The dancer, actor and singer George Chakiris has just published My West Wide Story, a memoir of his role in the classic 1961 musical. He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Riff, leader of the Jets.
In an interview with Stephanie Nolasco for Fox News, George reminisces about his early film work as a dancer with Marilyn. He has appeared at many Monroe-related events, and also wrote an introduction for Michelle Vogel’s book, Marilyn Monroe: Her Life, Her Films.
“Fox News: Before West Side Story you worked with Marilyn Monroe in 1953’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and 1954’s There’s No Business Like Show Business. What was that like?
George Chakiris: The first thing that comes to mind is she was very quiet. She seriously concentrated on her work and trained tirelessly to give her best performances. Whenever we would stop filming a scene, many cast members would just go back to their dressing rooms. But she would just go right back to her starting position, ready to begin again. That’s how concentrated she was in her work. And I really admired her for that. Not everyone did that.
I do remember one time while filming There’s No Business Like Show Business, a little boy approached her and she greeted him with a huge smile on her face. And she took the time to talk to him. I watched her and she was practically glowing. It was such a sweet, genuine connection she had with this child. She wasn’t like ‘leave me alone, I’m busy.’ She was generous to take time from her day just for a child.
I remember this other time, she was talking to [choreographer] Jack Cole and behind him was her acting coach Natasha Lytess. I couldn’t exactly hear what Jack was saying, but I remember Marilyn’s eyes went to Natasha, who was just standing there shaking her head, as if she was saying, ‘Don’t pay any attention to what he’s saying. We’ll talk later.’ *laughs*. I thought it was funny. But Marilyn was so sweet that she just stood there and tried to listen to both of them at the same time.
Fox News: Did you develop a friendship with Marilyn?
Chakiris: No because we were all there to work and we all wanted to make sure we were providing the best performances that we could on set. But I do remember that she was present every day and always ready to work. She was very sweet to those on set. She would arrive and leave quietly.
I never understood how people could say such terrible things about her over the years. I can only speak from my experience, as just a dancer in the background, but my impression was that she was very sweet, kind, incredibly polite and eager to work hard as the rest of us. I always appreciated that about her. I have a feeling that if we had the chance to become friends, she would have been just the same. But truthfully, we were just there to work.”