West Side Story

George Chakiris, who was born to Greek parents on September 16, 1934 in Norwood, Ohio, is an entertainment Renaissance man, a multi-faceted singing, dancing and acting talent. It may be said that the only things about him that can surpass his talent are his dark good looks and his overwhelming charisma.

George made his first film appearance at the tender age of 12 as a chorus singer in Song of Love(1947), the musical biography of Robert and Clara Schumann. George took drama, singing and dance lessons, and as his skills continued to increase, he landed a few, often unbilled, parts dancing in various musical comedies.

These roles included being a chorus dancer in movies like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes(1953), There?s No Business Like Show Business and Brigadoon (both 1954). In White Christmas(1954), he had quite a visible dancing role. His first ten years in movies followed this vein, aside from a brief dramatic role in the film Under Fire(1957), incidentally the last film in which George was credited as “George Kerris”, as he often was in the early days of his career.

George?s successful move to more dramatic roles also lead to his roles becoming bigger in subsequent movies, but after making Under Fire he turned away from the silver screen for a few years to pursue a stage career. He was soon to be cast in a role which would change his life: He was given the part of Riff in the original London production of West Side Story, which opened at Her Majesty?s Theatre in December 1958 and went on to a two-year, performance run. This role was no doubt instrumental in landing George his Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning role as Bernardo in the subsequent movie version of the musical (1961).

After winning both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his role in West Side Story, George continued to get starring roles in movies, though one might consider these subsequent roles a letdown after such an amazing breakthrough. Some of his best-remembered roles came in 633 Squadron (1964) as a brave Norwegian (!!!) soldier fighting the Nazis, in Flight from Ashiya (1964), a movie mostly remembered for its charismatic leading men (e.g. George and Yul Brynner), as a traumatised pilot who overcomes his fears, in Paris br?le-t-il? (1966).

The interesting part about George?s roles is the variety they have - not only the range from musicals and comedies to drama and action, but also the variety of languages he appeared in. George?s repertoire includes roles in English-, Spanish-, French- and Italian-language films.

George spent most of the ?60s doing movies and recording a number of albums - West Side Story cast recordings as well as solo records. He also made guest appearances on a number of successful TV series and had a leading role (along with Anna Maria Alberghetti, Jose Ferrer and Barbara Eden) in a 1967 TV adaptation of Kismet. In the late ?60s and early ?70s George launched his successful nightclub career, which would take him e.g. to Caesar?s Palace in Las Vegas.

The ?70s saw George continuing his singing career, appearing on several TV shows ranging from Hawaii Five-0 (1972) to The Partridge Family(1974) and on to Wonder Woman and Return to Fantasy Island (both 1978). He also co-starred (as Chopin) with Rosemary Harris in Notorious Woman, a miniseries on the life of George Sand, which premiered on PBS? Masterpiece Theatre in 1975. George also performed on stage both in the US and in France.

George spent the ?80s in very much the same way as the ?70s, focusing on his musical and television careers, including a recurring role on the series Dallas from 1985 to 1986. George has continued to sing and act, especially on stage, throughout the ?90s. His most notable roles included starring in The King and I (1995) in Palm Springs and playing Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre in 1996. George also appeared in a movie, 1990?s Pale Blood, in which he played a vampire.