This Week at PCA: George Chakiris

George Chakiris in the role of Bernardo in “West Side Story.”

When the film version West Side Story opened in movie theaters in 1961, it opened the audience up to a world of youth culture as never before seen.  Stories and films about juvenile delinquents were already common place, but West Side Story brought together the world of street gangs, racism and the crumbing American dream to the audience through dance, song, angst, romance and tragedy.  Although presented in a new and daring way, the story line was as old as Shakespeare himself, and the power of the film and its themes continue to captivate new audiences generation after generation.  The film, rightfully, won ten Oscars and made the majority of its young unknown stars household names.  One of those young stars was George Chakiris.

George Chakiris with his Best Supporting Actor Academy Award in 1961.

Starting in Hollywood as a dancer, George Chakiris could be seen performing in the chorus of films such as White Christmas, Brigadoon, There’s No Business Like Show Business and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  A dark haired young man with intense hawk like good looks, George was soon recruited to perform in the London stage version of the Broadway sensation West Side Story in the role of the streetwise leader of the Jets, Riff.  But when he was asked to audition for the film version, he changed sides where he would forever be remembered by film audiences as Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks.  Performing opposite of Natalie Wood in the role of his naïve kid sister Maria, and Rita Moreno as his sensuous lover Anita, George Chakiris lit up the screen with a combination of sensuality and danger as he loved, fought, danced and died on the streets of New York City.  His performance would win him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and turn him into a screen idol. With a lifetime performing on film, television and stage, as well as recording half a dozen LP’s, George Chakiris has been a perennial favorite of film fans worldwide.  However, in recent years he has slowed down his acting work and has focused on a new venture creating a line of sterling silver jewelry.  A talented craftsman, Chakiris’ jewelry can be purchased on-line through a major Japanese distributor.  However, it doesn’t stop him from still getting the occasional nod from the Hollywood community who have the memory of his performance of West Side Story etched in their memories forever.



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