going on during the song, and I still cry at the end of the movie.

Though my “West Side Story” obsession may have irritated my family, caused friends to roll their eyes and was a bit unnatural, I don’t see it as a bad thing.

“West Side Story” opened me even more to musicals and classic movies; searching for another movie that could beat it. It’s still one of my favorite movies and I bless the day I discovered it.

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Evolution of a classic film fanatic

It started with a girl named Maria and a boy named Tony who thought something was coming. That’s what I usually tell people when they ask how I became a classic movie fan: it happened on a fateful March evening in 2003 when I saw “West Side Story” (1961). I became obsessed, end of story.

But my “West Side Story” obsession (which is a whole other blog post) isn’t even close to where my classic film education began. Let’s travel back in time to 1988, the year I was born. Or maybe 1991, I would have been a bit more coherent to films at age three.

My parents introduced my two older sisters and me to classic film at an early age. Some of these movies were Disney movies like “Lady and the Tramp” or “Swiss Family Robinson” or family friendly movies like “White Christmas” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Tom Drake and Judy Garland in “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944)

I  distinctly remember watching “Meet Me in St Louis” when I was five or six and thinking that Judy Garland looked pretty or laughing at Julie Newmar’s name “Dorcas” in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

Basically classics have always been in my life, but as a child I never realized that they were old and thought all of these wonderful movies were brand new.

My real interest in movies started when I was in third grade and I saw the cartoon version of “Anastasia” on a rainy November day in 1997. No this isn’t a classic movie, but it started a long line of movie obsessions to come.  I mean, I even thought I was somehow the lost princess Anastasia Romanov. I was hooked.

Fast-forward to middle school. I became interested in shows on TVLand, The Monkees and 1960s pop culture. I was interested in anything old, and naturally gravitated towards movies, which is probably where it all began.

But the real gateway drug to the classic film addiction was “West Side Story” (1961). On an evening in March 2003, my dad said, “You like musicals and old movies; you should see ‘West Side Story.’” He later said he created a monster and wasn’t joking at all.

Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood in “West Side Story” (1961), the film I was obssessed with for two years.

From “West Side Story,” I snowballed into a musical love and I went out of my way to tape them off the television. I started a new musical list that is  still growing at 390 titles.

I then found actors I liked, like Doris Day and Jane Powell, and wanted to see their movies and the interest just grew and grew and grew. Now, I’m not obsessed with one particular actor or movie, it’s more that I’m crazy about the whole classic film shebang.

As a rule I only watch movies from the beginning of film to the mid-1960s. Pre-code movies are great because their vulgarity is done in a tongue-and-check way that sometimes can go by unnoticed if you aren’t paying attention. Once you get into the 1960s and beyond, the plots run thin in an attempt to be artistic, nudity isn’t rare and morals go out the window. Also actors from the Golden Era were fading away and the studio system was crumbling.

I guess if I had to make an analogue with how it all started, “West Side Story” would have been that first beer that led me into old movie alcoholism. It didn’t matter what I watched as long as it fulfilled my movie viewing needs. I think my viewing is a bit more mature than that now. Sure I still watch a few clunkers, or watch a stinker movie for the sake of fulfilling a classic actor list (like “Night of the Demon” for Dana Andrews) but it is just all part of the experience.

What kind of movie fan am I now?

•I make monthly lists from Now Playing to tape; usually 30 to 40 movies a month. We use A LOT of VHS tapes.

•I only buy books, paper dolls, posters or anything of that nature that is movie related. I often search Ebay for classic film memorabilia, and as much as I would enjoy Lana Turner’s evening bag from “Imitation of Life”, as a 21-year-old college student, that really isn’t in my budget.

•I don’t have any real obsession now. I have my favorite movies, actors and actresses but no one that I hyperventilate over when I think about them. I guess the only movie that would come close to that is “Since You Went Away” or the actor Van Johnson.

•I want to meet Robert Osborne one day. He is my hero and I think we would

Robert Osborne: My hero

be best friends. Robert, if you just happen to be reading this, let’s meet in Atlanta and have lunch, okay? I’m just in South Carolina so it’s not that far.

•I’ve come to realize that the Hollywood I dreamed about in middle school and early high school is non-existent now. I used to dream about going to Hollywood and thinking it would be like it was during the Golden Era: clean, historically preserved and bowing down to Hollywood greats like Joan Crawford. My family took a family vacation there in 2006 and I’ve realized there is nothing for me there. Hollywood is not interested in preserving history, and even though the Hollywood Bowl was cool, it’s not like Kathryn Grayson will be singing a concert there ever again.

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