George Chakiris

Last updated

George Chakiris
George Chakiris 2019.jpg
Chakiris in 2019
Born (1932-09-16) September 16, 1932 (age 90)
Other namesGeorge Kerris
Years active1947–1996, 2021

George Chakiris (born September 16, 1932) is an American actor. He is best known for his appearance in the 1961 film version of West Side Story as Bernardo Nunez, the leader of the Sharks gang, for which he won both the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture.


Life and career

Early life

Chakiris was born on September 16, 1932 in Norwood, Ohio to Stelianos (Steve) and Zoe (née Anastasiadou) Chakiris, Greek immigrants from Turkey. He is one of eight siblings. [1] [2] [3]

His family moved to Long Beach, California in 1944. He attended Jefferson Junior High school and graduated in 1950 from Woodrow Wilson Classical High School, both in Long Beach. [4] [5]

Chakiris attended one year at Long Beach City College, but wanted to pursue a career in dance, so he dropped out and moved to Hollywood. He worked in the advertising department of May Company California, a department store, and studied dance at night. [4] [5]

Early films

Chakiris made his film debut at age 15 in 1947 in the chorus of Song of Love . [5]

For several years he appeared in small roles, usually as a dancer or a member of the chorus in various musical films, including The Great Caruso (1951), Stars and Stripes Forever (1952), Call Me Madam (1953), Second Chance (1953), and The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1953).

He was a dancer in Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), and he appeared in Give a Girl a Break (1953) and White Christmas (1954).

He can be seen in the wedding dance in the MGM musical film Brigadoon (1954), and appeared in There's No Business Like Show Business (1954).

Chakiris’ unique appearance allowed him to be cast in non-Caucasian roles, notably in West Side Story as a Puerto Rican and in Diamond Head as a native Hawaiian.


Chakiris appeared as a dancer in White Christmas (1954). A publicity photo of Chakiris with Rosemary Clooney from her scene with "Love, You Didn't Do Right by Me" generated fan mail, and Paramount signed him to a movie contract. "I got lucky with the close-up with Rosemary," said Chakiris. [6] [7]

Chakiris appeared in The Country Girl (1954) and The Girl Rush (1955), dancing with Rosalind Russell in the latter. He received a positive review from Hedda Hopper. [8]

MGM borrowed him for Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956), and he danced in Las Vegas. [9]

Chakiris had a small non-dancing part in Under Fire (1957).

West Side Story

Frustrated with the progress of his career, Chakiris left Hollywood for New York. West Side Story had been running for a year on Broadway, and Chakiris auditioned for Jerome Robbins. He was cast in the London production as Riff, leader of the Jets. The musical launched on the West End in late 1958, and Chakiris received excellent reviews, playing it for almost 22 months. [10]

The Mirisch Brothers bought the film rights to West Side Story and screen-tested Chakiris. They thought his dark complexion made him more suited to the role of Bernardo, leader of the Sharks, and cast Russ Tamblyn as Riff. Filming took seven months. [11] [4]

The film adaptation of West Side Story (1961) was hugely successful, and Chakiris won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance. This led to a long-term contract with the Mirisch Company. [12]

Chakiris played the lead role in Two and Two Make Six (1962), directed by Freddie Francis.

Chakiris starred as a doctor in the film Diamond Head (1963), opposite Charlton Heston and Yvette Mimieux. [13]

In the early 1960s, he embarked on a career as a pop singer, resulting in a couple of minor hits. In 1960, he recorded a single with noted producer Joe Meek.

Three-picture deal with Mirisch Brothers

Chakiris's fee around this time was reported to be $100,000 per movie. [14] His first new film for the Mirisches was Flight from Ashiya (1964), shot in Japan with Yul Brynner and Richard Widmark.

The Mirisches reunited Chakiris with Brynner in Kings of the Sun (1963), an epic about the Mayans, which was a box-office flop. Chakiris went to Italy to make Bebo's Girl (1964) with Claudia Cardinale.

He acted in 633 Squadron (1964), a popular war movie with Cliff Robertson, the last movie he made for the Mirisches. Chakiris later said he made a mistake with his Hollywood films by looking at the "potential" of them instead of the quality of the roles. [15]


Chakiris played a Greek terrorist in Cyprus in a British film, The High Bright Sun (1965), with Dirk Bogarde. He went to Italy for The Mona Lisa Has Been Stolen (1965) and France for Is Paris Burning? (1966). [16]

He acted with Catherine Deneuve and Gene Kelly in Jacques Demy's French musical Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967). Around this time, his manager cancelled his contract with Capitol Records. [17] However, he enjoyed his time in Europe, saying he had time to "experiment and refine my craft." [15] He also performed a nightclub act at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, his first stage work since West Side Story. The show was successful and led to Chakiris receiving an offer to appear with Jose Ferrer in a TV production of Kismet (1967). He acted in The Day the Hot Line Got Hot (1968) in France, and The Big Cube (1969) with Lana Turner in America. He made Sharon vestida de rojo (1970) in Spain. [18]

1970s and 1980s

In 1969, Chakiris did a stage production of The Corn Is Green in Chicago with Eileen Herlie. He enjoyed the experience and it revived his confidence as an actor. He said all the films he made after West Side Story had been "a waste of was difficult to take them seriously...It was my fault and no one else's". [19]

Chakiris accepted a dramatic role on Medical Center to change his image. [19]

Chakiris as Alex Solkin in Medical Center, 1970 George Chakiris Medical Center 1970.JPG
Chakiris as Alex Solkin in Medical Center, 1970

He starred in the first national tour of the Stephen Sondheim musical Company , touring as Bobby in 1971-1972.

Chakiris worked heavily on TV in the 1970s and 1980s in Britain and the U.S., guest-starring on Hawaii Five-O , Police Surgeon , Thriller , Notorious Woman , Wonder Woman , Fantasy Island , CHiPs , Matt Houston , Scarecrow and Mrs. King , Poor Little Rich Girls , Hell Town and Murder, She Wrote .

He appeared in the final episode (March 22, 1974) of The Partridge Family as an old high school boyfriend to Shirley Partridge (Shirley Jones). Their kiss goodbye was the final scene in the program's run. He also starred in the Terry Marcel film Why Not Stay for Breakfast? (1979).

Chakiris appeared in several episodes of Dallas and had a role on Santa Barbara .

Later career

Chakiris had a recurring role on the TV show Superboy as Professor Peterson during the first two seasons from 1988 to 1990.

He was top-billed in the film Pale Blood (1990) and guest-starred on Human Target and The Girls of Lido. He played The King and I on stage in 1995 in Los Angeles.

Chakiris' last role to date was in a 1996 episode of the British sitcom Last of the Summer Wine .

He has given occasional television interviews since then, but is mostly retired. His hobby of making sterling silver jewelry has turned into a new occupation, [20] working as a jewelry designer for his own brand, George Chakiris Collections, consisting of handmade original sterling silver jewelry.

In 2012, he presented a musical about veganism titled Loving the Silent Tears. [21] [22]

In 2021, Chakiris appeared in the film Not to Forget (2021), which aims to raise awareness and funds for the fight against Alzheimer's. The movie, directed by Valerio Zanoli, stars Karen Grassle and five Academy Award winners: George Chakiris, Cloris Leachman, Louis Gossett Jr., Tatum O'Neal, and Olympia Dukakis.


1947 Song of Love Choir boyAs George Kerris
1951 The Great Caruso DancerUncredited
1952 Stars and Stripes Forever Ballroom dancerUncredited
1953 Call Me Madam Dancer in 'The Ocarina' Number
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T DancerAs George Kerris
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Dancer (Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend")Uncredited
Second Chance Background Observer in Dance SequenceUncredited
Give a Girl a Break DancerUncredited
1954 Brigadoon Specialty dancerUncredited
White Christmas Dancer in 'Mandy' and 'Love' numbersUncredited
The Country Girl Dancer with pickUncredited
There's No Business Like Show Business DancerUncredited
1955 The Girl Rush Chorus boy, 'Hillbilly Heart' numberUncredited
1956 Meet Me in Las Vegas Young groomAs George Kerris
1957 Under Fire Pvt. SteinerUncredited
1961 West Side Story Bernardo Nuñez Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
1962 Two and Two Make Six Larry Curado
Diamond Head Dr. Dean Kahanna
1963 Kings of the Sun Balam
1964 La ragazza di Bube Bebo
Flight from Ashiya 2nd Lt. John Gregg
633 Squadron Lt. Erik Bergman
1965 The High Bright Sun Haghios
1966 On a volé la Joconde  [ fr ]Vincent
Is Paris Burning? GI in tank
1967 Les Demoiselles de Rochefort Étienne
1968 Le Rouble à deux faces Eric Ericson
1969 The Big Cube Johnny Allen
Sharon vestida de rojoRobert Bowman
1979Why Not Stay for Breakfast?George Clark
1982 Jekyll and Hyde... Together Again Himself
1990 Pale Blood Michael Fury
2021 Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It HimselfDocumentary
2021 Not to Forget Bank Manager

Selected television appearances

1956 Ford Star Jubilee Episode: "You're the Top"
1968 The Carol Burnett Show Episode 18 (January 22, 1968)
1969 The Jackie Gleason Show Episode: "Mousey the Dip"
1970–1975 Medical Center Alex Solkin3 episodes
1972 Hawaii Five-O Chris LahaniEpisode: "Death Is a Company Policy"
1974 The Partridge Family Capt. Chuck "Cuddles" CorwinEpisode: ". . . - - - . . . (S.O.S.)"
Thriller Robert StoneEpisode: "Kiss Me and Die"
Notorious Woman Frédéric ChopinMiniseries
1978 The New Adventures of Wonder Woman Carlo IndrezzanoEpisode: "Death in Disguise"
Return to Fantasy Island Pierre
1982 Fantasy Island Captain Claude DumontEpisode: "The Magic Camera/Mata Hari/Valerie"
1983 CHiPs Bernard DeJardineEpisode: "Fox Trap"
Matt Houston Brett ColeEpisode: "The Showgirl Murders"
1984 Matt Houston Clark SawyerEpisode: "Waltz of Death"
One Life to Live Unknown episodes
Poor Little Rich Girls Prince RudolphEpisode: "The Gentleman Caller"
Nihon no omokage Lafcadio Hearn Japanese miniseries ja:日本の面影
Scarecrow and Mrs. King Angelo SpinelliEpisode: "Lost and Found"
1985 Hell Town Ric MontenezEpisode: "Let My Jennie Go"
1986 Dallas Nicholas14 episodes
1988 Santa Barbara Daniel Espinoza
1989 Murder, She Wrote Eric BowmanEpisode: "Weave a Tangled Web"
1989–1990 Superboy Professor Peterson9 episodes
1992 Human Target RobillardEpisode: "Chances Are"
1995Les Filles du LidoSaskiaMiniseries
1996 Last of the Summer Wine Max BernardEpisode: "Extra! Extra!"

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kathryn Grayson</span> American actress (1922–2010)

Kathryn Grayson was an American actress and coloratura soprano.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Donald O'Connor</span> American film actor (1925–2003)

Donald David Dixon Ronald O'Connor was an American dancer, singer and actor. He came to fame in a series of films in which he co-starred with Gloria Jean, Peggy Ryan, and Francis the Talking Mule.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Connie Stevens</span> American actress and singer

Connie Stevens is an American actress and singer. Born in Brooklyn, New York City to musician parents, Stevens was raised there until age 12, when she was sent to live with family friends in rural Missouri after she witnessed a murder in the city. In 1953, at age 15, Stevens relocated with her father to Los Angeles, California.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Victor Mature</span> American actor (1913–1999)

Victor John Mature was an American stage, film, and television actor who was a leading man in Hollywood during the 1940s and 1950s. His best known film roles include One Million B.C. (1940), My Darling Clementine (1946), Kiss of Death (1947), Samson and Delilah (1949), and The Robe (1953). He also appeared in many musicals opposite such stars as Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Raft</span> American actor (1901–1980)

George Raft was an American film actor and dancer identified with portrayals of gangsters in crime melodramas of the 1930s and 1940s. A stylish leading man in dozens of movies, Raft is remembered for his gangster roles in Quick Millions (1931) with Spencer Tracy, Scarface (1932) with Paul Muni, Each Dawn I Die (1939) with James Cagney, Invisible Stripes (1939) with Humphrey Bogart, and Billy Wilder's comedy Some Like It Hot (1959) with Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon; and as a dancer in Bolero (1934) with Carole Lombard and a truck driver in They Drive by Night (1940) with Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino and Bogart.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yvonne De Carlo</span> Canadian-born American actress, dancer and singer (1922–2007)

Margaret Yvonne Middleton, known professionally as Yvonne De Carlo, was a Canadian-American actress, dancer and singer. She became a Hollywood film star in the 1940s and 1950s, made several recordings, and later acted on television and stage.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Russ Tamblyn</span> American actor

Russell Irving Tamblyn, also known as Rusty Tamblyn, is an American film and television actor and dancer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alexis Smith</span> Canadian-born American actress (1921–1993)

Margaret Alexis Fitzsimmons-Smith was a Canadian-born American actress and singer. She appeared in several major Hollywood films in the 1940s and had a notable career on Broadway in the 1970s, winning a Tony Award in 1972 for the Stephen Sondheim-James Goldman musical Follies.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jeff Chandler</span> American actor, film producer and singer (1918–1961)

Jeff Chandler was an American actor, film producer, and singer, best remembered for playing Cochise in Broken Arrow (1950), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He was one of Universal Pictures' more popular male stars of the 1950s. His other credits include Sword in the Desert (1948), Deported (1950), Female on the Beach (1955), and Away All Boats (1956). In addition to his acting in film, he was known for his role in the radio program Our Miss Brooks, as Phillip Boynton, her fellow teacher and clueless object of affection, and for his musical recordings.

<i>What a Way to Go!</i> 1964 film by J. Lee Thompson

What a Way to Go! is a 1964 American black comedy film directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring Shirley MacLaine, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Dean Martin, Gene Kelly, Bob Cummings and Dick Van Dyke.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Beymer</span> American actor

George Richard Beymer Jr. is an American actor, filmmaker and artist who played the roles of Tony in the film version of West Side Story (1961), Peter in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), and Ben Horne on the television series Twin Peaks.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Egan (actor)</span> American actor (1921–1987)

Richard Egan was an American actor. After beginning his career in 1949, he subsequently won a Golden Globe Award for his performances in the films The Glory Brigade (1953) and The Kid from Left Field (1953). He went on to star in many films such as Underwater! (1955), Seven Cities of Gold (1955), The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956), Love Me Tender (1956), Tension at Table Rock (1956), A Summer Place (1959), Esther and the King (1960) and The 300 Spartans (1962).

<i>The Pleasure Seekers</i> (1964 film) 1964 film by Jean Negulesco

The Pleasure Seekers is a 1964 American musical romantic comedy film directed by Jean Negulesco from a screenplay by Edith Sommer, based on the 1952 novel Coins in the Fountain by John H. Secondari. The film stars Ann-Margret, Tony Franciosa, Carol Lynley, Gardner McKay, and Pamela Tiffin, with Gene Tierney and Brian Keith. Ann-Margret sings four songs composed by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edmund Purdom</span> English actor

Edmund Anthony Cutlar Purdom was an English actor, voice artist, and director. He worked first on stage in Britain, performing various works by Shakespeare, then in America on Broadway and in Hollywood, and eventually in Italy. He is perhaps best known for his starring role in 1954's historical epic The Egyptian.

Edward Small was an American film producer from the late 1920s through 1970, who was enormously prolific over a 50-year career. He is best known for the movies The Count of Monte Cristo (1934), The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), The Corsican Brothers (1941), Brewster's Millions (1945), Raw Deal (1948), Black Magic (1949), Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and Solomon and Sheba (1959).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bella Darvi</span> Polish actress (1928–1971)

Bella Darvi was a Polish film actress and stage performer who was active in France and the United States.

<i>West Side Story</i> (1961 film) 1961 film directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins

West Side Story is a 1961 American musical romantic drama film directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. With a screenplay by Ernest Lehman, the film is an adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical of the same title, which in turn was inspired by Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet. It stars Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, and George Chakiris, and was photographed by Daniel L. Fapp in Super Panavision 70. The music was composed by Leonard Bernstein, with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Corinne Calvet</span> French actress

Corinne Calvet, born Corinne Dibos, was a French actress who appeared mostly in American films. According to one obituary, she was promoted "as a combination of Dietrich and Rita Hayworth", but her persona failed to live up to this description, though the fault lay as much with a string of mediocre films as with a lack of a compelling talent, for Calvet's sultry looks and flashing eyes were allied with an impish sense of humour. She eventually became better known for her fiery private life and some well-publicised legal battles."

<i>Kings of the Sun</i> 1963 film by J. Lee Thompson

Kings of the Sun is a 1963 DeLuxe Color film directed by J. Lee Thompson for Mirisch Productions set in Mesoamerica at the time of the conquest of Chichen Itza by Hunac Ceel. Location scenes filmed in Mazatlán and Chichen Itza. The film marks the second project Thompson completed with Yul Brynner within a year — the other being Taras Bulba.

<i>Valentino</i> (1951 film) 1951 film by Lewis Allen

Valentino is a 1951 American biographical film directed by Lewis Allen and starring Eleanor Parker.


  1. "Personally Speaking ep. 68 (George Chakiris)". YouTube .
  2. Hamilton County Recorder’s Office, Cincinnati, Ohio.
  3. Chakiris, George. My West Side Story. Lyons Press, 2021. Page 3. ISBN   978-1493055470
  4. 1 2 3 Greeks Have a Word for It---Chakiris, Los Angeles Times, December 10, 1961: Q4.
  5. 1 2 3 Chakiris, George. My West Side Story. Lyons Press, 2021. Page 10. ISBN   978-1493055470
  6. George Chakiris makes holiday homecoming Kiesewetter, John. Cincinnati Enquirer; Cincinnati, Ohio [Cincinnati, Ohio]Dec 12, 2011.
  7. "Biography for George Chakiris" on
  8. Edmond O'Brien Cast in Jack Webb 'Blues', Hopper, Hedda. Los Angeles Times February 8, 1955: B6.
  9. Dance Star Does Unique 'Viva Vegas' Role; Kent Taylor in Films Again Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times July 22, 1955: 17.
  10. Playboys of the Western World Wilson, Angus. The Observer December 14, 1958: 15.
  11. Vidal Will Write 'Reunion' Script: Tamblyn and Chakiris Join Cast of 'West Side Story', Hopper, Hedda. Los Angeles Times June 28, 1960: B8.
  12. p.201 Mirisch, Walter I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History Univ of Wisconsin Press, April 10, 2008
  13. Constant, Hard Work Pays Off for George by Louella O. Parsons. The Washington Post and Times-Herald April 1, 1962: G2.
  14. Scheuer, Philip K. "Chakiris' Salary Hits Six Figures: Philippine Actor Climbing; Wide Screen for 'Squares'?" Los Angeles Times, May 30, 1962: C9.
  15. 1 2 Scott, John L. "Chakiris Likes Nightclub Life" Los Angeles Times, August 4, 1967: d7.
  16. Two Signed for 'Paris', Briggs, Andrew. Los Angeles Times September 21, 1965: c13.
  17. CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD; Gracious dance; George Chakiris remains grateful to choreographer and director Jerome Robbins for 'West Side Story.' King, Susan. Los Angeles Times November 11, 2013: D.3.
  18. "Everything Is Roses for George Chakiris", Florabel Muir. The Washington Post and Times-Herald September 6, 1967: B13.
  19. 1 2 Hollywood Today: George Chakiris Tries Cutting the Ice as Hollywood Looks at His New Image by Norma Lee Browning. Chicago Tribune November 22, 1970: nw2.
  20. Holleran, Scott. A Boy Like That. March 21, 2003.
  21. "In-Depth with Loving the Silent Tears Guest Speaker: George Chakiris (Vegetarian)". 2012. Retrieved May 31, 2018.
  22. Wagley, Catherine (October 30, 2012). "That Musical About Veganism Starring Jon Secada and Based on the Poetry of Supreme Master Ching Hai, Explained". LA Weekly . Retrieved May 31, 2018.