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West Side Story Memories:

Posted by Sirena West on November 1, 2013 at 2:40 AM Comments comments (0)

West Side Story Memories: 

Fighting over a little pieceof street………..Filming a Hit in Its Habitat

Tothe Jets, a self-made family of disenfranchisedyoung men, their turf was something they fought hard for and they were notgoing give it up.  Not to the Emeralds,not to the Hawks, and for sure, not to the Sharks.  And nothing could possibly prepare the movieaudience for such passion and plot development as the opening prologue; abreathtaking aerial shot of Manhattan from a bird's eye view capturing the citywith its bridge traffic and highway ramps, its waterfront docks, parks andskyscrapers. The camera continues to pass over recognizable landmarks as itmoves steadily to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and then speedily zoomsdown and plunges into a concrete playground, a little piece of street occupiedby the Jets, clicking their fingers to the syncopated rhythm of the musicalscore.

Alongwith the dancing and music, the New York filming, has  received its share of accolades and much ofthe credit can go to Robert Wise, co-director and producer, who fought hard forthe NY location shots, as he felt gritty urban reality could not be recreatedon a  Hollywood back lot.

The exterior locations of the prologue included four blocks that were to be torndown that summer of 1960, to make room for the Lincoln Center.  A deal was made with the contractors, tostart on West Sixty-fourth instead of West Sixty-first.  But it did not have playground.  So they went to East 110th Street in a PuertoRican neighborhood.

 Co-director,Jerome Robbins complained that he had been given the difficult task of puttingthe most stylized dancing in the most realistic set.  He was worried that the stylized dancing inthis most realistic of urban settings would not go over well with the audience.  According to Tony Mordente, they rehearsedthe prologue for months in Hollywood, but once they reached NY, it changeddaily.  Eventually this dazzling sequencebegan with Jets moving slowly, moving a shoulder here and snapping a fingerthere.  It increased in energy as theJets stepped out of formation and spread their arms declaring the turf astheirs.   In time, the Jets broke outinto a highly-stylized dance and then burst into a daring, high-steppingsequence - an exhilarating, inventive, visual ballet of pirouettes, vigorousathletic moves, and running jumps that symbolizes their dominance and energy -they are readying themselves for a gang brawl.

Davidand some of the other Jets recall the camera following the Jets completely downthe street for a few takes.   Then thedance would be broken up and filmed at different angles.  Per Russ Tamblyn, both Robbins and Wise lovedangles and ended up producing scenes that were considered quite innovated for its day. 

Inclassic irony, the anthem of the Jets’ supremacy, the Jet Song, was performed in the heart of this Puerto Ricanneighborhood.  During the filming, theJets lip synched to a previously made recording that was quite audible to theneighborhood residence.  One day, one ofthe locals approached the directors and suggested that they turn down thevolume during the Every Puerto Rican is a………” line.  The directors agreed itwas an excellent idea and did so.  

Whilethe Hollywood moguls were fretting over the extended time and budget that wasbeing spent in New York, David and the other young actors loved being there. 

Itis common knowledge that Robbins kept the two gangs apart and encouraged asense of rivalry and competition between them.  This, of course, only fuel their youthful creativity and the Jets took toproclaiming Jets Are the Greatest onpaper and sheets and leaving them all over the location, including tenementsand schools.  They even hung Sharks ineffigy. 

TheSharks did get the last laugh though, when Robbins choreographed a pouring ofpaint onto the Jets in the opening sequence. According to David, the concoction that doubled for yellow paint smelledhorrendous and was rather sticky.  Itdidn’t help either that the rest of the cast assembled themselves to get abird’s eye view of this sequence, not to mention a good laugh.

Eventhough David and the other actors loved being in New York, it had itschallenges.  First of all, there was themorning Ballet Bar workout, complete with taskmaster, Robbins on a megaphone. 

Itwas also incredibly hot and dancing on the concrete did not help matters.  As David recalls,

“Oneday, while they were filming in New York, it was an incredibly hot day, withnot a cloud in the sky, and some of the crew was actually frying eggs on thesidewalks. The poor dancers were all using shami cloths from the ice bucket ontheir necks between takes, but, there was little they could do about the heat creepingthrough their sneakers and burning their soles. Out of the blue, Tony daredDavid to call God and order some rain. David dialed on an imaginary phone andwho knows what number he dialed, but he told Tony that God decreed that if theywanted rain, they would have to do a Rain Dance, just like the Indians. So thispuckish pair, recruited all the Jets, and together the young men performed aNative American style Circle dance, complete with whooping sounds. And as thefates would have it, within five minutes, the Jets had their rain, forcing thecancellation of the scheduled outdoor shooting. Co-director Wise was furiousand ordered everyone to a local school hall where he announced everyone couldgo home for the day EXCEPT the Jets, who had to stay and rehearse for the restof the day. Oh, and he also announced that there would be no more RainDances!”  For the record, the Rain Dances continued.

Oncethey returned to Hollywood, they thought there New York days were done.  However, at recent big screening of thisclassic, Russ Tamblyn mentioned that upon completionof the filming , it was discovered that the scene where Anybodys begs to joingang got destroyed, so all the Jets had to return to New York to refilm thatscene. He joked that in a turn of a corner, everyone was now a year older, andthose who  who had been enjoyingthemselves in Hollywood might actually look a year older. Then Russ paused andcommented, “Hell David Winters, with all his fun, had to have looked three orfour years older”. Maybe one day, David will tell us those stories. 

Thank you for help with this feature:

David Winters and Tony Mordente

West Side Story Memories

 

 

 

 

 

 

Splish Splash on the West Side

Posted by Sirena West on November 1, 2013 at 2:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Splish Splash on the West Side

In 1957, a chance meeting tookplace at Hanson’s Drugstore, which was attached the famous Brill Building, homeof such great composer at Carole King and Neil Diamond and next door to theWinter Garden Theatre, then home to Broadway sensation, West Side Story.  This chancemeeting not only produced a lifelong friendship of creative souls definitely onthe same wavelengths, but creative projects still being embraced today. 

The two young creative soulswere singer/composer Bobby Darin, and David Winters, already appearing in hisfourth Broadway show as Baby John in WestSide Story. 

David recalls that one earlyperk of his friendship was getting a preview of Bobby's breakthrough hit, Splish Splash, some time before it wasrecorded.

"It was at Hanson's. Oneday, Bobby was talking about it, and then he started singing it to me—and Ithought it was great. I told him, if he ever got it released properly, it wouldbe a big hit and make him a big star. We laughed about it, because it was sodifferent, and the lyrics were so funny. He was very excited about it and I wasalso excited for him."

Winters was so taken with thesong, he was still talking about it when he got to the theater that night toperform in West Side Story

"When I went backstagethat night to do the show, I sang it for Chita Rivera, Larry Kert and TonyMordente .  Eventually, I had everyone inthe cast singing it and for a while it became our backstage and curtain callanthem. And then when it was released, we all went crazy, because we knew itbeforehand and we all knew it would be a big hit. It was like we were a part ofits success, and Bobby's too."

As the years went on, theirfriendship grew, fueled by great professional and personal respect.

"Over time, I got torealize that Bobby was a very, very loyal friend and person," saysWinters. "He had a big heart and was only too happy to help others inneed. There were a few times that Bobby came to my rescue and I reallyappreciated him so much. He was a very good and gentle man. He was a veryspecial person and I was proud to know him."

Bobby's willingness to stepin and help a friend in need was never more evident than in 1969, when Winterswas working on a pilot for a TV variety series starring singer Barbara McNair.

"At that time this was areal gamble, because in the South, they did not want black people with theirown show, and the stations were hesitant to run our series.”  David knew they needed a big name guest. 

"So three days beforeshooting, I took a chance and called Bobby. I told Bobby this was a groundbreaking and possibly dangerous situation, and I could only pay him scale—whichwas a few hundred dollars at the time. He said, 'David, I still remember timeswhen a few hundred dollars would have been reason enough to go to a gig.' Hesaid he would do it. I loved him for it. And true to his word, two days laterhe showed up at the studio and did the TV show for me."

Not long afterward, in 1970,Winters returned the favor, by producing TheDarin Invasion, an hour-long Bobby Darin Special for Canadian TV.

As he had done withAnn-Margret, Raquel Welch, and Nancy Sinatra, David created a format toshowcase the many talents of the versatile performer.   Withoutstanding performances by Darin himself, plus George Burns and Linda Ronstadt,Daivd recalls the project as one of the best and most easygoing experiences ofhis career.

While Winters was not awareof Bobby's health problems at the time TheDarin Invasion was shot, inretrospect, he is amazed at the way Bobby set aside his pain in order toperform.

"I think he truly justblocked it from his mind when he went on. He was the ultimate performer. Showbusiness was in his heart, and I knew how deeply he was committed to it. Hewanted to be the best and give the audience more than they had paid for. Evenon TV he was truly 'one of a kind.' He was born to be a performer and he lovedevery minute of it. He loved the feedback from the audience as well."

Clearly, this intensededication to the business and to performing is a trait these two men share.

 

 

 

A Producer is Born

Posted by Sirena West on November 1, 2013 at 2:30 AM Comments comments (0)

A Producer is Born

 

 

David Winters likes to remind everyone he knows, includingthis webmistress , that he is typical Ram (Zodiac wise) which means he is notonly full of flair, originality, and courage but is also a great leader.   And it possibly these traits along with histenaciousness that allows him to leave his comfort zone and embrace new challenges,resulting in him having credits and rewards in so many categories within theentertainment industry, including that as movie producer and distributor. 

 

There is no doubt that David would have eventually become afilm producer, but the stimulus came during his stint as director of thephenomenal cult hit, Thrashin’, wherehe experienced being over-ruled in casting and other creative decisions.  Gravely disappointed Winters made theprofessional decision to control all aspects of future projects and in 1986 hecreated his own production and distribution company with David A. Prior and PeterYuval, named Action International Pictures (AIP).  As president, he had to wear a business hatas well as a creative hat and the company focused on producing low budgetactions films and video distribution for many international films, which provedto be quite lucrative.  

 

On average, AIP was responsible for 10-15 films a yearmainly for video market and controlled their own distribution.  According to the Internet Movie Database, AIPproduced 17 films and distributed 41 films and videotapes between 1988 and1994, and were involved in a total of 46 films in this period. Fifteen of thesefilms were written and directed by Prior. Winters directed three of the films,including Space Mutiny (which he alsowrote under pseudonym Maria Dante) and produced 28 of them. Yuval wrote,directed, and produced two of the AIP films including Dead End City and Fireheadand directed two more.

 

Like many low-budget film productions, AIP's original filmsused many of the same cast and crew in many of the films, including DavidPrior's brother Ted as an actor and writer; the apparently versatile WilliamZipp as actor, writer, director, producer, and stunt man; and an occasionalwell-known actor like Cameron Mitchell (featured in Space Mutiny and threeother AIP ventures). Popular Television show, Mystery Science Theater 3000 webdocumenter, would ultimately joke that one AIP film, Space Mutiny was "infested" with "the Mitchellfamily" referring to Cameron's two children also appearing in that film.

 

Another favorite was actor James Ryan the acrobatic sinewy and lean martial arts hero in Rage to Kill and Codename Vengeance.  Ryanturned up again, playing against type, as fan favorite disabled villainMacPhearson in cult classic, SpaceMutiny. 

 

AIP movies not onlybrought David cult status but a few awards to add to his collection aswell.  Night Trap, starring Lesley-Ann Down, won the first prize “Gold Award” at the Houston WorldFest International Film Festival in 1993. Good Cop Bad Cop (also knownas Raw Justice), starring

Pamela Anderson, David Keith,and Stacy Keach, won the Bronze award at The Charleston Film Festival in 1994

 

In 1992 Winters bought out partnersand re-branded AIP as West Side Studios, although Prior would continueto direct.   Branching out from justaction flicks, David tried his hand in comedy and in 2002, Welcome 2 Ibiza won the Bangkok Film Festival Audience Award.

 

 In 1999 Winters and his British business partnerPatrick Meehan took their Equator Films public, in 2004 that company purchasedHandMade Films.  His current Americanproduction entity is known as Alpha Beta Films International.

 

 

 


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