Prior to a screening of French director Jacques Demy’s auteur-masterpiece, “Les Demoiselles de Rochefort,” in which the dancer-actor-singer appears prominently, UCLA Film & Television Archive honored George Chakiris with clips from his many appearances on television variety shows and an interview that touched on both his singing and his dancing career. The full-evening event took place at the Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood Village Saturday Nov. 16, 2013.
In the course of the evening, Chakiris described his close working history with two key Hollywood choreographers: Robert Alton, for whom he danced in three films, “White Christmas,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and “The Girl Rush.” He also described the influence of Jerome Robbins, for whom Chakiris contributed prodigiously as Bernardo in the film, “West Side Story.”
Chakiris’s singing career, powered by his rich, full-throated voice, was also highlighted. Outstanding video clips from “A Salute to Cole Porter” broadcast in 1956 (Night & Day) and a 1967 televised version of “Kismet” (Strangers in Paradise) delighted the sold-out house.
arts·meme‘s Debra Levine, pictured above with Chakiris and Shannon Kelley, director of public programs for the Archive, introduced the actor as follows:
“We are honoring a man who has made a significant contribution to American culture — and we’re going to learn more about him tonight.
- He is first and foremost an exceptionally creative human being—he’s all artist, and let me put it right up front, a great American dancer. Tonight, we’ll also celebrate his singing.
- His hugely accomplished and versatile 40-plus year career began in the 1950s.
- His talent rightly referred to as “triple-threat” – something not very common nowadays – that means an entertainer with formidable skills in singing, dancing and acting.
“His rich resume spans two dozen films, starting from first footsteps on an MGM sound stage, in 1947, at the age of 13; to the pinnacle: his screen-searing performance as Bernardo in West Side Story, in 1961, which garnered him an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor.
“On-screen co-stars have included Dirk Bogarde, Charles Boyer, Yul Brynner, Claudia Cardinale, Catherine Deneuve, Charleton Heston, Gene Kelly, Rita Moreno, Russ Tamblyn, Natalie Wood.
“Theater credentials — too numerous to list — include the London, Tokyo, Paris, Monte Carlo, New York stages
“Sparkling television appearances in mini-series, sitcoms, variety show—clips of which we’ll enjoy this evening.
“His resume spans not only decades but also continents. An early international player, he still has cult status in Japan and in France. He worked in Europe so long that a tabloid magazine screamed the following headline, ‘Why Won’t George Come Home?’
“Not only a headliner in Las Vegas, he was a headliner in the family living room in Long Beach, dancing and singing with his sister who is with us in the audience tonight.
“He connects us to major names of Classic Hollywood: Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner, Cole Porter, Judy Garland , Marlene Dietrich.
“So, essentially, we’re talking about a legend.
“Finally, his kind personality proves that you can be a courteous gentleman and still have a highly respected career in show business.
Ladies and gentlemen, George Chakiris.”
photo credit: dana ross