George Chakiris On Working With Marilyn

George Chakiris, the perenially youthful actor, dancer and choreographer, who worked with Marilyn at the start of his movie career in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and There’s No Business Like Show Business, and has spoken fondly of her at several memorial services, has shared his memories with Stephanie Nolasco for Fox News.

“‘She was so intensely concentrated on her work,’ Chakiris told Fox News. ‘She was very quiet. She didn’t speak with anyone, not to be rude, but she was just so concentrated on her work.’

‘Whenever they cut [a scene] for any reason, she didn’t go to the mirror or her dressing room. She went right back to her starting position and was ready to shoot the number again or that portion of it… She was just so strikingly beautiful. She had such fair skin.’

‘I remember one time… Jack Cole was facing Marilyn and behind him, also facing Marilyn was Natasha Lytess,’ recalled Chakiris. ‘But he didn’t know Natasha was behind him. And I guess he was giving Marilyn some kind direction and Natasha was very slowly shaking her head. It looked like, Pay no attention to what he’s telling you, I’ll tell you later. But Marilyn Monroe was wonderfully polite to the both of them.’

‘I know there are those other stories, of course,’ explained Chakiris. ‘But the thing that I noticed was her courtesy, how wonderfully quiet she was, how her main concern was her work… I really admired that… She never made a big, loud entrance.’

‘I always thought that in spite of what anybody said about her in any way, shape or form, I always felt [that] in her heart she was kind. There was a sweetness to her… I respect who she was and what she was trying to do… When you see her in a movie, any movie she’s in, your eyes always go to her… She’s so gifted, I think. She’s musically gifted.’

Marilyn Returns to the Chinese Theater

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes will be screened at the TCL Chinese Theater (formerly Grauman’s Chinese) on Thursday, August 3, as part of the memorial week activities organised by Los Angeles-based fanclub Marilyn Remembered to commemorate the 55th anniversary of her death. George Chakiris, who danced with Marilyn in the classic musical comedy, will be a special guest. Tickets are going fast, so if you’d like to attend, book here.

Marilyn herself visited the Chinese Theater many times as a child, and famously signed her name in cement outside the venue alongside co-star Jane Russell shortly after the enormous success of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1953. The original, rather risqué costume for her signature ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ number, and another Travilla gown (not seen in the movie, but subsequently worn by Marilyn at public events) will be displayed on the night, courtesy of collector and Marilyn Remembered founder Greg Schreiner.

For more information on the Marilyn Remembered itinerary for this year’s memorial week, click here.

Marilyn Remembered in 2014

Photo by George Barris, 1962; graphic by Ashlee Davis for Immortal Marilyn
Photo by George Barris, 1962; graphic by Ashlee Davis for Immortal Marilyn

Fans gathered in Los Angeles yesterday to mark the 52nd anniversary of her death, NBC reports. This year’s memorial service – hosted by Marilyn Remembered and featuring guest speakers such Kathleen Hughes (actress and widow of producer Stanley Rubin); singer and impersonator Jimmy James; dancer and choreographer George Chakiris; and Jimmie Morrissey (introduced as a former hairdresser to MM) – was streamed live and can be watched again here.

Photo by Jackie Craig
Photo by Jackie Craig

‘Marilyn Monroe: Her Life, Her Films’

McFarland Publishing – who released Les Harding’s They Knew Marilyn Monroe last year – have announced a new book on Marilyn, MM: Her Films, Her Life, by Australian film historian Michelle Vogel, who has written biographies of stars from Olive Thomas to Lupe Velez, and co-authored Hollywood Blondes (featuring Marilyn, of course) back in 2007.

Vogel’s book will be published in Fall/Winter 2013, and can be pre-ordered direct from McFarland at $39.95.

“This book is essentially a filmography interlaced with a complex biographical account of Marilyn Monroe’s life and loves throughout her career. A lengthy introduction explains her traumatic early life and mysterious, unexpected, much talked about death. Behind the scenes information, cast and crew lists, box office grosses and photographs (about 40) are given for each film. There is a Foreword by Academy Award-winning actor (West Side Story) George Chakiris, who worked as a chorus dancer in two of Monroe’s biggest productions,Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954). This is the definitive filmic-reference guide for the legendary Hollywood icon.”

‘Phenomenal’: Chakiris on Marilyn

Dancer George Chakiris has spoken of his work with Marilyn with fondness and respect.

“It’s obvious that working with Monroe holds a special place in Chakiris’ memory. ‘The Diamonds number was choreographed by Jack Cole who was Marilyn’s favorite choreographer and Marilyn was absolutely right,’ Chakiris comments. ‘Jack choreographed for women unlike any other choreographer. One of my favorite credits is to say that I worked behind Marilyn Monroe and I love saying that. She was phenomenal. She only about twenty six when she made that film but Marilyn was an actress who was deeply concerned about her work and was very conscientious. Let me give you an example of her professionalism: If there ever was a cut for any reason, she never went back to her trailer to check her makeup. She’d be there on her starting mark and ready for the next take. Of course, she was extremely beautiful. I mean, what you see on film was what you’d see in person. There was a certain quality about Marilyn that I found to be kind, sweet and I’m sure she was a person who would never hurt a fly. I also remember her as being very quiet. She was not gregarious but was very concentrated on her work and it was phenomenal to watch her.’

Speaking of Marilyn Monroe’s dancing skills, Chakiris goes on, ‘She may not have been a trained dancer but she was musically gifted. She moved really well, she sang very well and she was a beautiful actress. She was a knock-out in every way. Her personal qualities came through on film. It’s like Audrey Hepburn whose personal qualities modified by her talent as an actress automatically came through on the screen. The person she was is what set her apart from other actresses. It was so rich and beautiful. Natalie Wood had that beautiful person quality as well. That’s what made these ladies so special.’

Chakiris recalls working on THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS which starred Ethel Merman, Mitzi Gaynor, Donald O’Connor and Marilyn Monroe. There was a cocktail party to which the dancers had been invited. Monroe walked in quietly with a few of her friends. ‘My partner in that film, Drusilla Davis, decided to ask Marilyn to come over and kiss me on the cheek. Marilyn sweetly looked over in my direction and said to Drusilla, But I don’t know him, and gently refused. I think little things like that are rather telling. She was very correct in her behavior and I admired her for that.'”

Broadway World

Chakiris on Marilyn

George Chakiris, who danced with Marilyn in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, spoke about her this week to the Ventura County Star:

“Marilyn Monroe was amazing. She was quiet and deeply, deeply concentrated in her work. What we feel about her is not all because she died so young. She was intensely and beautifully talented. Her impulses were wonderful. Her singing was delicious. Her presence was unique, and she knew where all the comedy was. It’s one of my favorite credits — I got to be one of the guys behind Marilyn Monroe.”

 

George Chakiris Remembers ‘Blondes’

George Chakiris, who danced alongside Marilyn in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, appeared at this week’s TCM Classic Film Festival in Los Angeles, and recalled his work with choreographer Jack Cole.

“Jack Cole and Robert Alton were the two everyone wanted to dance for. I remember during rehearsal Cole was sitting in his chair and he got up to demonstrate. It was an explosion of dance.

I’m so glad I got to work once for him in that incredible number. He made Jane Russell look so good too.

I loved that time in my life. I was part of the last generation. You would come to work, everyone’s in rehearsal clothes. For filming, you’re all in costume and make up. And there’s that lovely shiny floor…

You’ve been rehearsing to a piano. When they play the orchestra music on the set, it gives you energy you didn’t have. It gives you adrenaline.”

Chakiris is best known for his role as Bernardo, leader of The Sharks, in West Side Story (1963.) In the dance number, ‘America’, a peeling billboard for The Misfits, with a painting of Marilyn’s face, can be glimpsed. It was filmed in New York in 1962, where the Metropolitan Opera now stands.

He had also danced with Marilyn, and Cole, in There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954). In 2007, Chakiris spoke to Michelle Morgan, author of Marilyn Monroe: Private and Undisclosed:

“When Marilyn died, I was in Japan making a movie, and I remember being so sad because it seemed to be our loss…She was so gifted.”