What the surviving stars of West Side Story are doing today
West Side Story was the modern retelling of the classic Shakespeare love story Romeo and Juliet. The 1961 screenplay, based on the 1957 Broadway production, became a classic story in its own right, detailing a story about racial rivalry in New York City between two teenage street gangs — the Sharks (teens from Puerto Rico) and the Jets (a white gang). Tony, a former Jet and bestie of the leader of the pack, falls in love with Maria, the younger sister of Bernardo, head honcho of the Sharks. The lovers plan to run off with each other into the countryside, but their dreams are thwarted when Tony is murdered by a member of the Sharks.
There were so many lessons to be learned in this classic story, which is why its telling earned a long list of awards and accolades — including the 1962 Academy Awards for best picture, best supporting actor and actress, best director, best music and more. The iconic tale has been revived on countless stages and screens — Steven Spielberg is working on a 2020 remake — but let’s take a moment to check in with the surviving members of that critically-acclaimed 1961 movie cast.
Richard Beymer found new thrills behind the scenes
Following his performance as Tony in the 1961 movie version of West Side Story, Richard Beymer continued acting, but his subsequent performances failed to live up to the hype of that aforementioned musical masterpiece. Beymer has more than 60 acting credits under his belt. The most recent was his revived role as Benjamin Horne in the 2017 reboot of Twin Peaks.
In his later years, Beymer turned away from acting and began making his own films as a documentarian and director. In a 1990 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Beymer said, “I never left the movies. I just made other kinds of movies. Hollywood was a thing of the past for me because I’d found something that thrilled me. That was the best fun in the world, doing movies that were spontaneous at every step, as compared with Hollywood movies that are all planned out. To me, those films look too perfect. Real life is funkier.”
His latest project, 2017’s Behind the Red Curtain, was reportedly a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Twin Peaks reboot. Beymer celebrated his 82nd birthday in 2020.
Russ Tablyn reflects on the roles he didn't get
Russ Tamblyn auditioned for the part of Tony in West Side Story, but he got offered the role of energetic tough guy and Jet member Riff instead. “Oddly enough, I’ve never gotten anything I’ve ever auditioned for,” he told Antenna TV. That certainly worked out for him, considering he enjoyed a successful acting and entertainment career prior to and following that legendary role. Tamblyn appeared in the hit TV series Gilligan’s Island, the 1964 film The Long Ships with Sidney Poitner, and — alongside West Side Story alum Richard Beymer — he starred in both the original and rebooted Twin Peaks.
With a whopping 94 acting credits to his name, the Golden Globe award recipient — who celebrated his 85th birthday in 2019 — continues to work in the industry. He appeared in the TV series The Haunting of Hill House in 2018, and according to a 2019 interview with Variety, Tamblyn will be reflecting on his long-standing career in a forthcoming memoir titled Dancing on the Edge. As of July 2020, there has been no official release date for the novel, but fans can sign up for an advanced autographed copy via Tamblyn’s official website.
Rita Moreno almost quit West Side Story
Rita Moreno portrayed the unforgettable Anita, Maria’s sister, in West Side Story, but years later, the actress revealed that she nearly quit the production due to the way it portrayed Puerto Ricans, particularly in the famous song “America.”
“I was going to give it up on principle, not because I was brave — but because I couldn’t bear the thought of doing this to my people,” she told The Hollywood Reporter in 2019. “But then [Stephen] Sondheim changed the lyric.”
Morena is also involved in Steven Spielberg’s 2020 remake of the iconic musical as “both an actress and an executive producer — a role that’s intended to help guide the project away from the original’s dated and racially insensitive elements,” per THR.
Morena, who celebrated her 88th birthday in 2019, has certainly dazzled throughout her career, becoming one of only 15 artists to date to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (aka EGOT). She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2004. One of Moreno’s recent credits was her 2017 role in the Netflix remake of the 1975 sitcom One Day at a Time, where she played the hilarious matriarch of a Cuban-American family, and she still has acting goals on her bucket list. “I’d love very much to play a character that isn’t necessarily Hispanic,” she told THR.
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