I approached Russ Tamblyn first to play the main character of my audio-book Rock Star Rising. I'd been a fan of his, even before West Side Story. His character is the would be writer who goes in search of "Shane" a dead rock star (played by James Darren).
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Of course, everyone discovered George Chakiris in West Side Story in which he received the academy award for Best Supporting Actor. Rita Moreno says of George, "There are only two elegant dancers I can think of, Fred Astair and George."
My agent submitted the script for the project to Russ and after reading it, he said yes right away. He even volunteered to get a copy of the script to George Chakiris to play the part of a Puerto Rican gangster.
It was an unplanned dream to possibly have both leaders of "The Jets" and "The Sharks" in my project. If I could pull it off, not only would he be perfect for the part, I'd be making movie history by putting these two actors together for the first time since they both got stabbed and killed below that highway, so many years ago. A sort of resurrection for Riff and Bernardo.
Russ got the script to George and, after a weeks wait, he told my agent he would do it. Out of the blue, I got a call from George saying that he would like to make some changes to the script and wondered how I felt about it. I told him that the overall story was of more concern to me than each individual word, so it would be fine. He asked if we could meet at the Four Seasons lounge in Beverly Hills. I got there early and checked the place out.
When George arrived he looked just like Bernardo and still definitely in shape as he trains at a gym daily and still does dance exercises. I warmed him up talking about the fact the we were both Greek decedents. His parents coming from Greece, both sets of my grandparents coming from Greece.
We talked about some of his movies like Diamond Head. He said he was still friends with James Darren from that movie. I didn't know then that James Darren would end up in the project, and not through George.
Then we went to work on the script. Basically, his changes were more of the editing nature. Condensing longer speeches into more concise dialogue between him and Russ' character. At one point, George started to act out his dialogue and from the corner of my eye I notice people turning and looking at him and then me. Normally, being a shy person, this would have bothered me, but being it was academy award winning George Chakiris that I was working with, I didn't bother me at all. Two hours later, and after some more movie talk, both George and I were satisfied with his dialogue.
I scheduled Russ for four hours of recording starting with George and continuing throughout the day with other actors coming in and out, sometimes having as many a four actors in the recording booth. Russ and George had met on their own before the recording day, to go over their lines and make some changes to make the words more suitable to their ears.
At the recording studio, Russ and George sat facing each other, and did all there twenty or so scenes together. We would record each scene one by one talking a break between them to analyze and prepare for the next one. We first ran the scene where Russ' Puerto Rican girlfriend introduces him to her brother, so it was a three mike set up and we got it in one take, with the actress sounding like Rozie Perez. Then she took a break and Russ and George continued with scenes they had to do alone.
It was great to hear the two of them set up what they would say before the start of each scene. After two hours, their scenes together were done. Next George had to do his remaining scenes with the actress playing the part of his sister.
When George finished all his scenes, I had Russ back in the booth continuing on with his scenes. I was happy to see that, even though finished, George sat in the back on a sofa with his "sister" and talked and enjoyed the atmosphere. Finally during a break, George said his farewells. I shook my hand and said, "It was a pleasure working with you." I replied, "I'll always remember The Four Seasons. It was very productive."
After George left Russ turned to me and said, "You know Paul, these days, George hardly does anything. But after meeting you, he decided to do this." I replied, "I'm really happy about that." It turned out that George had not been 100% sure about doing the project until after our first meeting.
At the time, none of us knew about the other name actors that would join this project. Rod Taylor did the narration. Then Robert Culp, recording with James Darren and Kevin McCarthy, played characters in the story.
Now as I write this with a photo of Riff and Bernardo knife fighting on my pc table, both signed by Russ and George. I still can't believe that I have their performances permantently recorded in Rock Star Rising. A dream come true.
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