When filming "The Taunting Scene", Rita Moreno was reduced to tears when she was harassed and nearly raped by the Jets, as it brought back memories of when she was raped as a child. When she started crying, the Jets immediately stopped what they were doing and tried to comfort her, while pointing out that the audience was going to hate them for what they were doing.
The actors in the rival gangs were instructed to play pranks on each other off the set to keep tensions high.
The boys' jeans were dyed, re-dyed and "distressed," using special elastic thread to allow for the severity of the choreography.
During the entire production, the actors wore out 200 pairs of shoes, applied more than 100lbs of make-up, split 27 pairs of pants and performed in 30 different recording sessions.
The lyrics to "America" were substantially changed for the movie. There had been complaints that the Broadway version was too belittling to Puerto Ricans, in that the song mainly ridiculed Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans. The movie lyrics emphasize the racism and discrimination that Puerto Ricans were subjected to in America.
Rita Moreno stated that her line reading of "Don't you touch me!" after the Jets attack Anita was her imitating Marlon Brando, her then-boyfriend. Brando even noticed at the film's premiere.
With its win of 10 Academy Awards, this became the biggest Oscar-winning musical of all time, beating the record Gigi (1958) set three years before with its nine Oscars.
Robert Wise's original choice to play Tony was Elvis Presley. However, Presley's manager, 'Colonel' Tom Parker refused, since Elvis would only sing in six of the twelve songs, and because he would not have exclusive rights to the soundtrack.
George Chakiris was the only one out of the main characters to not be dubbed. This was because he had no hard solo songs to sing.
Throughout the movie, Natalie Wood wears a bracelet on her left wrist, not for any aesthetic reason, but because she had injured her wrist in the scene of The Green Promise (1949) when she fell on the bridge that collapsed during the severe rainstorm, causing an unsightly bone protrusion on her wrist. She wore the bracelet to hide the injury. It became her trademark in all of her movies.
Jerome Robbins initially refused to work on the film unless he could direct it. Producer Walter Mirisch was nervous about handing the reins entirely over to Robbins, who had never made a film before, so he enlisted Robert Wise to direct the drama while Robbins would handle the singing and dancing sequences. Robbins developed a habit of shooting numerous takes of each scene, to the point where the film went over budget and behind schedule. This led to his firing.
Even though dubbing Natalie Wood was Marni Nixon's chief assignment, Nixon also did one number for Rita Moreno, which required a relatively high vocal register. Having dubbed Wood as well as Moreno, Nixon felt she deserved a cut of the movie-album royalties. Neither the movie or the record producers would bow to her demands. Leonard Bernstein broke the stalemate by volunteering a percentage of his income, a gesture of loyalty-royalty since Nixon had been a performer-colleague of his at New York Philharmonic concerts. He ceded one-quarter of one percent of his royalties to her (a generous amount).
Riff and Tony repeat an oath of loyalty to each other: Riff says "womb to tomb" and Tony answers "birth to earth." On stage Tony's original answer was "sperm to worm," but this was changed for the movie because it was beyond the censorship standards of the time.
Was the first film to win a Best Director Oscar for two directors (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins). This would not happen again until 46 years later, when Joel Coen and Ethan Coen shared the award for No Country for Old Men (2007).
Although the producers tried to keep the different gangs separate during filming to create tension, Russ Tamblyn (Riff) said that he knew of at least one "Jet" who was roommates with a "Shark" through filming.
The second highest grossing film of 1961, coming in just behind 101 Dalmatians (1961).
Gus Trikonis who played Indio, one of the Puerto Rican Sharks - and who is actually Greek - is the brother of Gina Trikonis, who played Graziella, the tough red-haired Italian girlfriend of Riff, leader of the Jets. George Chakiris is also Greek.
Audrey Hepburn was offered the role of Maria, but she turned it down, because she was pregnant with Sean Hepburn Ferrer at the time.
In the scene on the roof before the musical number "America", when the girls are mocking Bernardo's speech, one of the girls say ,"We came with our hearts open", one of the Sharks says, "You came with your pants open!" This line had to be changed to "You came with your mouth open," for the movie because of censorship standards.
Jerome Robbins completed four numbers - the Prologue, "Cool", "I Feel Pretty" and "America" - before he was removed from the project.
Russ Tamblyn (Riff) said that initially he was very unhappy with his dancing in the film, until Fred Astaire came over to him at the premiere and told him that he admired his dancing in it very much.
Richard Beymer later confessed in an interview that he wasn't happy with how his performance came out, saying that he wanted to play Tony as rougher and tougher, more like an actual street kid who used to run around with a gang starting fights for fun, but Robert Wise made him play Tony as the nicest guy around, which Beymer felt didn't mesh with the character's back story. He also said he had trouble saying some of his lines with a straight face, namely the more romantic lines. He even reportedly walked out on the London premiere of the film - even though it ended up being his most famous role.
In 2010, Stephen Sondheim (who wrote the lyrics) told "Fresh Air" interviewer Terry Gross that while he was writing the stage musical, he originally wanted the show to be the first one in Broadway history to use the words "fuck" and "shit" in its song lyrics. He wanted the end of the song "Gee, Officer Krupke" to be "Gee, Officer Krupke/Fuck you!" (instead of what it became, which is "Gee, Officer Krupke/Krup you!"), and he wanted the lyrics in "The Jets Song" to be "When you're a Jet/If the shit hits the fan" instead of "When you're a Jet/If the spit hits the fan". However, the show's writers were informed that if the Original Cast Album contained those profanities, it would have been illegal to ship the record across state lines. So Sondheim made the substitutions for those words that appear in both the stage show and the movie.
Eliot Feld (Baby John) collapsed and ended up hospitalized with pneumonia during the demanding filming of "Cool".
The stage lyrics for the song "Gee, Officer Krupke" are "My father is a bastard, my ma's an s.o.b. My grandpa's always plastered..." The lyrics had to be changed for the movie to: "My daddy beats my mommy, my mommy clobbers me, my grandpa is a commie..." Also, the stage lyric was, "Dear kindly social worker, they say go earn a buck, like be a soda jerker, which means like be a schmuck." For the film, the lines were changed to "Dear kindly social worker, they say go get a job, like be a soda jerker, which means I'd be a slob."
During the Prologue, the Jets take a basketball from two kids and play with it. Before they walk away, Riff throws it back to one of the kids. That kid is Kit Culkin, father of the Culkin brothers who were in movies of the 1990s and 2000s.
The stage version was originally planned as a story about a Catholic boy falling in love with a Jewish girl. The working title was "East Side Story". After a boom of Puerto Rican immigration to New York in the late 1940s and 1950s, the story was changed, and the show opened on Broadway in 1957 as "West Side Story". The working title of 'East Side Story' was later used as the title to Mexican-American rapper Kid Frost's second album released in 1992 - with the placement of the 'East Side Story' title reminiscent of the West Side Story movie posters.
Richard Beymer later revealed that he and Natalie Wood did not have a close rapport off camera, describing her treatment of him at the time of filming as aloof at best. Beymer believed part of the problem was a screen test from a previous film that went south. Ironically, Beymer says that a few years later he and Wood crossed paths at a night club, she said hello to him and chatted with him for a few minutes, and he was left surprised at how sweet and kind she was to him.
The original stage version of Maria's song "I Feel Pretty" included the lyrics "I feel pretty and witty and bright / And I pity / Any girl who isn't me tonight." In the film this night scene was changed to the daytime, and presumably for this reason, the rhyming words "bright" and "tonight" were changed to "gay" and "today."
Russ Tamblyn had originally tried out for the role of Tony. It was down to just him and Richard Beymer, and Beymer ended up getting it. But then the casting directors called him back and asked him to read for Riff, and he got the part.
Most of the original Broadway cast were rejected for the film as either photographing too old or actually being too old for the teenaged characters. Since Hollywood was accustomed to dubbing the singing voices of many stars, dozens of non-singing actors and actresses were tested or considered for the leading roles. Among them: Suzanne Pleshette, Jill St. John, Audrey Hepburn, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Elizabeth Ashley, Anthony Perkins, Warren Beatty, Bobby Darin, Burt Reynolds, Richard Chamberlain, Troy Donahue and Gary Lockwood.
The film ran in Paris for a grand total of 249 weeks, making it the longest running film in French history.
Not only are Natalie Wood and George Chakiris wearing make-up to look more Puerto Rican, Rita Moreno (who is actually Puerto Rican) had to wear the same make-up to tone with them.
Contrary to popular belief, the prologue of West Side Story was not filmed where Lincoln Center is now (which is between 62nd and 66th streets). Rather, it was filmed in what is now an area called Lincoln Center Towers - a group of large residential towers - which is north and west of Lincoln Center, stretching between 66th and 69th Streets (filmed on West 68th Street to be more specific). The street itself, West 68th between West End Avenue and Amsterdam Avenue, no longer exists). This area was condemned and the buildings were in the process of being demolished to make way for Lincoln Center Towers. The demolition of these buildings was delayed so that the filming of these sequences could be completed.
Marni Nixon (who dubbed for Natalie Wood) had to do the end of quintet for Rita Moreno. The reason was that Betty Wand and Moreno both had colds and could not sing, so the filmmakers asked Nixon to do the end. So she is singing two voices at once.
The song "Gee Officer Krupke" was banned by the BBC because of its mentions of drug use and sexual ambiguity.
Rita Moreno's singing voice was dubbed by Betty Wand only for "A Boy Like That" since it was below her range. Moreno sang "America" herself.
The song "One Hand, One Heart" was written for the earlier musical "Candide," but later discarded by Leonard Bernstein and revived for "West Side Story."
In 1998, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #41 Greatest Movie of All Time. It fell to #51 in the updated list released in 2007.
"West Side Story" played for almost two years on stage in New York, racking up a total of 732 performances.
"Cool" was such a demanding number for the performers, Harvey Evans (aka Harvey Hohnecker), who played Mouthpiece, later stated that the actors ritually burned their kneepads upon wrapping the scene.
This was one of two film adaptations of a Broadway play based on "Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare to be released in 1961. The other is Romanoff and Juliet (1961).
Although Natalie Wood was dubbed for the singing parts, in 1992 Sony Music released on CD audio a remastered (using 20-bit technology) original soundtrack with previously unreleased elements including a test with her singing. All the songs and musical tracks were recorded, before filming,in Hollywood on August 9th and August 10th 1960.
George Chakiris (Bernardo) had previously played "Riff" in the London production. Tony Mordente (Action) had played "A-rab." David Winters (A-rab) had played Baby John in the original Broadway production.
Many shots imitate the work of modern American painters of New York City, especially the work of Ben Shahn and Robert Vickrey.
The "Al Wood" posters are in reference to Allen K. Wood, who was one of the production designers.
Russ Tamblyn (Riff) was dubbed for "The Jet Song" by Tucker Smith, who played Ice, his lieutenant in the movie.
Director Robert Wise hired New York gang members to control crowds on location, and fought to shoot on location in New York City.
The "Jets" and the "Sharks" were fictitious gang names. The actual gangs that existed there (approx.1944 to 1954) were the "Jokers" (Irish & Italian) and the "Sportsmen" (African-American). The "Sportsmen" were notorious for riding their bicycles. Most gang "rumbles" between them took place on West 67 Street, late at Night, in front of St Matthews Church. The Police Precinct on 68 Street usually responded.
A major controversy developed because Carol Lawrence, who played Maria in the stage version, was passed over for the role in favor of Natalie Wood.
Returning to Universal Studios from New York, Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise sat together while principal photography was under way. Wise was engaged to film the scenario elements, with the dancing segments directed by Robbins. The Mirsch Brothers decided to send Robbins back to New York because of the numerous "takes" he was filming of the dance sequences. Wise took over, directing all filming, to complete the musical film. All of the remaining dance numbers, to be completed, had been rehearsed and choreographed. Wise continued (directing) shooting the entire film as scheduled finishing the film, and editing, on schedule.
The interior sets were built six feet off the ground to allow for low-angle shooting with large 70mm cameras.
Only the opening prologue number and the Jets song were filmed on location in Manhattan, NY: (1) West 68th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and West End Avenue (Street Scenes). (2) East 110th Street between 2nd Avenue and 3rd Avenue (School Playground). The scenes from the 2 different locations were then edited together to make it seem as if they were both in the same neighborhood.
Natalie Wood kept in her dressing room a list of people who had gotten on her bad side. For reasons unknown, and unbeknownst to him, Richard Beymer made the list. He didn't find out until years later, when Russ Tamblyn told him, while they were working on Twin Peaks (1990).
Lee Theodore, who played Anybodys in the original Broadway production, served as an assistant choreographer for the film. Russ Tamblyn reports that he and most of the rest of the dancers in the film suffered from shin splints at one time or another, the result of extended dancing on pavement as opposed to a wooden stage or soundstage floor.
A 50th anniversary screening of the film on 09/08/2011 in New York City was attended by George Chakiris, Russ Tamblyn, Marni Nixon, and producer Walter Mirisch, as well as gang members Robert Banas (Joyboy), David Bean (Tiger), Harvey Evans (Mouthpiece), Bert Michaels (Snowboy), and Eddie Verso (Juano).
Despite winning an Oscar for his work in this film, this was the only film that Jerome Robbins ever directed.
In addition to recording Maria's singing voice, Marni Nixon also looped some of Natalie Wood's dialogue that needed to be fixed in post-production. Specifically, Maria's last lines: "Don't you touch him!" and "Te adoro, Anton," are spoken by Nixon, not Natalie Wood.
George Chakiris's and Rita Moreno's Oscar winning performances in this film were their only Academy Award nominations.
Chita Rivera originated the role of Anita when West Side Story premiered at New York's Winter Garden Theatre (September 26, 1957). Rita Moreno later played Anita in the film adaptation of the show.
The "America" sequence on stage was conceived as a duet between Anita and Rosalia. For the film, it was altered to be one between Anita and Bernardo.
Natalie Wood actually could sing, but her singing voice was not considered strong enough for the songs in this film.
Shooting in 65mm was prohibitively expensive. After their experiences making this film - and especially Jerome Robbins' extensive reshooting - the Mirisch brothers refused to make any more films in the format.
One of 11 American Music/als to win Best Picture: 1)The Broadway Melody (1929), 2)The Great Ziegfeld (1936), 3)Going My Way (1944), 4)An American in Paris (1951), 5)Gigi (1958), 6)West Side Story (1961), 7)My Fair Lady (1964), 8)The Sound of Music (1965), 9)Oliver! (1968), 10)Amadeus (1984), 11)Chicago (2002).
Jimmy Bryant was selected over every singer in the world to be the "ghost voice" for Richard Beymer. The producers flew people from all over the world to audition, putting them up at the Beverly Hills Hotel. When the producers decided to hire Jimmy, he was offered a contract at scale, which he took because he needed the money, desperately, at the time. Jimmy Bryant received residuals only for television replays. Inquiring about a Record Album residual, Saul Chaplin told Jimmy he had to deal directly with Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim since they kept those rights. Marni Nixon, a friend of Bernstein, flew her agent to New York to negotiate her deal. Marni Nixon made $18,000 in her first check.
Natalie Wood recorded all the songs she would sing in the film and was told that only some of her higher notes would be dubbed but eventually they were all dubbed by Marni Nixon.
Some of the Jets actors, now grey-haired old men , were happily cozening up with and dancing with the ladies during the Central Park song & dance scenes in the 2007 movie "Enchanted."
Along with all the other songs that were re-written for the movie perhaps one of the songs that was most worked over was "The Rumble Song" (Sometimes known simply as Quintet). Due to the outcome of the war council the best man from each gang will fight it out fairly. The duel in the stage show is initially meant to be fought between Bernardo and Diesel. Diesel didn't appear in this so the duel is between Ice and Bernardo. Also there is a part when Riff is talking Tony into arriving at the Rumble (I'm counting on you to be there tonight/When Diesel wins it fair and square tonight) which changed (We'll be a-backing you boy/You're gonna flatten him good) due to the change of the fighters.
The only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year to be also nominated for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, and Best Art Direction (Color), and Best Costume Design (Color). It won all four awards.
Original plans for the play to involve a Jewish boy and an Irish Catholic girl were abandoned because producer Arthur Laurents felt it too closely mirrored the play "Abie's Irish Rose".
Natalie Wood had literally just finished filming Splendor in the Grass (1961) upon joining the cast, and felt very insecure about her singing and dancing, and withdrew into herself, hence why some of her fellow actors felt that she was aloof. Contrary to myth that has persisted, she did not want Warren Beatty to play Tony. They didn't get along during filming of Splendor in the Grass (1961) and did not start dating until her separation from Robert Wagner. Tony Mordente, who helped Wood with the dance numbers and became a close friend, confirmed that Beatty was never around, during filming or afterwards as he spent a lot of time with both Wood and Wagner off-camera during production.
Although the poster art is often mistakenly attributed to Saul Bass, it was actually designed by Joseph Caroff.
The ship seen in the opening aerial view of the city is the SS United States of the United States Lines. It first sailed in 1952 and was laid up in the late 1960's and has been idle ever since. It was recently bought by NCL to be refurbished as a cruise ship. The SS United States currently sits rusting away at a pier on the Delaware River in Philadelphia. PA.
Anna Maria Alberghetti tested for the role of Maria and was the front-runner for the role until Natalie Wood became available.
The face on the ubiquitous political posters in the West Side streets belongs to character actor Barry Kelley, well-known for his roles as gruff authority figures.
In a few scenes, a poster can be seen for Palisades Park, which was a real amusement park that straddled the border of Cliffside Park and Fort Lee, New Jersey, from 1898 to 1971.
The original Broadway production of "West Side Story" opened at the Winter Garden Theater on September 26, 1957, ran for 732 performances and was nominated for the 1958 Tony Award for the Best Musical. It lost the Tony Award to "The Music Man".
The actors playing the Jets and the Sharks suffered shin splits from dancing on the concrete streets of New York City. Despite this, and the constant rain, they all loved filming on location, even doing "rain dances" so they could be on location longer (which they were eventually barred from doing as it seemed to work once or twice).
In 1971 the film was re-released as a double feature with another Oscar winner for best picture, Around the World in 80 Days (1956). Both films made their television debuts the following year, "West Side Story" in March on NBC, and "Around the World in 80 Days" in September on CBS.
One of the two musical films directed by Robert Wise and written by Ernest Lehman to feature the main protagonist named as Maria: Natalie Wood in West Side Story (1961) and Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965).
Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.
In 1962, the Columbia Records soundtrack release commanded the number-one spot on the "Billboard" popular albums chart from May 5 through June 16, and again from October 6 through October 13.
During the "Cool" number in the garage a number of Jewel Home Shopping Service trucks can be seen. These were the home network of the Jewel Tea Company, a home routes business delivering coffee, tea, spices, and dry goods to homemakers.
The reason Natalie Wood had Richard Beymer on her "list" is because Wood wanted her then boyfriend Warren Beatty for the part of Tony. Twentieth Century-Fox was promoting Richard Beymer and probably worked out an arrangement with United Artists to use Beymer in the movie. During the filming of "Westside Story" Natalie Wood, during the breaks in her trailer, Wood could be heard practicing for her next part as Gypsy Rose Lee in "Gypsy " at her home studio of Warner Brothers. Rita Moreno said in an interview that Wood kept turning down the part of Maria because she felt she was wrong for the part and after finally excepting the role of Maria retreated to her trailer out of shyness. Other actresses tested for the part were Pilar Seurat, Pilar and Pina Pellicer.
Bollywood film "Josh" (2000) starring Shah Rukh Khan is a lose adaptation of this film.
George Chakiris previously appeared in White Christmas with Rosemary Clooney. Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn later appeared on Twin Peaks opposite Clooney's son Miguel Ferrer.
Because Natalie Wood couldn't snap her fingers, the sound of finger snaps had to be dubbed.
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
Filming schedule conflicts with One, Two, Three (1961) prevented Horst Buchholz from accepting the offered role of Tony in West Side Story.
The only major cut from the original play as a seven minute dream ballet following the song 'Somewhere,' which drew heavily from the dream ballet in 'Oklahoma.' Tony and Maria dream of finding a peaceful place where the gangs do not fight and form a marriage procession for the two while an offstage voice sang the song, only for Riff and Bernardo to appear suddenly, leading to a nightmarish recreation of the knife fight. For the film the ballet was cut, and the song turned into a duet for Tony and Maria.
The role of Ice, played by Tucker Smith, was created for the film and did not exist in the stage production.
When the musical premiered in Europe in 1958, it was staged at the Manchester Opera House (UK).
It is the only movie winning 10 Academy Awards, no other movie has ever won, exact, 10 Academy Awards.
The opening sequence took place on West 68 Street (between Amsterdam Ave. & West End Ave.). However, the Back-drop of the schoolyard sequence is incorrect. The Rectory (rear) of St Matthews Church was, in fact, on 68 Street not 110 Street.
In the opening sequence of West Side Story, Elementary School P.S. 94 can be seen. (Corner of 68 Street & Amsterdam Ave.)
It was announced in all the newspapers that infact Barbara Luna won the role of Anita. Rita Moreno was chosen because the producers and directors wanted big names for the leads and while Barbara Luna was as big a name as Rita Moreno, Moreno had been kicking around Hollywood longer and was a star before and had a longer musical backround. The producers and directors also said Luna was too similar a type to Natalie Wood. The cast used to take naps on cots on the roof set of "America" during breaks. Author/Actor Kirk Crivello is an extra in the movie. Other actresses considered for the part of Maria were Pier Angeli, her sister Marisa Pavan, Carla Alberghetti, who did stage versions, as did her sister Anna Maria as Maria with Barbara Luna as Anita. Also considered for Maria were Ina Balin, Susan Kohner, Valerie Harper and Lisa Gaye.
Referenced in the Dire Straits song 'Romeo and Juliet' in the line "There's a place for us you know the movie song"
In the original show, Riff's girlfriend was Velma, the bubblier, slightly dumber of the Jet girls, while Graziella was the girlfriend of Diesel, the group's muscle man. For the films the pairings were reversed - Velma was Ice's girlfriend, and the smarter, harder Graziella was Riff's girlfriend.
The character of Ice was specifically invented for the film. In the original show it is Diesel who is chosen to fight Bernardo one-on-one, and Action who becomes the new leader after Riff is killed.
During an interview of one of the people involved in the early production, it was disclosed that the original working title of the stage play was "Gang Way". It was later changed to "West Side Story".
Robert Wise went on to direct Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). Richard Beymer went on to make a guest appearance on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993). Wise's subsequent musical, The Sound of Music (1965), starred future Star Trek veteran Christopher Plummer in a role originally played by another Trek veteran, Theodore Bikel
When writing the show, Laurents and Sondheim decided not to use any actual New York gang lingo for the Jets' dialogue, feeling that would give it a 'dated' feel. Instead they mixed a few actual terms like 'daddy-o' and 'cool' with rhythmic exclamations such as 'cracko-jacko,' 'ooblee-oo' and 'pam-pam' to create their own slang.