These Boots Were Made For Movin
In the humble opinion of this web mistress, the two coolest chicks who dominated the fun swing mod era were Lada Edmund Jr (of Hullabaloo go-go cage fame) and Nancy Sintra. Lada wore her boots for doing the jerk, the shimmy and other fun dances as part of the David Winters dance troupe on Hullabaloo and Nancy, well she wore them walking. And then she wore them for movin. Movina all over California, in the innovation and award-winning television special, Movin with Nancy.
From the first shot of those famous boots, sashaying toward her 57 T Bird, the original television viewing audiences had its first warning that they were in for a ride; this was not going to be your fathers typical musical special. And considering all the rebellious elements, that is not surprising. Nancy herself, broke away from all the heartbroken sweet songbirds of that era, and flaunted her sexuality and sang feminist anthems that promoted independence and self-sufficiency (These Boots Were made For Walking and lyrics such as; I Got some places I itch. I got some scratching to do .) or pre-Stevie Nicks, mystical witchy ballads (Some Velvet Morning).
The producer was David L. Wolper, who would make a career out of taking chances, and earning the Emmy and Peabody Awards for Roots along the way, as well as the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for all his humanitarian efforts.
Director Jack Haley Jr., had only one other directing assignment to his credit, but his innovative vision earned him his first Emmy.
Even the major sponsor was a maverick: RC Cola. Trying to set itself apart for the established soda companies, RC created a series of fun, rock and roll/pop music commercials to promote its image as the Mad Mad Mad Cola. Thankfully all the ads have been preserved and are in the VHS and DVD versions. My personal favorite is with Dino, Desi, and Billy at the Hollywood Bowl.
And then there was David, whom Nancy considered a perfect fit, because of his work with Elvis, Shindig and Hullabaloo.
The whole production was a love fest. David and Nancy hit it off right away. At their first meeting, she told him how she was a big fan of West Side Story, and he was impressed by how sweet and unassuming she was. Their paths have crossed many times since then and they are loving friends to this day. David was also thrilled when he was asked to be not just the choreographer but one of the guest stars, along with a bunch of other cool guys, Frank Sinatra Sr., Frank Sinatra Jr. Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Nancys frequent singing partner, Lee Hazelwood.
David found the Rat Pack delightful to work with and still remembers that when he told Dean Martin that he did not drink, Dean replied, "David, I feel sorry for you, because when you wake up in the morning, that's as good as you're ever going to feel." But those who knew David, knew waking up to work made David feel wonderful.
For Movin with Nancy, David, again, created his own dance troupe, which included Gus Trikonis (a fellow WSS alum), Teri Garr, and Anita Mann. Known as a tough taskmaster, David perfected the steps inside a rehearsal studio before taking them outside and literally launching them and the star into space. The second number in the special was filmed in a huge empty field in Moorpark, California, where the gorgeous min-skirted, bare midriff Nancy climbed into a hot air balloon, to sing the hit song, Up Up and Away. The balloon not only went up and up and away, but the dancers followed, performing grand jetes on the ground. David then had the dancers filmed jumping from trampolines in slow motion, which created a sense of flying.
That number is followed by interwoven music videos that allowed David and Jack Haley Jr. to take advantage of the varied California scenery to visually set the mood of the music, which is one of Davids trademarks. Lee was placed on horseback for an early morning ride on a misty beach for his duet on Some Velvet Morning. For the lighthearted Sugar Town, Nancy strolled among the trees of a forest, but for the heartbreaking ballad, Fridays Child, Nancy stood in a grim industrial neighborhood.
But the best was saved for last. Dancer as his dancers, take over the Palisades Amusement Park for a high energy fast paced production number set to Who Will Buy. Always a trouper, and set on creating what will be the most visually pleasing for the audience, David choreographed himself on a roof, performing one of his specialities that he calls Over the Top. David learned and perfect the original step as a teen performing tap dance, but later modified it and made it harder but more exciting to watch, by keeping the entire leg in the air, while the other one jumps over it. Not comfortable with heights in normal situations, but less in dancing and jumping, David was quite happy to finish that bit of filming and climb off the roof.
The efforts and sacrifices paid off, and not just for the cast and crew of Movin With Nancy. Because of David and his own style of dancing, he alone was responsible for the creation of the Emmy award for choreography, and the fact that that award is still presented to this day, is an achievement of which he is most proud.
Since there was not an official Emmy category for Choreography, and there had been a popular outcry from members of the academy for him to be recognized for his work, he was nominated in the Outstanding Individual Achievement category. His competition included, Emmy winner, Art Carney - The Jackie Gleason Show; Pat Paulsen - The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour; Charles M. Schulz, writer -You're In Love, Charlie Brown; Bill Melendez, director - You're In Love, Charlie Brown
The next year, because of t his situation and realizing the need to correct it, the academy created the Choreography category, in which he was nominated again, for his work with Ann-Margret. The fact that people who work crazy hours and break neck speeds to create television dancing are now being honored because of him is his one of greatest source of pride.
Another source of pride for David is the letter David received from Frank Sinatra which read, "Dear David, I just wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the help and creativity that you have contributed to my daughter Nancy's special. Her father, Frank."
Today, this groundbreaking special is part of the extensive collection of personal archives housed in the David L. Wolper Center at the University of Southern California in the Doheny Memorial Library, and may be viewed there.
It is also available on VHS and DVD. Originally shot in 16mm and presented in its original full frame, made-for-TV ratio. The image is fairly soft throughout, while maintaining good balance and levels. The color is especially vibrant when it comes to showcasing Nancy's bright wardrobe.
joy, were telling you:
Comic book geeks will always have their battle over who is hotter, Betty or Veronica. For classic TV couch potatoes, the competition is between Ginger and Mary Ann. But for the mod kids who helped usher in the youth culture and rock and roll on TV, the battle will always be between the two hottest dancers on Hullabaloo: Donna McKechnie and Lada Edmund Jr.
Donna Rules: Donna had the brightest smile and you could tell she loved what she was doing. She was the most talented, elegant, and charismatic of all the dancers. - Susan
Lada Rules: Lada was the sexiest, wildest, coolest woman on TV at that time. Nobody epitomize the swinging 60s better than Lada, swinging her hair and her hips, especially in her go-go cage. The only other woman who came close Lada in coolness was Nancy Sinatra. Both ladies wore their boots beautifully.
When NBC decided to launch its over prime time big budget rock and roll show, it hired Steve Binder as director and snagged David as the choreographer. The concept was similar to Shindig, in that it would have a guest host (such as Michael Landon, David McCallum, and the very popular Sammy Davis Jr, a good friend of Davids) every week presiding over the fun and festivities as the top performers performed their current hits. From British Invasion (Dave Clark Five, Freddy and the Dreamer) to folk rock (Byrds, Lovin Spoonful) to Motown (Supremes, Marvin Gaye), all the major hit makers were there. And more often than not they were backed by the sexy and cool moves of the David Winters Dancers. And what a group that was. David held auditions in New York, where he met and almost hired a cute, vivacious blond by the name of Goldie Hawn. One more spot open and the job was hers. Wonder what happen to that kid? As with Shindig, David allowed his dancers to have distinct personalities and styles, but on this show, he introduced America to the first multi-cultural dance corps on prime time television.
Some of the dancers included, Patrick Adiarte who had portrayed the Prince in the King and I, Anita Mann, one of Davids favorite and most reliable dancers, Michael Bennet, who would set Broadway on fire and win a Pulitzer with his A Chorus Line and of course, Donna and Lada.
David first met Donna when she was a 15 year old runaway, dreaming of becoming a professional dancer in New York. She hailed from the same hometown as another dancer and girlfriend of Davids, Jennifer Billingsley, who took Donna in. As a favor to Jennifer, David drove down the Port Authority Bus Station on 42nd street to pick the young girl up, but the confident and independent teen had already found a way to Jennifers apartment. The three of them became the best of friends and when David relocated to Los Angeles, Donna followed, where besides, being a lead dancer on Hullabaloo, she worked as Davids assistant and lead dancer in a Patty Duke movie, called Billie, produced by Peter Lawford. But even though she was enjoying such success, her heart was still in New York, and one day David came home and she was gone. She gave up being a lead dancer to rejoin a chorus on Broadway. Eventually she hooked up with another dancer she had met on the set of Hullabaloo, Michael Bennet, who was conducting a workshop in Joseph Papps basement about the lives of dancers. Donna joined the workshop and the workshop eventually made its way to Broadway under the title A Chorus Line, with Donna in the lead role of Cassie. At the Tony Awards, both took home statues and shortly aftweards, the two of them married.
Another favorite highlight was Hullabaloo A Go-Go which simulated the discothèque club scene on the Hollywood strip. David loved the cages in which the go-go dancers performed in the famous club, Whiskey A Go-Go on the Sunset Strip in L.A., so he incorporated them in the set. Many a female dancer danced in them, but none ever owned the cage like Lada Edmund Jr. who will forever be known as The Girl in the Cage. But not just a pretty face who can shimmy, the lady went on the record a few singles on the Decca Label and appeared in such films as For Those Who Think Young and Out of It.
David also utilized the talents of many of the guest stars. When the beautiful Joey Heatherton appeared, he created a whole new dance for her that became known as the Jerk and became THE DANCE in America. Joey did such a great job, the Coca Cola pulled out their sponsorship of hundred of millions of dollars because they thought her performance was too sexy. Fortunately the producer, Gary Smith and NBC stood behind David and Steve Binder and the segment aired.
With different hosts and musical guests each week, sometimes David didnt know what to expect, but one week really surprised him. Years earlier, David fronted a band called David and the West Siders. Then he met two young singers who called themselves Tom and Jerry who had recorded a semi hit call Hey School Girl in the Second Row. When they split up, David hooked up with one of them who were now calling himself Jerry Landis (even though his real name was Paul Simon). Unlike many other performers, these two composed their own material and produced their own recordings (which still can be purchased on the internet). The soon to be famous poet and singer Rod McKen was their promoter and Teddy Randasso was their producer and sometime co-writer. After some modest success with "Dori Ann" the two split up and Paul went to Europe where he hooked up with his former partner, whose real name was Art Garfunkle. When Simon and Garfunkled were scheduled to appear on Hullavbaloo, David had still not made the connection that it was his two old buddies and it was not until Simon hollered hi at him at the rehearsal that he put two and t wo together. The total shock on David part causes quite a comic scene and a wonderful reunion among old friends.
Hullaballo also provided David with opportunities to perform as a dancer and a singer. David has fond memories performing Everyones Gone to the Moon with Lola Falana. He knew Lola before from his good friend Sammy Davis Jr. Both he and Lola used to hang out and became friends in Sammys dressing room backstage at a broadway theatre where Sammy was starring in the show Golden Boy which is where Lola got her first break.
Also featured in that show was WSS s Jaime Rogers, the assistant choreographer. When David got the job at Hullabaloo, he asked Jaime to be his assistant. Jaimes presence became even more valuable as time when on, because besides Hullabaloo, David was choreographing a couple of Ann_Margret movies, The Swinger and Made in Paris. Their similar work ethic and sense of fun allowed David to trust Jaime completely with cleaning up the steps and making any changes if necessary. During that period, David was such a frequent flyer on the red eye specials to New York and Los Angeles that he became quite good friends with the airline crews.
While working with so many Motown stars, he became friendly with label founder, Berry Gordy, who offered David a recording contract, making him the sole white artist for Motown. Berry flew David to Detroit, where he spent days working with Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and numerous others artists. He recalls the whole atmosphere as infectious and one big happy family with no egos in the way. David had a lot of fun, and recorded a couple of tunes, but in the end, concluded that he was not an R&B singer and the material they were offering him was just not a good fit. However, he and Berry have remained close friends, and David has gone on to work with many of the labels stars, including creating and staging Diana Ross stage show and TV Specials. Another company, Mercury Records offered David a contract and this time David recorded and released two songs. The A side was a single was called The Anti-Protest Song. He also performed it on Hullabaloo.
Talkin' 'bout my g-g-g-generation
Few would have guessed that when the revolutionary film West Side Story was released in 1961, it was setting the stage for a wild rollercoaster of a decade that would see the emergence and consequences of a new power group in America: The Baby Boomers. As their numbers increased, making them the largest population group during that decade, both Hollywood and Madison Avenue scrambled for their attention by producing and marketing films and TV shows to their liking. As a result, Rock and Roll graduated from being just an act on the Ed Sullivan Show, to the star itself. And who better to stage the musical numbers, so the kids would find them cool, than the original cool guys themselves: The boys from West Side Story. During that decade, at least a half of dozen or more of them would go on to dominate the TV and film dance scene, from Malibu U (Bob Banas) to Sonny and Cher (Tony Mordente).
During that decade David would work with such icons as the King himself, Elvis Presley, to the very first video music group, The Monkees. Along the way, he would teach us how to Jerk, make white boots a must have for every mod girls wardrobe and add "a go go" to the English Language.
By the time, TV had embraced Rock and Roll, David and his peers had been crowned teen heartthrobs by the influential Gloria Stavers, who put "West Side Story Boys Complete Addresses and Facts" on the Oct. 1963 cover of 16 Magazine. For the record, Davids eyes are blue-green and his hobby is playing the guitar.
Less than a year later, ABC would break new ground with Shindig, a prime time rock music show that featured many of the top current and future acts, such as The Righteous Brothers. Bobby Sherman, Dave Clark Five, and The Rolling Stones. The frantic energetic pace was heightened by David earthy and contemporary hip-shaking choreography performed by young beautiful and very mod women. This select group would eventually include Gina Trikonis and Maria Jimenez Henley (Graziella and Teresita from the movie, WSS). Unlike past shows, that required a uniformed chorus line look, David allowed his dancers to create personas and signature looks. Two very popular dancers were the one with the very long black pony tail and the tall blond with huge black horn-rimmed glasses. In time, David would leave the show but would turn over the reigns to good buddy and fellow WSS alum, Andre Tayir.
Riding the wave of Shindig success was television director Steve Binder who in1964, was given the task of staging the Teen-Age Music International Show (T.A.M.I. Show) a concert event which would showcase some of the biggest rock and pop acts of the day;
Staged and filmed at the Santa Monica Civic Center, fans were treated to a whos who of early 60s rocks stars such as, original guitar hero Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, James Brown, Lesley Gore, the Supreme, the Beach Boys, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Rolling Stones. The fans were also treated to more of Davids dazzling choreography and of course, many cute go go dancers, including three of Davids favorite dance students at that time: Teri Gar, Toni Basil and Anita Mann. Teri, who would go on to be a future awarding winning comic actress, credits David and this dance gig for getting her career going. Toni would enjoy the #1 hit single, "Mickey" and become a noted choreographer herself. She would also tour as Anita in West Song Story. Anita Mann, who danced in most of Davids shows during that period, would is well-known as the Solid Gold choreographer and has directed many stage shows. Also unknown to most people, is that conducting the orchestra was Phil Spector and in the orchestra as musicians were the soon to be famous Glen Campbell on guitar and Leon Russell on piano.
When Steve Binder was recruited by NBC to create a rival for Shindig, he took David with him. Next month. "Jump for joy, were telling you. Its Hullabaloo."
November / December 2003
Susans Top Ten suggestions for
your David Winters holiday stocking:
Adding or starting your
DW DVD collection? Here are my recommendations.
1. West Side Story (Special Limited Edition)
Special Features on Disc 2 include "West Side Memories": 1-hour retrospective documentary containing Natalie Wood's original vocal recordings and new interviews with the cast and crew, including Robert Wise and Stephen Sondheim; Original film intermission music, restored and remixed in 5.1 surround; and Collectible scrapbook. If I have to tell you why..........
2. Movin With Nancy
Nancy was one of the two coolest chicks from that era and she never looked better than in this award winning television special. From the very first steps of Nancy's legendary boots, the audience is taken on a journey through '60s pop culture, with Emmy Award nominated choreography by David Winters. This gem features singing partner Lee Hazlewood, father, Frank, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.; trend-setting fashions, hit songs and scenic California locations. And forget the remote, you need to sit through the RC Mad Mad Colas Ads. I especially love the one featuring Dino, Desi, and Billy.
3. Hullabaloo: Volumes 5-8
All three available DVDs offer highlights from the vintage show that featured live performance of the most popular musical acts of that era, and some of the best modern dancing with choreography by David Winters--not to mention great shimmies in the cage from the another cool chick of that era, Lada Edmund Jr. But this volume offers a special treat with two dance numbers by David himself. He makes it looks so easy, with Donna McKechnie, no less.
and Susanne Benton in a scene from The
Last Horror Film
4. The Last Horror Film (Fanatic) - Archives November 2002
dark humor tale written, produced, directed and starring
David was filmed during an actual Cannes Film Festival.
One of the last times David appeared on camera.
5. Welcome To My Nightmare - Archives November 2002
One of the best rock and roll concert films out there. David first produced, stated and choreographed the tour and t hen filmed the London show. Alice is not as pretty as Nancy Sinatra or Ann-Margret but David still makes him look good.
6. Thrashin: DVD with Radical Special Features. - Archives April 2003
The international skateboarding cult favorite. Besides the fantastic action, this film boasts the very first film appearance of Tony Hawk. The special features include Making Thrashin, Audio Commentary, and a freestyling montage.
7. Rage to Kill
David has a strong following in the action genre and this is one his best. Transferring the skills from musicals, he creates visually stunning energetic scenes utizing gorgeous people, including James Ryan.
For more information and to order stocking stuffers 1-7, check out www.amazon.com
8. Ann_Margret - Archives February 2003
Television musical special produced, directed and choreographed by David. Starring Ann, Bob Hope, Carol Burnett, Jack Benny, and WSS alum Gus Trikonis in the dance numbers, how can you lose?
9. Raquel - Archives January 2003
Winner of World Television Award, Raquel shines even more radiantly than unusual in this world wide journey, produced, directed and choreographed by David. Special guest stars include Bob Hope (how do he and David keep ending up near beautiful women?), John Wayne, and Tom Jones (sizzling).
10. Once Upon a Wheel. - Archives March 2003
Paul Newman hosts this exciting one-hour documentary about the world of race car driving. Guest stars include Kirk Douglas, Dick Smothers, James Garner, Arte Johnson, Glenn Ford, Stephen Boyd, Lorne Greene, Dino Martin and Caesar Romero with cameos by Hugh Downs, Chad Everett, Bobby Unser, Jacky Stewart, Bobby Isaac, Jacky Ickyx. Guest drivers appearing include Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, Al Unser, Dennis Hulme, Stirling Moss, Pedro Rodriguez and John Surtees. Features music by Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, Cher, Fresh Air, Arlo Guthrie, The Association, Neil Young, James Taylor, and Wilson Pickett. An action-packed hour of racing and music produced and directed by David and again, a recipient of the World Television Award.
Creating a Racquet
Starring Bert Convy, Lynda Day George, Bjorn Borg, Bruce Kimmel, Bobby Riggs, Phil Silvers and Edie Adams.
Upon completing West Side Story, David settled in Los Angeles, where he opened his dance studio and became a popular and busy instructor and choreographer to such musical stars as Elvis Presley, Raquel Welch, Ann-Margret, Donnie & Marie, and many more.
His longtime desire to be more involved in the overall creative process was met when he served as producer, director, and choreographer for many highly acclaimed television musical specials, including Raquel! Now it was time to make the transition to full-length features.
His good friend, former Gypsy cast mate, and protégée, Alan Roberts, brought David a script written by another mutual friend, Steve Michaels and Earle Doud. Entitled Racquet and set in the world of the rich Southern California tennis set, it was about a former tennis champ finally facing the challenge of growing older and growing up. With the pathos of Shampoo and the screwball antics of Animal House, knew it was the right vehicle for them to co-produce and David to direct.
"In all of these films, my dance and choreography background played an important part. I always tried to keep the camera or the actors moving. I tried to stage everything from a dance and movement perspective." - David Winters
To capture the fast competitive crowded world of mansions, huge swimming pools, and backyard tennis courts, that was choking Tommy, the lead character, David utilized one of his favorite directing tools: the helicopter for breathtaking aerial shots. . He utilized it again in showcasing the beautiful natural coastline of Big Sur, California, that represented Tommy rejuvenation and growth as a person. The gorgeous scenery was first noticed by David when he was filming Raquel!
As he did with Thrashin and One Upon a Wheel, David brought in the best in the sport, For the big match at filmed at the Calabasas Tennis Club, David brought in Bjorn Borg, the winner of 6 French Opens, 5 straight Wimbledons and the coveted Davis Cup. David had the distinct honor of being the one and only coach who actually tried to teach tennis heartthrob, Bjorn Borg, how to miss a shot. Years of practice and discipline can be hard to break, and it actually took a few shots before Bjorn missed it well enough to suit the perfectionism in David. The original bad boys of tennis, Bobby Rigss and Ilie Nastase also appeared.
For the character of Tommy, David hired Broadway vet, Bert Convy. While never a pro tennis player, Convy played left fied and batted left handed for a few years for the Philadelphia Phillies farm team. As with many people during that era, he was an avid tennis fan and a well-respected amateur player.
Phil Silvers of Sgt. Bilko fame and Edie Adams provided some of the comic relief, as did Bruce Kimmel. Bruce first met David when he was just 16 and was a dance student at Davids studio. Like Alan, Bruce would go on to dance for David in such shows as Donnie & Marie. A rather prolific actor, producer, composer, etc himself, Bruce has written two roma clef novels about a young boy growing up in LA during the 1950s, Benjamin Kritzer and Kritzerland. In the third and final installment, due out next year, Bruce has promised to immortalize his favorite dance teacher, when Benjamin Kritzer starts his show business career by taking dance classes. Well keep you posted.
Racquet ended up being one of the first of 62 plus movies directed and/or produced by David.
Next month: David puts down the racquet and laces up his skates for Roller Boogie.
On April 1, 2003, MGM released the Special Limited Edition DVD Collectors Set of the 1961 Oscar winning cinematic masterpiece, West Side Story. This two-disc set features behind-the scene-photos, interviews, and many other wonderful insights into the making of this revolutionary movie musical. But few can provide a first-hand, detailed report as David Winters, who was there at its genesis. It is well-documented that WSS was the perfect collaboration of the talents of Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents; and the very first casting decision made by this elite group was David Winters as Baby John in the original Broadway production. He would later be one of the few to make the transition to the film production. Last month, David's shared some of his favorite Broadway West Side Story memories. This month, we are pleased to present some of his favorite West Side Story film memories.
While David did not cross that Atlantic to star in the London West End production of West Side Story (moving onto the Broadway musical, Gypsy, another Jerome Robbins Stephen Sondheim show insteadbut thats another monthly feature, next month, as a matter of fact), he did eventually make his triumphant return to his hometown London, England and the West End to introduce the world to his portrayal of the Artful Dodger in the new, and to be award-winning musical, Oliver. However while in the midst of rehearsing with Georgia Brown and creator/writer Lionel Bart, David received another life-altering call from the Jerome Robbins camp: West Side Story was being made into a movie and Robbins wanted David in it. After an excruciating all night session, where he had to make a rather difficult choice, he talked it over with Lionel and decided to do the film of WSS.
Good-bye Artful Dodger; Hello ???????
David so believed in the film and in Jerome Robbins, that he jumped onto the next plane to the states without even knowing which part he would be offered. In true Robbinsesque style, Jerry would not guarantee a specific role, but instead, told David that he might reprise his signature role of Baby John, but then again, he might be given the part of Baby Johns protector and mentor, A-Rab; and then again, maybe the angry young man, Action. But for sure he would play one of those roles .David was making an important choice purely on blind faith and his belief in Jerry.
Once rehearsals commenced, Jerry would take the all the guys and put them into groups and then sit back and just stare at them. Then he would create new groups and again just stare at them. "It was Jerry being Jerry, trying to surprise, but also providing a bit of angst," David would later say. Although, he was flattered to be considered for a couple of roles, he was very much hoping for the role of Baby John, because he really loved the two solos that he had created for the Broadway production: the Social Worker in Officer Krupke and the explosive POW! SOLO Segment in Cool. These solos were now a large part of the Baby John character. But in the end, David was cast as A-Rab and Baby John went to Eliot Feld, with Tony Mordente, the original A-Rab, becoming Action.
David understood the casting of the co-directors, Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, as Eliot was the youngest actor and if he wasnt cast as the youngest Jet, it might have been hard to place him elsewhere within the gang. David was thrilled when Robbins decided to add to Baby Johns vulnerability and innocence (who else would go into Shark territory and paint alone?), by making Baby John the victim of the Sharks attack as oppose to A-Rab. This allowed Davids A-Rab to come in and help protect him from the Sharks and from Shranks interrogation, thus, establishing their special bond early in the film. However, again, in typical Robbins style, one day, out of the blue, Robbins just stopped the rehearsals and asked David to demonstrate the variation of Cool in front of the entire WSS cast. Upon completion, all the other actors applauded David and Jerry then announced to the entire cast, that David would be recreating the Cool and Social Worker variations for the screen. Needless to say, David, while surprised, was over the top with joy.
Playing the protector to the sweet Baby John proved to be easy for David, as he and Eliot shared the stage together when they were much younger, in Sandbox, an off-Broadway musical that played at the Phoenix Theatre in downtown, New York City, and so a relationship had already been established in real life.
Perhaps another bonding situation for them was that Robbins decided both guys needed to be more strawberry blonde, to appear more All-American and also to look younger. So every three weeks, these two Jets, would sneak into the Cinema Hairstylist on Sunset Blvd, get their dye jobs and then sneak out again. Whilst inside, David would take lots of pictures of all the Hollywood stars who were also getting their hair dyed. But he is sworn to secrecy.
Another highlight of working on the film for David was the chance to work again with his good Broadway buddy, and partner in crime, Tony Mordente. While David was in awe of Tonys work as A-Rab on stage, he opted not to work with or seek advice from Tony in his creation of A-Rab. David had a feeling that this movie was destined to win a few Academy Awards and to become a classic, and he wanted to develop a fresh, sharp character that would be his own and that would stand the test of time. David began by digging deep into his own make-up and pulling up the commonalties: youthful, comedic, sharp-tongue, edgy, protective, feisty etc. In the end, David portrayed a young man, with an edge that used humor as a coping mechanism; a young man who was capable of being close to a bully such as Action, but who also worked to keep him away from weaker gang members; a young man who would consider Action as family but would never really trust him. On Broadway, David and Tony played characters that were best friends, and that spilled over into their real lives. In the film, their sense of brotherhood is apparent in such scenes as the Jet Song, and Dance at the Gym. For other scenes, such as Cool, David left his friendship with Tony behind. But today, A-Rabina and Beta S. John (nicknames they gave each other while on Broadway) still enjoy a close friendship and prove that When youre a Jet, you . Stay a Jet.
During his West Side Story years, David owned two white faced ringtail caputian monkeys. The first one during the Broadway run of WSS used to sit on Davids shoulder as they rode around New York City on his motor scooter or motorbike, he had both. Amazingly enough, David also found room to cart his conga drum around. The pair usually ended up in the Greenwich Village, and there with his friends, he would be perform and play music into the early hours of the morning. All of Davids friends were artists, singers, dancers, musicians, painters, etc. So everyday and almost every night after the show, David and his friends would invade one of the coffee shops in the village and take it over. They would perform for free much to the delight of all the customers there and were always rewarded with food and drinks bought for them by the happy customers. He also traveled with street painters who would, at no cost, draw pictures of the customers, which they seem to cherish. It was a very free and magical time in Davids life.
In LA, during the filming of the WSS, David purchased another monkey and christened it, A-Rab; and the creature would live up to its name. One day while walking down the street, they happen to pass a synagogue, and perhaps it was divine intervention, but the primate, A-Rab, broke loose and for what seemed an eternity ran in, up and down the aisles, eventually ending up on the rabbis head, as David tried in vain to coax the critter down. A-Rab eventually jumped back into Davids arms. The Rabbi took it all in stride and they all shared a good laugh together, including A-Rab.
Another highlight for David during the filming was staying in LA with his good buddy from NYC, teen-age idol, and Academy Award nominee, Sal Mineo. Sal and David had been classmates at the Lodge Professional School, a school for professional young actors, where David had a scholarship. Sal had been playing the Crown Prince in Robbins The King and I when he had been brought out to Hollywood to make such movies, as Rebel Without a Cause, Giant, The Gene Krupa Story, and Someone Up There Likes Me, etc. Now in Hollywood, Sal was living in a fabulous house up in the Hollywood Hills just above famed Sunset Blvd. with a great view. He also had a great to die for car, a Thunderbird convertible, which he let David drive and which David proceeded to crash. But in the tradition of Womb to Tomb, Sperm to Worm, Sal was only concerned with Davids welfare, even though David had totaled Sals car.
Through Sal, David met and partied with many of Hollywoods young turks and top celebrities of that era: James Dean, Nick Adams, Vampira, Dennis Hopper, and Dean Stockwell, whom he would eventually fix up with his ex-girlfriend and dance assistant, Toni Basil (who had the #1 hit, Hey Mickey). And of course, he became close with the beautiful Natalie Wood and her boyfriend/husband, Robert Wagner. Robert was quite impressed with Davids talent and recommended him to Morton DaCosta, the director of Music Man, but it was decided that David as too old for the part. Davids pal Ron Howard, who eventually played the little brother in the film, and then went on to be one of the stars of TVs Happy Days would follow Davids direction and move into directing/producing and winning the Academy Award for Best Director for A Beautiful Mind.
David friendship with Natalie proved to be quite useful on the movie set, as David and Tony Mordente recreated their off-stage roles as major pranksters. One day, while they were filming in New York, it was an incredibly hot day, with not a cloud in the sky, and some of the crew was actually frying eggs on the sidewalks. The poor dancers were all using shami cloths from the ice bucket on their necks between takes, but, there was little they could do about the heat creeping through their sneakers and burning their soles. Out of the blue, Tony dared David to call God and order some rain. David dialed on an imaginary phone and who knows what number he dialed, but he told Tony that God decreed that if they wanted rain, they would have to do a Rain Dance, just like the Indians. So this puckish pair, recruited all the Jets, and together the young men performed a Native American style Circle dance, complete with whooping sounds. And as the fates would have it, within five minutes, the Jets had their rain, forcing the cancellation of the scheduled outdoor shooting. Co-director Wise was furious and ordered everyone to a local school hall where he announced everyone could go home for the day EXCEPT the Jets, who had to stay and rehearse for the rest of the day. Oh, and he also announced that there would be no more Rain Dances!
Moving to LA did not stop the hijinks on the set. It is known that Cool, while amazing to watch, is an incredibly demanding dance on the body, especially the knees. It didnt help that the garage was hot and stuffy and that Robbins made them rehearse and film that sequence many, many times over. After the very last take, David, Tony, and the rest of the gang, gathered their well-used knee pads, threw them into a garbage can and lit the can on fire in front of Robbins office on the MGM lot. The fire became quite large and the Samuel Goldwyn Studio bosses called the fire department. Hoping to escape the wrath of their tireless leader, Jerry, and of Wise (who still had not forgotten about the infamous Rain Dance), David and Tony ran into Natalies dressing room. As luck would have it, Natalie was schedule to shoot a scene next, so, in the spirit of fun, she and the two guys poured ketchup all over one another, making it appear that a bloody scuffled had just taken place. When the Assistant Director opened her door, he saw a room with every piece of furniture overturned and still and bloodied bodies lying all around. This, on top of having a fire going on, totally unnerved the poor guy, who let out an ear-wrecking scream, as he ran back to the set screaming that there had been a killing. The bratty actors then cleaned-up and straightened the room as if nothing had ever happened.
Somehow, through all this craziness, a wonderful classic film was made.
Next month: The coolest guy does Gypsy.
P.S. David wants you to know that when Robert Wise wasnt looking, (shhh) they still did rain dances. And it worked, because it actually rained quite a bit in New York City when they were filming there. And a 2 week shoot became a 2 month shoot. See you next month.
Gypsy: Another Robbins Adventure
From West Side Story, David shifted gears and went to film Daniel Manns The Last Angry Man as the young Lee Roy. The black and white social drama starred David Wayne, Billy Dee Williams, Godfrey Cambridge and Paul Muni who received an Academy Award nomination for him performance as well as the Jury Prize at the Mar del Plata Film Festival.
Back in New York, David received another call from his mentor/idol, Jerome Robbins. Robbins was once again joining forces with Stephen Sondheim, (lyrics), and Arthur Laurents (libretto), and new to the team, composer Jules Styne in creating a new musical fable about the turbulent childhood and early life of famed burlesque queen, Gypsy Rose Lee. Of course, for the young man, those were reasons enough to be interested, but the added bonus was that Broadway queen, Ethel Merman was also attached to the project. To add another legendary performer to his resume was very exciting to David.
Unlike the adrenalin inducing sessions that David endured for his auditions for West Side Story, David was already guaranteed a part in the new production. The creative team had already determined that David could play Yonkers and one of the Farm Boys, but Robbins wanted David to audition for the part of Tulsa, the cocky brash young suitor of Baby June. Even though, Robbins preferred David for the Tulsa, the remainder of the creative team felt he was too young for the role.
Robbins, however, did succeed in getting David to be the understudy, and as the fates would have it, he had a few opportunities to perform it. David recalls how much fun it was performing the show stopping, All I Need is the Girl, a multi-tempo number that incorporates tap dancing and waltzing, and builds to a rousing, incredibly frenetic finish.The other dance numbers were a departure from the West Side Story style in that they were just not character driven. As kids as part of a vaudeville act, Robbins aimed for eye-catching over the top movements that were as much fun for the performers as the audience.
Besides Robbins, David found a fan in Ethel Merman herself. She had a high regard for Jerome Robbins and would later state he was one of her favorite directors, and she knew that Robbins had a high regard for David. She also appreciated Davids good manners and respectful treatment that he showed her. David credits his close relationship with his own mother and grandmother for helping him know how to behave and be comfortable around women.
The Rebel Hero
But perhaps his biggest fan club was the group of young actors who made up the Newsboys. David was the coolest guy we knew says Bobby Brownell, one of t he original newsboys. Now a producer/director/editor going by the name of Alan Roberts, he recalls that, all the young boys were still being picked up at the theatre by their parents, but David was riding a motorcycle, long before anyone else was riding one. And he wore leather. And then, there were his girlfriendsall of them were beautiful dancers and actresses. He was our rebel hero. This admiration eventually led to a lifelong friendship and occasional professional collaborations.
When he was older Alan inherited Davids signature role of Baby John in a national tour of West Side Story. When he settled in Los Angeles, he danced for many of the new hot young choreographers, including his friend David. He conceded that David was harder than many of the other choreographers. He was always trying new stuff and he made you rehearse longer and harder. But in the end, you would be amazed and proud of that work. When Alan decided to move behind the camera, he sought out Davids advice and guidance. David produced Alans first major motion picture directorial effort, Young Lady Chatterley. A few years later when Alan found the script of Racquet, David agreed to co-produce and direct it for him (see next months monthly feature).
David also provided a leadership role off the stage too. During the run of Gypsy, every Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, David could be found in Central Park, as Captain and second baseman for the Gypsy team in The Broadway League. Playing softball created a nice divergence and a sense of camaraderie among the cast members. It also allowed the opportunity for performers to connect and interact with the cast member of other shows. It was during the 7th inning stretches that David got the chance to know the nice young man who was starring in Sweet Bird of Youth, Paul Newman. Years later, when David was producing/directing the award-winning racing documentary Once Upon a Wheel, and everyone was warning David that Paul would never agree to a television show, it was the shared softball history that got David his meeting with Paul. By the end of that meeting, Paul agreed to get involved and narrate the special (see Archives March 2003).
Working with Ethel
The Newsboys had their carpools. David, his motorcycle. But Ethel had them all beat with her own private jet. Almost every Saturday, Ethel would tell David that she was going to bring down the final curtain 15 minutes earlier so that she and her husband could get away to the country for the weekend. And almost every Saturday night, she didbut never once did she rush through a song, only the scenes. She knew what the people came to see.
David describes her as the ultimate professional. While she had the reputation of being tough, she was actually quite sweet and pleasant to work with. Later David would work with two other legends who reminded him of Ethel, tough on the outside, soft on the inside: Lucille Ball, Lucy in London and Barbra Streisand, A Star is Born.
Gypsy opened in New York at the Broadway Theatre May 21. The audience that evening was made up of such luminaries as Henry Fonda, Truman Capote, Mary Martin, Richard Rogers, and Leonard Bernstein. But the most anticipated guest of the evening was the lovely Gypsy Rose Lee herself, escorted by her devoted son, Erick Premminger.
Everyone that evening recognized what a moment in theatre history it was. Gypsy Rose Lee herself half-jokingly referred to Ethel Merman as her annuity. For David, it was another opportunity to debut a new character in an original show, to work with the great Ethel Merman, and of course, to work again with Jerome Robbins.
Next Month: The Rebel and the kid create a Racquet.
After filming West Side Story, David burst onto the scene as a much sought-after choreographer/dancer, and producer of musical specials. But his athletic background and attention to visual detail enabled him to segue into other genres, including sport-oriented movies. The highlights in this category include: Once Upon a Wheel, Thrashin, Racquet, and Roller Boogie.
In all of these films, my dance and choreography background played an important part. I always tried to keep the camera or the actors moving. I tried to stage everything from a dance and movement perspective. - David Winters
It didnt take long for Hollywood to take notice and within no time three films were in production, all capitalizing on this phenomenon: Roller Boogie, Skatetown, USA, and Xanadu. In the end, the one film that truly caught the spirit and culture as well as being the most commercially and critically successful of the bunch was Roller Boogie, produced by Irwin Yablans and Mark L. Lester. Roller Boogie offers the classic tale of a lonely rich girl, determined to spread her wings and live her own life, and the poor boy with a heart of gold and a load of talent, who not only helps her find herself, but himself as well.
Realizing that the heart of this production would be the musical skating productions, the producers sought out David Winters, who had earned Emmy nominations and splendid reviews for his choreography and musical staging on television, film and stage. Davids first response was to decline the offer. He had since moved on to producing and directing his own work and wanted to expend his energy in that direction. But the producers came back, and in a first, offered David a percentage of the grosses, making it the first time a choreographer shared in the profits. And since the movie was a commercial success, it made the project even more satisfying.
David was not intimated by the prospect of having dancers on wheels. He had grown up playing roller hockey and understood the technique and balance that was needed. Plus he had already choreographed much bigger wheels when he placed Ann-Margret and a chorus of guys on motorcycles (see Monthly Feature, February 2003). But he knew that versatility would be a key ingredient to look for in his performers.
Prior to production, skating trainer Barbara Guedel tested more than 300 skaters, both amateur and professional for roles in the film. She and David also auditioned dancers who could skate at various locations throughout Los Angeles. Finally 50 were selected and trained by David. One of those lucky 50 was Lynn Herring; know as the evil Lucy Coe on daytimes General Hospital and Port Charles.
For the lead, a lovely, curvy and all grown-up Linda Blair, of Exorcist fame was chosen. In shape and a champion equestrian, Linda wanted to add credibility to the movie, and rose to the occasion doing her own skating.
For her love interest, a newcomer, Jim Bray was chosen. At 18 years old, he had been the United States amateur roller-skating champion for three consecutive years. He had been skating competitively for 12 years, amassing around 275 trophies. The young stars learned and perfected the disco skating skills in a grueling three-week training period before the production started.
As with his television specials, David took advantage of the beautiful locations, including Venice Beach where the skating craze began. Grabbing the audience from the start, David had Jim and the rest of the dancers, jump, leap, glide, spin, twirl, etc from one end of the boardwalk to the other, all to Chers pulsating hit, Hell on Wheels.
For the competition scene and more intimate partner numbers, David used the Stardust Ballroom in Hollywood, converted to a disco palace, complete with neon lights for strobe effects. For the fun rowdy scenes, David used a local rink, which ironically was a favorite hang out of Chers. and the scene for her weekly skating parties. Two decades later, those scenes would be honored in a parody during Mike Myerss Austin Powers in Goldmember. And two decades later, with skates now being blades, Davids moves can still be seen on the Venice boardwalk, the rinks, and almost anywhere kids roll.
Next month: The action begins