Steven Spielberg’s highly-anticipated West Side Story revival starring Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler as star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria is getting rave reviews from critics ahead of its release on Friday, but the film has big shoes to fill.
The original 1957 Broadway musical is about the love and tension between the Jets, a white gang, and the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang, as they fight for control of their neighborhood on the Upper West Side.
Inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it was written by Arthur Laurents with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
The 1961 film adaptation starring Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood as Tony and Maria scored 10 Oscars after its release — including Best Picture in 1962. However, the production wasn’t without its faults.
Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood played star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria in the 1961 film West Side Story, which was based on the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name
The Broadway musical andfilm are both about the love and tension between the Jets, a white gang, and the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang, in New York in the ’50s
Most of the Puerto Rican characters were played by white actors who wore brownface, leading to a number of whitewashing controversies in various productions of the musical in the decades to follow.
Spielberg, however, was committed to hiring actors from the Latinx community, and a casting call for the film specified that the characters who are a part of the Sharks are Latinx.
The Hollywood director’s remake features an updated script that was written by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner.
Spielberg’s West Side Story was supposed to be released last December, but it was delayed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In honor of the revival’s theatrical release, FEMAIL looks back on the original stars of the 1961 film and reveals where the actors are now.
Richard Beymer played the film’s male lead, Tony, the co-founder and one-time member of the Jets (left). The actor, pictured in 2001 (right), is now 83
Beymer, pictured in the 1951 film Terminal Station, got his start as a child actor
Richard Beymer as Tony
Richard Beymer was cast as the film’s male lead, Tony, the co-founder and one-time member of the Jets, the white gang led by his best friend Riff.
The Jets’ rivals are the Puerto Rican gang the Sharks, and the drugstore clerk’s life takes a complicated turn when he falls in love with Maria, the younger sister of the Shark’s leader, Bernardo.
Beymer, whose full name is George Richard Beymer Jr., was born in Avoca, Iowa, and moved to Los Angeles with his parents in the 1940s. He worked as a child actor and appeared in numerous television programs.
He got his big break when director George Stevens cast him as Peter Van Daan in the 1959 film The Diary of Anne Frank. A year later, he scored the role of Tony in West Side Story.
Beymer is best known for his portrayal of Tony, but he didn’t actually do any singing in the original film, which relied heavily on vocal dubbing.
Tony’s musical numbers in the film were actually sung by Jimmy Bryant.
In 1962, Beymer was nominated for two Golden Globes for his performance in West Side Story: Best Actor in a Comedy or Music and Most Promising Newcomer – Actor.
While he is always remembered for the film, he was reportedly embarrassed by his performance and how the character was portrayed.
Beymer, pictured in 1961, got his big break when director George Stevens cast him as Peter Van Daan in the 1959 film The Diary of Anne Frank
Beymer has more than 60 acting credits to his name, including his role as Ben Horne in David Lynch’s 1990 series Twin Peaks
Ansel Elgort will play Tony in Spielberg’s West Side Story revival
‘It could have been played more street-wise, with someone other than me, who was born in Iowa and didn’t have a clue as to what New York was all about,’ Beymer told the Los Angeles Times in 1990. ‘What would De Niro have done with a part like that?’
After appearing in the films The Longest Day (1962) and The Stripper (1963), he moved to New York and started taking daily classes at the Actors Studio, a drama school in Manhattan.
Beymer turned his attentions to making his own films and directed the award-winning 1964 documentary A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer, which focused on the struggle for civil rights in Mississippi.
‘I never left the movies. I just made other kinds of movies. Hollywood was a thing of the past for me because I’d found something that thrilled me,’ he told the Los Angeles Times.
‘That was the best fun in the world, doing movies that were spontaneous at every step, as compared with Hollywood movies that are all planned out. To me, those films look too perfect. Real life is funkier.’
Beymer, who is now 83, has more than 60 acting credits to his name, including his role as Ben Horne in David Lynch’s 1990 series Twin Peaks.
His West Side Story co-star Russ Tamblyn also starred in the mystery series, and they both reprised their roles in the 2017 reboot.
Ansel Elgort will play Tony in Spielberg’s West Side Story revival.
Natalie Wood took on the role of Maria, Tony’s forbidden love in West Side Story (left). The actress died in November 1981 at age 43. She is pictured in April of that year (right)
Wood, pictured at the Academy Awards in 1957, earned three Oscar nominations by the time she was 25, though she never won any
Natalie Wood as Maria
Natalie Wood took on the role of Maria, Tony’s forbidden love in West Side Story. Not only is she Bernardo’s sister, but she is also engaged to be married to the Shark leader’s best friend Chino.
Although the actress was of Russian and Ukrainian descent, she was cast as the Puerto Rican female lead in the film and wore brownface makeup to play the character.
While it is still considered one of her best film roles, her musical numbers were actually sung by Marni Nixon.
Wood, who was born in San Francisco to Russian immigrant parents, started acting when she was four years old. She was eight when she played Susan Walker in the 1947 Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street.
As a teenager, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance opposite James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).
Wood was 19 when she married actor Robert Wagner in December 1957. The couple is pictured the year they said ‘I do’
Wood, pictured in 1965, divorced Wagner in 1962 and married British producer Richard Gregson four years later. She welcomed her first daughter, Natasha, in 1970
After Wood divorced Gregson in 1972, she reunited with Wagner. They remarried that same year and welcomed their daughter, Courtney, in 1974
Wood dated a number of notable men, including singer Elvis Presley, actor Dennis Hopper, and hotel heir Nicky Hilton. She was 19 when she married actor Robert Wagner in December 1957. They separated in 1961 and divorced 10 months later in 1962.
During this time, she received Academy Award nominations for her performances in Splendor in the Grass (1961) and Love with the Proper Stranger (1963).
At age 25, she was tied with actress Teresa Wright as the youngest person to score three Oscar nominations, though she never went on to win any.
That record was later shattered by Jennifer Lawrence, who was 23 when she received her third Oscar nomination in 2013.
Wood continued to act throughout the 1960s and appeared in the films Sex and the Single Girl (1964), Inside Daisy Clover (1964), and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969).
In 1969, she married British producer Richard Gregson and their daughter, Natasha, was born a year later. After they divorced in 1972, she reunited with Wagner. They remarried that same year and welcomed their daughter, Courtney, in 1974.
The actress semi-retired from acting while raising her kids, but she earned a Golden Globe for Best Actress in 1980 for her performance in television miniseries From Here to Eternity
Wood, pictured with her husband and daughters in 1976, mysteriously drowned in 1981. Wagner has been called a person of interest in the case, which was initially ruled a boating accident
Rachel Zegler is taking on the role of Maria in the upcoming rival
Wood went into semi-retirement while raising her children and found success in television in the late 1970s.
She starred in the TV movie The Cracker Factory (1979) and the miniseries remake of From Here to Eternity (1979), which earned her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in 1980.
Wood was filming the science-fiction film Brainstorm with Christopher Walken when she mysteriously drowned during a boating trip in November 1981 at age 43.
Her body was found off Santa Catalina Island in California. Authorities initially ruled the death an accidental drowning, but that has changed after years of scrutiny and more witnesses emerging.
Wagner, Wood’s husband at the time, was on board the boat when she died, as was her co-star Walken. Wagner has been called a person of interest, and Wood’s sister Lana Wood is among those who hold him responsible for her death.
Rachel Zegler is taking on the role of Maria in the upcoming rival.
Riff, Tony’s best friend and the leader of the Jets, was played by Russ Tamblyn in the 1961 film (left). The actor, 86, has nearly 100 film credits to his name. He’s pictured in 2018 (right)
Tamblyn played Ben Horne in David Lynch’s 1990 series Twin Peaks. He reprised the role in the 2017 remake
Russ Tamblyn as Riff
Riff, Tony’s best friend and the leader of the Jets, was played by Russ Tamblyn in the 1961 film. The actor and dancer was a trained gymnast, and he was able to show off his acrobatic skills in the production.
Unlike many of his co-stars, Tamblyn did his own singing for the songs Gee, Officer Krupke! and Quintet, though his voice was dubbed by Tucker Smith for Jet Song.
Tamblyn, who was born and raised in Los Angeles by showbiz parents, grew up with a passion for tumbling and performing before he was discovered as a child.
He played Elizabeth Taylor’s younger brother in the 1950 film Father of the Bride, but his breakout role was in the 1954 musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. His tumbling expertise earned him the nickname ‘Tumblin’ Tamblyn.’
‘Well, it was my thing,’ Tamblyn told CBS Sunday Morning, ‘and I’ll tell you this: tumbling not only got me through musicals where people thought “Oh, what a great dancer!” I was really not a good dancer. I was just a great acrobat.’
Before appearing in West Side Story, he starred opposite Lana Turner in the 1957 film Peyton Place, which earned him and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
That same year, he divorced his first wife, actress Venetia Stevenson, after only one year of marriage. He went on to marry Las Vegas showgirl Elizabeth Kempton in 1960, a year before West Side Story was released.
Tamblyn was actually vying for the lead role of Tony in the film adaptation, which went to Richard Beymer.
‘I auditioned for the part of Tony in the movie, and I didn’t get that part,’ he told AntennaTV. ‘They offered me the part of Riff, and I took it!’
Tamblyn is pictured with West Side Story director Robert Wise (center) and his co-star Richard Beymer (left) at the 40th anniversary screening of the film
Tamblyn attended the screening of the West Side Story revival in New York with his actress daughter Amber Tamblyn last month
Mike Faist will take on the role of Riff in the revival
The success of West Side Story led him to score more film roles, including the 1963 horror film The Haunting, which was based on the 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.
However, Tamblyn turned away from commercial filmmaking in the 1960s to devote himself to fine art. He had his first solo exhibition that included music from his friend and neighbor, Neil Young, in Topanga, California, in 1970. He divorced Kempton in 1979.
‘I didn’t want to come back to Hollywood for a long time,’ he told the Los Angeles Times. ‘I’ve done a lot of theater and some television, but my art projects really satisfied my need to be spontaneous and creative in my own style.’
Tamblyn married his third wife, Bonnie Murray, in 1981. He continued to act while pursuing his art, and he co-starred in the 1982 film Human Highway, which he choreographed and co-wrote with Young and actor Dean Stockwell.
He and Murray welcomed their daughter — actress, writer, and director Amber Tamblyn in 1983. Amber was about seven when Tamblyn discovered that he had an older daughter he didn’t know about — China Faye Tamblyn — with artist Elizabeth Anne Vigil in the ’60s.
‘I’ve said that I was an only child for many years, and I realize now it was a mistake saying it,’ Amber told Parade in 2009. ‘But when I was about seven, a young woman came to our door and told my dad she was his daughter. And she was. She was from a fling he had in the ’60s. Her name is China, and she’s an artist and a welder. We’ve become close.’
In the 1990s, Tamblyn reunited with his West Side Story co-star Beymer in Twin Peaks. He played Dr. Lawrence Jacoby in the series and later reprised the role in the 2017 revival.
Tamblyn, 86, has nearly 100 film credits to his name. He most recently played Dr. Montague in the 2018 Netflix horror series The Haunting of Hill House, which was inspired by Jackson’s novel of the same name.
Fans were thrilled to see a cameo from Tamblyn on the show decades after his appearance in The Haunting.
Mike Faist will take on the role of Riff in the revival.
Rita Moreno has become one of the industry’s most respected and revered stars since her 1961 big screen portrayal of Anita (left). The actress, 89, attended the Hollywood premiere of the West Side Story remake on Tuesday night
Moreno, who was born in Puerto Rico, had to wear brownface to play Anita in the musical
Rita Moreno as Anita
Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno was cast as Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend and Maria’s closest confidante, in the original West Side Story film adaptation.
She was born Rosa Dolores Alverío in Humacao, Puerto Rico, where she was called ‘Rosita’ as a child. After her parents divorced, she moved to New York City with her mother in 1936, leaving behind her younger brother.
When her mother remarried, she adopted her stepfather’s surname, Moreno.
Moreno took dance lessons before she started working as a child actress. At age 11, she was hired to record Spanish language versions of American films.
Two years later, she made her Broadway debut as Angelina in Skydrift in 1945, which led to offers from Hollywood agents.
Moreno’s first major screen role was in the 1950 film So Young, So Bad. She was credited as Rosita Moreno, but she started going by Rita shortly after.
After a number of bit parts, she appeared opposite Gene Kelly in Stanley Donen’s musical Singin’ in the Rain in 1952. She went on to play a Burmese slave in the 1956 film adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I.
Moreno grew frustrated with the stereotypical ‘ethnic’ or sexualize roles she was given during this time period.
Moreno went on to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance, making her the first Latin American actress to win an Oscar
The actress has a tumultuous on-again, off-again relationship with Marlon Brando, which started in 1954 and lasted eight years. They are pictured on the set of Desiree in 1954
During an appearance on the WBUR radio show Here and Now in 2011, she recalled being the ‘resident utility ethnic’ in Hollywood in the 1950s and 1960s.
The actress had similar issues in West Side Story, where she and her castmates had to wear brownface while filming the 1961 adaptation.
‘We all had the same color makeup, it was a very different time,’ she explained on the ‘In the Thick’ podcast in 2017.
‘I remember saying to the makeup man one day — because it was like putting mud on my face, it was really dark and I’m a fairly fair Hispanic — and I said to the makeup man one day, “My God! Why do we all have to be the same color? Puerto Ricans are French and Spanish…” And it’s true, we are very many different colors, we’re Taino Indian, we are black some of us.
‘And the makeup man actually said to me, “What? Are you a racist?”‘ she recalled. ‘I was so flabbergasted that I couldn’t come back with an answer.’
Earlier this year, Moreno told Good Morning America that she almost dropped out of the film because one of the songs had a lyric that was ‘disparaging to Puerto Rico.’
In an interview with NPR, she said she was originally supposed to sing: ‘Puerto Rico, you ugly island, island of tropic diseases.’
But then Stephen Sondheim, at the request of a producer, changed the lyric to: ‘Puerto Rico, my heart’s devotion, let it sink back in the ocean.’
While she did her own singing for the songs America and Quintet, Betty Wand was Anita’s singing voice for A Boy Like That.
Moreno said she was so distressed by Brando’s infidelity and abuse that she attempted suicide. She went on to star opposite him in in the 1968 film The Night of the Following Day, pictured
Moreno married cardiologist Leonard Gordon in 1965, and they welcomed their daughter, Fernanda Luisa Gordon, two years later. The family is pictured in 1982
Moreno went on to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance, making her the first Latin American actress to win an Oscar.
This time in her life was marred by her tumultuous on-again, off-again relationship with Marlon Brando, which started in 1954 and lasted eight years.
Moreno wrote about the affair in her eponymous 2011 memoir, saying she endured his cheating and abuse.
Brando married two different women over the course of their relationship, and when she got pregnant with his child, he had her get a botched abortion that left her bleeding for days.
The relationship caused her so much distress that she attempted suicide, which she opened up about in the 2021 documentary about her life, Rita Moreno: Just a Girl who Decided to Go for It.
‘When I tried to do away with myself, I wanted to do it because I couldn’t take the pain anymore of the relationship I had with Marlon Brando,’ she said.
‘It was humiliating and I was letting him step all over me. And I hated myself so much — it was a very strange reason. I wanted to get rid of myself because I don’t think I deserved to live. And I took the pills.’
Moreno married cardiologist Leonard Gordon in 1965, and they welcomed their daughter, Fernanda Luisa Gordon, two years later.
Moreno plays a new character, Valentina, in Spielberg’s highly-anticipated adaption of West Side Story. She also executive produced the film
Moreno, pictured at West Side Story’s Hollywood premiere, is one of 16 performers who has won an EGOT: an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony
Ariana DeBose, a singer, dancer, and actress, will play Anita in the remake
She had been married for three years when she reunited with Brando in the 1968 film The Night of the Following Day.
Moreno is one of 16 performers who has won an EGOT: an Oscar, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a Tony.
She won a Grammy for her contributions to The Electric Company Album in 1972, and she took home the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in 1975 for her performance in the musical The Ritz.
Moreno then went on to win an Emmy Award Award for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program in 1977 for her appearance on The Muppet Show.
The Emmy made her the third person in history and the first Latina to win all four major entertainment awards. She was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2004.
Moreno, 89, has more than 160 film credits to her name, including a role in the West Side Story revival. She plays Valentina, a newly created character, in the movie, which she also executive produced.
Ariana DeBose will play Anita in the remake.
George Chakiris played Bernardo, Maria’s older brother and leader of the Sharks, in the film (left). The actor, 87, has 60 film credits to his name. He’s pictured in October 2021 (right)
Chakiris, pictured with Rita Moreno, won won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Bernardo in the film
George Chakiris as Bernardo
The role of Bernardo — Maria’s older brother and leader of the Sharks — went to singer, dancer, and actor George Chakiris in the 1961 film.
Unlike many of his co-stars, who were child actors, he was born in Ohio to Greek immigrant parents. He dropped out of college after one year to move to Hollywood. He made his film debut in the chorus of the 1947 biopic Song of Love.
Throughout the 1950s, Chakiris earned small dance and chorus roles in a number of musical films, including Gentleman Prefer Blondes in 1953. He was one of the dancers in Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ musical number.
The actor grew frustrated with his lack of success in Hollywood and moved to New York a year into West Side Story’s Broadway run. He auditioned for the London production and was cast as Riff. His performance earned rave reviews when the musical launched in the West End in 1958.
When Chakiris tested for the film adaptation a few years later, he ended up being cast as Bernardo while Russ Tamblyn played Riff.
West Side Story’s success led to numerous film and television roles for Chakiris, who appeared on Fantasy Island in the 1980s, pictured
Chakiris is pictured with Rita Moreno and Russ Tamblyn at the hand and footprint ceremony celebrating the 50th anniversary of West Side Story at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood in 2011
David Alvarez will be playing Bernardo in the remake
He won both an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as the Puerto Rican character in the film, though he is actually of Greek descent.
Chakiris went on to score the lead role in the 1962 film Two and Two Make Six. He also appeared in the 1963 film Diamond Head with Charlton Heston and the 1964 war movie 633 Squadron with Cliff Robertson.
During the 1960s, he parlayed his success into a career as a pop singer and had a few minor hit songs. He continued to act up until the 1990s and had roles on television shows such as Superboy, Pale Blood, and The Girls of Lido.
Chakiris, 87, has 60 film credits to his name, and his last role before retirement was in a 1996 episode of the British sitcom Last of the Summer Wine. However, he recently played a bank manager in the 2021 film Not to Forget.
The actor also turned his hobby of making sterling silver jewelry into a career with the launch of his George Chakiris Collection.
David Alvarez will be playing Bernardo in the remake.
William Bramley played Police Sergeant Krupke in the original 1957 Broadway production of West Side Story and later reprised his role as the beat cop in the 1961 film. He died in 1985 at age 57
Bramley’srole in West Side Story marked his film debut, and he went on to appear in number of movies and television shows
Brian d’Arcy James will be portraying the officer in the new West Side Story
William Bramley as Police Sergeant Krupke
William Bramley played Police Sergeant Krupke in the original 1957 Broadway production of West Side Story and later reprised his role as the beat cop in the 1961 film.
The actor was born in New York City and graduated from Bucknell University in 1953. While a student at liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, he was involved in the Cap and Dagger Club theatrical organization.
His role in West Side Story marked his film debut, and he went on to appear in the films Gunpoint (1966), Madigan (1968), Revenge of the Cheerleaders (1976), and The Wild Life (1984).
Bramley also took a number of television roles over the course of his career. He was featured in the TV movies Ready for the People (1964), Michael O’Hara the Fourth (1972), and Tough Girl (1981).
He tended to play police officers on TV shows as well. He was the lead policeman in a second-season episode of Star Trek, and he also played a cop on an episode of I Dream of Jeannie.
Bramley made guest appearances on the TV shows Bonanza, Straightaway, Kentucky Jones, Lassie, and Bewitched, among others.
He had more than 100 acting credits when he died at age 57 in California in 1985 following a brief illness.
Brian d’Arcy James will be portraying the officer in the upcoming West Side Story.