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West Side Story – 10 Things You Didn’t Know

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1 ) Elvis Presley was approached to play Tony, but Col. Tom Parker turned the studio down, favoring the anodyne musicals his client was already making over one that would have had him wielding a switchblade. via MovieFone


2) Actresses considered for Maria included , Barbara Luna, Jill St. John, Diane Baker, Valery Harper, Elizabeth Ashley, and Suzanne Pleshette. Hepburn dropped out when she became pregnant. via MovieFone


3) The original premise for the show involved a young Italian, Catholic boy whose gang was embroiled in a fierce rivalry with a group of Jewish kids.  It was to be called East Side Story.  However, the creative team changed the premise once the influx in Puerto Ricans on the West Side became a hot button issue in New York City.  A reference to the original idea made it into the final script when Riff refers to how Tony helped the Jets beat the Emeralds – the name they were going to use for the Jewish gang. via WesternStage


4) The lyrics to “America” were substantially changed for the movie. There had been complaints that the Broadway version was too belittling to Puerto Ricans, in that the song mainly ridiculed Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans. The movie lyrics emphasize the racism and discrimination that Puerto Ricans were subjected to in America. via iMDB


5) Some viewers who’d loved the 1957 Broadway musical were miffed that  weren’t even considered to reprise the roles of Tony and Maria in the movie. But the producers wanted a cast that looked young enough to be teenagers, and the Broadway leads were both about 30. Nonetheless, while they ended up casting two 23-year-olds in the leads, most of the gangbangers and gals they hired were indeed close to 30. via MovieFone


Original cast Larry Kert & Carol Lawrence rehearsing on Broadway

6) Stephen Sondheim has said he wanted West Side Story to be the first Broadway musical to drop the “F-Bomb.”  He actually included it in the original lyrics during the “Gee Officer Krupke” number when the Jets are roughing up Office Krupke before the War Council scene. However, once the creative team learned this would prohibit distribution of the Broadway cast album, Sondheim re-wrote the lyrics. via WesternStage


West Side Story Lyricist Stephen Sondheim, Composer Leonard Bernstein, and Director Jerome Robbins

7) When filming “The Taunting Scene”, Rita Moreno was reduced to tears when she was harassed and nearly raped by the Jets, as it brought back memories of when she was raped as a child. When she started crying, the Jets immediately stopped what they were doing and tried to comfort her, while pointing out that the audience was going to hate them for what they were doing. via iMDB


8) Despite the movie’s New York street feel, most of it was shot on a soundstage in Hollywood. The famous prologue, however, was shot on the gritty Manhattan streets, in the West 60s (amid tenements about to be torn down to make way for Lincoln Center) and in Spanish Harlem (around East 110th Street). via MovieFone


Playground Then


Playground Now

9) All of Natalie Wood’s songs in the film version of West Side Story – and even some of her dialogue – were dubbed by Marni Nixon, a respected voice actor who dubbed musical numbers for Deborah Kerr in The King and I and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. via WesternStage


10) The actors in the rival gangs were instructed to play pranks on each other off the set to keep tensions high. via iMDB



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