Born in Ohio to Greek parents, George Chakiris made his first film appearance as an adolescent chorus singer in Song of Love (1947), the filmed biography of Robert and Clara Schumann. After receiving training as a dancer, Chakiris was given a few unbilled solo spots in such film musicals as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and White Christmas (1954). His roles increased in size after he became a dramatic actor in the late 1950s. Chakiris went on to win an Academy Award for his singing/dancing/acting portrayal of Puerto Rican gang leader Bernardo in West Side Story (1961), after which his starring career went into an unexpected eclipse. George Chakiris' television credits include a leading role (along with Anna Maria Alberghetti, Jose Ferrer and Barbara Eden) in a 1967 TV adaptation of Kismet; a co-starring stint with Rosemary Harris in Notorious Woman, a 1975 dramatization of the life of George Sand which premiered in the U.S. on PBS' Masterpiece Theatre; and a recurring role on the prime-time serial Dallas.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Landed a deal with Paramount Pictures after a publicity photo of him with Rosemary Clooney from White Christmas generated a tremendous amount of fan mail.
- Sang with the St. Luke's Episcopal Church choir as a child, and made his film debut when the ensemble appeared in 1947's Song of Love.
- Never took a dance class until he enrolled at the American School of Dance in Hollywood at age 19.
- Before winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing Bernardo in the 1961 film version of West Side Story, he played the opposing role of Riff in the original London stage production.
- Became lifelong friends with his West Side Story film costar Rita Moreno.
- Parlayed a hobby in silversmithing into a line of products, distributed at department stores in Japan.