BIO - September 2002

David Weizer was born in London, England. Shortly afterwords his family relocated
to Brooklyn, New York, and at the age of 12, while singing in an Hungarian restaurant,
David caught the attention of a CBS talent scout. This scout obviously knew what he
was looking for. Before debuting as Baby John in Broadway's West Side Story, at the
age of 17, David Winters (as he was now known), was already a veteran of many
Broadway productions, and over 150 live television shows, including the Jackie
Gleason Show
, and the Milton Berle Show.


"That's him! That's him! My dream man! He's beautiful!"

Arabella (Fran Manfred) to Dori (Tuesday Weld) about classmate, Melville
(David Winters) in the classic Rock and Roll love story film:
Rock, Rock, Rock


Original 45 RPM Audition Copy
of "Dori Anne", written by
David Winters and Paul Simon

Arrangement by Teddy Randazzo

David Winters professional journey has ventured into Rock and Roll territory on
numerous occasions. Perhaps his most charming is his portrayal of Melville, the
knight in shining armor, who escorts Arabella to the prom. And what a prom it was.
Famous disc jockey,Alan Freed, treated the whole gang, which included Winters,
Weld, and Valerie Harper, to a slew of top-rated rock acts, including Frankie Lymon
and Laverne Baker.; But the highlight of the evening was fellow classmate, Johnny
(Teddy Randazzo) serenading heartbrokened love interest, Weld. Rock and Roll
fantasies do come true!!

Like Winters, Randazzo is a renaissance man, but has found fame mainly as a
songwriter, producer, and arranger. His path crossed David's once again when
David and his pal, Jerry Landis (who now performs under his real name, Paul Simon),
were performing as a duo, sometimes called David Winters and the West Siders.
Unlike many other performers, these two composed their own material and produced
their own recordings. But for a few songs, David sought out friend, Randazzo,
for some additional arrangements. (see photo above)

November, 2002

“Good director”
Alice Cooper’s explaining the success of Welcome to My Nightmare.

“We were listening to the Yardbirds, The Who, and West Side Story.”
Alice Cooper on his formative years.

“We were stoked about having this guy from West Side Story.”
Alice Cooper on David Winters directing.

Self-anointed rock villain, Alice Cooper desired a stage presentation
so unique and revolutionary that it would not only defied conventions,
but set the standard for all rock and roll theatrics that were to follow.
Co-conceived, produced, directed, and choreographed by David Winters,
Welcome to My Nightmare, astonished fans and critics alike, selling out
venue after venue for two straight years. In achieving the goal of making
the lyrics come alive for the audience, David rehearsed the band, the
crew, and four dancers eight hours a day, seven days a week, for three
solid months. In the end, the fans were treated to an awe-inspiring visual
sensation that included superb dancing, narration from the horrormeister
himself, Vincent Price, glowing skeletons, giant spiders, menacing puppets,
and a sequence in which Alice and the dancers go back and forth from
movie screen to live stage actions, requiring stopwatch precision timing.
Years later, dancer, Sheryl Goddard Cooper, would describe the show
as one of the most physically challenging in her career.

Fortunately, this innovative piece has preserved in a concert documentary,
produced and directed again by David Winters, filmed at Wembley Arena,
Wembley, England.

The Last Horror Film, a.k.a., Fanatic, written, produced, directed and
starring David, was another successful blend of horror, beauty, and
macabre humor. Filmed during an actual Cannes Film Festival, the
story revolves around a pathetic aspiring director (Joe Spinell), stalking
a horror goddess (Caroline Munro), who is concerned about all her
disappearing colleagues. With Munro running around in a towel,
actual Cannes festivities, and a beautiful castle in Lake Geneva,
Switzerland, it’s not surprising that this film brought home trophies
from more than one film festival. Munro would also go and find fame
as one the more popular VH1 Video Vixens for her portrayal of a
reporter in Adam Ant’s Goody Two Shoes.

Reviews for Welcome to My Nightmare

"The most impressive theatrical rock production ever mounted"
-Boston Globe

"A masterpiece of visual rock"
-Disk Magazine

"Different, daring, and rebellious"
-New York Magazine

"The Alice Cooper theatrical rock production, directed, co-produced,
and choregraphed by David Winters, is undoubtedly the most
elaborate in the history of rock"
-L.A. Herald-Examiner

David directing "The Last Horror Film"

Caroline Munro and David filming "The Last Horror Film"

January, 2003

The genius of David Winters as producer-director-choreographer is apparent
in every part of this hour special.

Bill Ornstein, The Hollywood Reporter

The synthesis of an innovative director (David), an award-winning cinematographer (Stephen Burum), a beautiful woman (Raquel Welch), exquisite locations (Paris, Mexico, Sun Valley, London), and an eclectic mix of guest stars (Bob Hope, Tom Jones, and John Wayne), resulted in one of the most dazzling, visually-pleasing, successful television musical specials.

David with Mayan Dancers, during the "Raquel" filming

Fresh from "Myra Breckenridge", Raquel had already decline over 20 offers to appear in a TV special, citing her reluctance to be confined to a studio. But David offered her a completely different venue: The world. David equated her to the sun that goes around the world, and wanted to create a journey showcasing her both as an entertainer and a person.

Their history began when she was studying jazz dance with him at his dance studio in LA, shortly after West Side Story had wrapped; and her trust in him as an artist was supplemented by his recent acclaimed work with Nancy Sinatra and Ann-Margret.

The three month shoot and extensive budget allowed David to present a fashionable sophisticated Raquel strolling a Parisian street; a tomboyish Raquel prancing in a Mexican fountain; clowning with Bob Hope, in an impressive Mae West mode; visiting a Mexican orphanage with John Wayne; performing with Tom Jones in a London nightclub; and perhaps a first, dancing with native Mayan dancers atop the Pyramids in the Yucatan. And in a strange twist of fate, Raquel fractured her elbow on the second to the last day of filming and David continued filming as she was taken away in an ambulance. David included that bit of cinema verite' into the final version.

David with cameraman, Stephen Burum

Not without its challenges: massive flu bug in London; food poisoning in Mexico; David enduring a tongue lashing from an irate tourist who felt his hair was too long; and my personal favorite, a full blown fist fight between, David, his crew, Patrick Curtis (Raquel’s husband/manager) and the Mexican Press on the grounds of the Mayan city, over---nothing. But in the end, the special garnered incredible reviews, high ratings and profits for the network, and a World Television Award for David. Raquel also gained the foundation to do a Las Vegas Stage Act and eventually a turn on Broadway in Woman of the Year.

Question to David from Susan:

During the California Dreaming sequence, how you get her skin to have that luminous and radiant golden brown sheen? Her skin was gorgeous.

David's answer:

I shot Raquel in what we call golden light. It is when the sun rises for 2 hours and when the sun sets for about 2 hours, and I would also have to create it when it wasn't there naturally. My cameraman, Steven Burum, who worked with me on all my shows, would take a shot and then I would take the exact shot to make sure that the subject was in and out of frame when I wanted them to be. At exactly the precise second and beat. This way I couldn't blame anyone else. But Steve is brilliant. He is now considered one of the top Cinematographers in the business and was nominated for an Academy Award for Hoffa, which starred Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito.

FEB, 2003

David, on LA street, directing Ann-Margret, dancers, and extras
for the special "Ann-Margret: From Hollywood With Love".

David’s energetic and innovative style got him noticed by some of the best in the business. One who took notice was the lovely Ann-Margret, herself. From their initial meeting, their mutual respect, similar work ethics, and compatible personalities, paved the way for five movies, a critically-acclaimed Las Vegas Stage act, two Emmy-nominated TV specials, professional growth for each artist, and an incredible friendship.

Ann-Margret swings out in a wild Watusi, choreographed by David
in MGM's "Made in Paris"

Fresh from filming West Side Story, David opted to stay in LA and opened his dance studio and school which featured both contemporary music and a live drummer during classes—a first for the west coast. One day, friend and colleague, Maggie Banks, who served as an assistant choreographer on WSS, brought in a potential student for David, by the name of Ann-Margret. Ann began taking 3 private lessons a week and eventually introduced David to director, George Sidney, and suggested that David take over as choreographer on their film, Viva Las Vegas, co-starring Elvis Presley. With Maggie as his assistant, he created what is generally regarded the most sexually sizzling dance courtship captured on film (For the record, David went on to be the Elvis’s #1 choreographer and good friend—but that’s another month).

David and Ann worked together again in other movies, such as Bus Riley’s Back in Town, The Swinger, and Made in Paris, and a commercial directed by Michael Cimino. During this period, David, like many of his contemporaries, was aching to become a director. Ann-Margret, who understood his frustration would provide love and support by calling him on the phone, and singing I Believe in You from the hit musical, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.

And believe in him, she did. During the next couple of years, David directed and choreographed her Las Vegas act and two TV specials. The first special, The Ann-Margret Show opened with a pulsating number, featuring Ann literally leading the pack of motorcyclists down a beautiful California coastal road, and eventually into the studio audience. One of the riders/dancers was fellow WSS alum, who was married to Goldie Hawn at that time. Gus would eventually follow David's lead and go into directing himself.

Guest star Bob Hope and the lovely Ann-Margret,
"The Ann-Margret Show".

Ann and her gang in her first TV special.  Far left is fellow
"West Side Story" actor, Gus Trikonis.

In the second special, Ann-Margret: From Hollywood With Love, David and Ann paid tribute to the town, their profession and to all who ever dared to dream. The segment, Game of Hollywood was a simple story of a young girl leaving her hometown and working her way to success. But David’s showcasing was anything but simple. Using the motif of the monopoly game, Ann’s character began in the Hometown space on an 80 x 120’ game board painted on the parking lot of a Century City studio. As Ann literally advanced to such spaces as Agent’s Office and Bit Part, etc, the action would shift to actual locations around Hollywood.

Ann-Margret and David on game board for the "Game of Hollywood"
in "Ann-Margret:  From Hollywood With Love."

In order to get the wide shot of the huge board, David planned on shooting from a cherry picker 80 feet up in the air. Just before he and partner/producer, Burt Rosen, were about to step in, the machine turned upside down, tossing crew members out in every direction. David and others on the ground stood under it, with hopes of breaking the falls of those who could not hang on, while the crane operator prayed out loud. Miraculously, due to the crew being young and fit and perhaps the kindness of the fates, no one suffered anything worse than a broken arm or a cracked rib. In the end, David was able to get the need shot for the special. He also got another Emmy nomination.

On the set for "Made in Paris":  David, director Boris Sagal,
Ann-Margret, and Maggie Banks

Question to David from Susan: In the above picture, on the set of Made in Paris, director, Boris Sagal is giving notes to Ann, but she is obviously ignoring him and is focusing on you and Maggie Banks. What’s the story here?

David’s response: Ann really trusted us and knew that we knew her better than any director. She cared what we thought and would always look over to see how we were reacting. So for a giggle, Maggie and I would always huddle close and shake our heads disapprovingly and that always got her attention. Since I knew she would be looking, I had a photographer ready to take that picture. Ann-Margret is a very nice and down-to-earth person. She is a real living doll.

MARCH, 2003

Article about the prolific production company of Winters/Rosen in TV Guide. Top picture: Burt Rosen and David Winters. Bottom left: Winters, Paul Newman, and Rosen filming Once Upon a Wheel. Bottom right: Winters and Ann-Margret filming a TV special.

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

Paul Newman on TV Guide for Once Upon A Wheel

Once Upon a Wheel

Enjoying the success of his musical specials with partner, Burt Rosen, but craving a new challenge, David, a long time car lover, proposed a new form of entertainment: An evening of car racing, hosted narrated by none other than racing enthusiast, Paul Newman. Despite their successful track-record, the new idea was met with a great deal of resistance: Car-racing was not considered a suitable form of entertainment for the general population and Paul Newman had made it clear many times that he had no intention of doing television. But David and Paul shared an agent, a Broadway background, and a few seasons in the Broadway Baseball League. David played second base for both West Side Story and Gypsy and was Captain for the latter. Paul was part of the Sweet Bird of Youth team. Together, that was enough to get David a meeting with Paul at his home. Recognizing a kindred spirit in the sport, Paul signed on as partner in the project and as the host.

More from the TV Guide Article. Top picture: Rosen, Paul Newman, and Winters with Briggs Cunningham, owner of the French built Peugot that won the Indy 500 in 1914. Cunningham also won the America's Cup in 1958 Bottom picture: Rosen, Newman and Winters during the editing process.

Once Upon A Wheel, as David christened it, offered a fast-paced kaleidoscopic look at the wide world of car-racing, focusing on and paying loving tribute to the four main components of the car-racing culter: The Drivers, The Machines, The Spectators, and The Races. Featured drivers included such champions as Mario Andretti, Jackie Stewart, Al Unser and Richard Petty. But the special also gave the viewers a glimpse of those who on the other end, the ones that do not win, but keep racing anyway. And last, but definitely not least, were the women who loved and supported their men, but who also felt a great of fear during each and every race. The comment, made by one wife, that she could be kissing him for the last time, only made the montage of the couples walking along the beach, holding hands, etc, even more sentimental.

Another highlight was footage from a driver’s angle, so that the audience could get some sense of the speed, danger, and adrenaline that the driver experienced. Actual racing scenes were from some of the more popular events, including, the European Grand Prix, the Indy 500, the Pro-Am circuit, and even the Soap Box Derby. Besides Paul Newman, many other celebrities were featured both as drivers and fans, including, James Garner, Dino Martin, Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, and Lou Rawls. The whole visual experience was enhanced by David’s insistence of using chart-topping musical artists such as Kenny Rogers (singing the opening song) James Taylor, Arlo Guthrie, Neil Young, Cher, Wilson Picket, and The Association (singing the title song). The docu-drama earned David and Burt Rosen their second World Television Festival Award.

Paul was so enthralled by the television show that he asked David to add 30 minutes, convert it from 16 mm to 35mm and to release it overseas as a movie. The movie version was very well received.

Spanish poster for movie, notice David in insert picture

Italian poster

David and Paul’s racing connection did not end with the wrap. Together they purchased two can-am cars and hired their own drivers, Karl Messerschmidt and Bob Bondurant, of the famous racing school at the Ontario Motor Speedway near Los Angeles. During the racing season, they hopped onto their rented lear jets and helicopters, arriving and departing in style, right in the middle of the racing pits, and enjoyed the thrill of placing second during the overall season. Next month…………..more wheel action in Thrashin’ 

Can-am car owned by David and Paul Newman.

APRIL 2003

Thrashin’s “Sharks”, the Daggers. Left to Right: Christian Hosoi, David Winters,
Robert Rusler, Sherilyn Fenn, Alan Sacks.

From IMDB User Comments: 
This movie is an absolute cult classic! I watched it every other day for 3 years. Watching it today gives me a nostalgic rush! Wonderful! - Andri Hugoi, Iceland.

I must have rented this movie about 100 times when I was a kid. Me and my friends used to love it. To get the most out of the 24 hour rental we used to try and watch it three times every time we rented it - Cccccc

Thrashin' is an awesome skateboarding movie. I grew up watching this movie. I still enjoyed watching this movie now, as much as I did then. - Malevolent Mark,

Sheer brilliance…We were amazed. This movie is awesome - Skatanic snuffy…Virginia, USA 

The greatest skateboard movie ever….Thrashin’ is a must see movie. Skate on. -
Pete Glover. Oakland Ca., USA

A Classic. One of the greatest films of all time. It made me laugh. It made me cry
OPM79(….Newport,Rhode Island, USA

One of the best movies I’ve ever seen
Mr. Micke….Sweden

Pure Genius. This movie is filled with great styles and great fads. Not to mention the great music
Daniel Shea…..Boston, USA

This is a kickass movie. I enjoyed it a lot. Great movie, great fun!
Mishka@923-3…..Toronto, Canada

Thrashin’s “Tony and Maria” Josh Brolin and Pamela Gidley

A Romeo & Juliet love story, rival gangs, pulsating new music, daring gravity-defying movements, and a devoted cult-like following---no, not West Side Story--but another contemporary classic, Thrashin, directed by David Winters, and starring Josh Brolin, Pamela Gidley, Robert Rusler and Sherilyn Fenn. It was written and produced by Alan Sacks who also produced Welcome Back, Kotter (discovering John Travolta in the process). Sacks also recently won the Emmy and NAACP Image Award for his provoking The Color of Friendship for Disney.

David setting up the Red Hot Chili Peppers segment

Described as West Side Story on skateboards, Thrashin’ adopted the elements that made the first movie great: universal plotline of forbidden love, riveting visual action sequences and a tumultuous soundtrack

For the leads, David searched for young unknowns with that heartbreaking quality; and after months of auditions, he selected an unknown by the name of Johnny Depp and a pre-Twin Peaks Sherilyn Fenn.

David directing Josh Brolin, Tony Hawk, and another skater

However, the financiers did not share his enthusiasm and insisted that David keep looking. After a couple more months of auditioning, he called Johnny and Sherilyn back and tried to convince the executive producers that Johnny was destined to be that generations’ James Dean. The executive producers went ballistic, proclaiming Johnny a weak actor who could never carry a film. David was very disappointed but continued the search. In the end, David hired Josh Brolin who made his debut in Goonies, directed by Steven Spielberg, Pamela Gidley, who had won The Most Beautiful Girl in the World contest, Robert Rusler, from Weird Science, directed by John Hughes, and Sherilyn for the Anita role (and was very pleased with all their performances).

Thrashin’s “Jets” the Local Ramps. Left to Right: Josh Brolin, Josh Richman,
Brooke McCarter Jr., David Wagner, and Mark Munski.

As dance was to West Side Story, skateboarding is to Thrashin’. As Jerome Robbins insisted on having the crème de la crème for his gangs, David recruited the current top athletes in that sport (“You name them, I had them,” he once said). The legends that can be seen in this film include Tony Hawk, Christian Hosoi, Lester Kasai, Mike McGill, Billy Ruff, Tony Magnussem, Steve Caballero, Tony Alva, Kevin Staab, Lance Mountain, Steve Olsen, Alan Losi, Richie Dunlop, Mark Munski, Jessse Martinex, Johnny Ray, and Chris Iverson.

As one viewer pointed out, there are 8 skating montages, with stunts that are best described as reckless and insane, such as jumping off a second story roof, a jousting match in a ditch and plenty of well-executed boneless (flashy off the ground jumps—thank you to my son who translated the lingo for me). As with Once Upon a Wheel (see monthly feature, March 2003), David gave his audience a realistic sense of the speed and danger that’s involved. Top skateboarder, Stacy Peralta , now owner of one of the largest skateboarding companies in the USA, held a camera as he skated along Hollywood Blvd on a typical day, capturing himself and others jumping over things, sliding under things and weaving in and out of the crowds.

Pamela Gidley and David

The pinnacle was the seven-minute final race that began at the top of the hills of Encinal Canyon Road in Malibu and finished at sea level. Director of Photography, Chuck Colwell (who photographed the stunts in The Terminator) filmed the race, in which speeds of 40 mph were reached, in proper order, which is rare in filmmaking.

As with West Side Story, the soundtrack of Thrashin’ is worth the price of admission. David brought in Meatloaf to belt out the opening number, and the up and coming band, The Red Hot Chili Peppers to perform at the dance. Other musical acts involved included The Bangles, The Circle Jerks, and All the Fine Young Cannibals, White Sister, and Devo. At this time, all these bands were relatively unknown but would soon have number one hits.

David, Robert Rusler, and extras in LA

It can be said that a film is not a contemporary classic until there is a comical homage (think West Side Story moments on Scrubs and Saturday Night Live). Andri Hugo pointed out that on Jackass, season three, episode nine, the gang did an homage to Thrashin’ in a scene where Tyler is going kick Munks’s ass, and that famous line, No! You be there! was covered by Weeman. (At least four viewers found that scene to be one of their all time favorites). Next month……………….In the beginning: God, er, Jerome Robbins created West Side Story, The Film.

Thrashin’s “Bernardo and Maria”, Robert Rusler and Pamela Gidley

The director in front of a billboard on Sunset Blvd in LA

MAY 2003

West Side Story Memories: David on Broadway

David Winters, Tony Mordente, and Natalie Wood in the recently released DVD,
West Side Story

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. So, this month, we proudly present some of David's Broadway West Side Story memories. Please join us next month for his film memories.

In the beginning...........

Sweet Baby John. Publicity picture of David during the WSS era

David was a just a teenager performing on Broadway in Shinebone Alley, staring Eartha Kitt, along with another up and coming gypsy, Chita Rivera, when he received a life altering phone call from the secretary to Jerome Robbins. Apparently Mr. Robbins had seen David the night before in Shinebone Alley and now wanted him to audition for his new show he was creating. It was going to be a contemporary musical version of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet and Robbins was looking for extremely multi-talented but young performers.

When David arrived for the first of many auditions, he was shocked by the long line of hopefuls. Even though, to this day, he considers his initial audition less than awe-inspiring, he was called back a second time.... then a third.....and a fourth. However, the constant cutting of what he considered to be talented competition, made him less and less hopeful about his own chances of being cast.

At his fifth audition, the teen found himself alone on stage facing Broadway icons Robbins, Leornard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, Hal Prince, Bobby Griffith, and newcomer, Stephen Sondheim. After his performance, he stood there, feeling awkward, while the production team examined and discussed him, as if he were a racehorse. Finally, Robbins spoke: David was to play the pivotal role of Baby John, the youngest and most innocent of the gang members. David was stunned, not just because he realized it was a great role, but he was the first actor to be cast—before the main characters, the adults, the gang leaders—he was the first—a distinction that still thrills him today. Later, while still floating on cloud nine in the theatre, he overheard the same gentlemen discussing his dear friend, Chita Rivera, for the role of Anita.

Rushing back to The Broadway Theatre for that evening’s Shinebone Alley performance, he pulled his Chita Bita (his pet name for her) aside and told her that she would soon receive a call and would be signed as Anita. As one can imagine, these two young kids were beside themselves with joy, as they hugged, screamed, danced, and jumped in circles, knowing they would soon be working for the Svengali himself, Robbins. Little did they realize just how significant this production would be to their careers, their lives and to American theatre in general.

Tony Mordente (A-Rab), Mickey Callan (Riff), Lee Becker (Anybodys), and
David Winters (Baby John) in
Cool. Notice Carole D’Andrea (Velma) in background, left)

Shortly afterwards, Shinebone Alley closed, the two, along with all the others began the legendary long and arduous rehearsal process for West Side Story. Viewing the production as a play rather than a light musical, Robbins commanded that each performer approach his part as an actor, instead of a dancer and singer. He also demanded a detailed autobiography for each character that included such information as family members, home environment, criminal arrests records, etc. This was fine with David, who was already a veteran of many live theatre and television performances. However, David felt a sense of insecurity in that he was one of the few non-ballet dancers. Although he was studying jazz dancing at the time, he was not prepared for the discipline and stretching that the morning class required. In fact, the young rebel used to sneak off and hide in a group of rolled up gym mats, where he would enjoy a nap until the floor work began.

Opening night Playbill

After eight weeks of rehearsals, the play made its off-Broadway try-out debut in Washington D.C. for an audience made up of mainly politicians and socialites, such as Robert Kennedy. When the final curtain came down, the audience remained completely still and silent, causing a tidal of wave of despair backstage. After a few minutes, however, one person began clapping, joined in by another, then another, and within seconds, the whole theatre shook from the vibrations of extensive, hysterical applause. Later, the cast learned that the audience was so paralyzed with admiration that they were unable to applaud.

At the opening night party, the continuous arrival of rave reviews created such a sense of euphoria, that the actors just took over the dance floor and recreated many of the dance numbers, treating the guests to a very special and once in a lifetime performance. From Washington D.C., the show traveled to Philadelphia, where once again, it enjoyed glorious reactions and reviews.

Ironically, Robbins did not relax and bask in his glory, and the rehearsals actually became more frequent, longer and tougher. David still shudders when he recalls one morning, when two of his castmates arrived late to rehearsal that was taking place in a small downtown theatre, with a with a floor that can best be described as a dancer's nightmare: slivers of wood and nails sticking up all over the place. Upon the latecomers’ arrival, Jerry stopped the rest of the cast and told them to relax while he reviewed a dance sequence with the tardy dancers. The particular routine he selected was from The Prologue where they had to slide across the floor on their bellies and grab an opposing gang member. He made the two repeat this exercise over and over and David remembers cringing and feeling nauseous as he heard the wood slivers actually rip through their shirts and right into their skin. But David credits them for being troupers and hanging in there, even though they were cut up, bruised and sore for days.

Another memory that adds to Robbins' hellacious reputation, is when Robbins ordered the cast to sit down on stage, facing out into the audience, while he sat on a chair facing them, hurling insults at them. Robbins got so riled up, that he stood up and began pacing aimlessly, waving his hands all over the place, while he continued the insults. As Robbins moved dangerously closer and closer to the edge of the stage, the cast and crew, all of them, kept quiet. No one spoke up or made a gesture, or did anything that would give the irate director warning that he might fall and seriously hurt himself. In fact, David could sense a collective wish that Karma would step in and push the tyrant right into the orchestra pit. But no satisfaction was to be had by the cast. Robbins, perhaps protected my his muses, stopped right at the edge, looked down into the pit for a few minutes and then, in a chilling moment, turned and presented the cast with a most sadistic Mona Lisa smile, that reminded every one of them, that he knew what exactly they were thinking and they would pay for it. He always had the last laugh.

These were not isolated incidents, and maybe it was a survival instinct or savviness or a combination of both, but David, and his good friend, Tony Mordente, became experts in recognizing the signs of the oncoming tantrums for which Robbins was famous. Happily, they also perfected the technique of slyly moving out of target range. One may be a Jet all the way, but in those days, it was every man for himself.

David will now admit that back then he didn’t recognize how Terpsichore had placed him under the guardianship of a true genius, but years later, he began to recognize and appreciate the gifts Robbins bestowed upon him. As David segued more and more into directing and producing, David implemented the many lessons and work habits he picked up from his mentor. Today, David credits those years under Robbins as the foundation of his long and successful career.

By the time the show hit Broadway, it was already a legend. But for all the hype and grand reviews, the best moment for David was the pride that he saw in the faces of his parents and grandparents. He also cherishes the joy they displayed as he escorted them backstage and introduced them to the rest of the cast.

Robbins himself, hand picked David for a solo during Cool

David continued as Baby John for most of the run, and in order to keep his performance sharp and fresh, he claimed the 3' x 3' area around him as his own personal turf and anytime any of the Sharks stepped into that area, he took it personally and reacted as such.

Another favorite memory was the special Actor's Equity Performance. Back then, every show used to be dark on Sunday and each week, one show would do a special performance for the casts and crews of all the other currents shows. Needless to say, David and the others were aware that they were the inexperienced young turks of the great white way, getting all the great publicity; and now they were facing their toughest critics: their peers, many of them seasoned performers. And since tickets for this one show had been in such high demand, the pressure to give the ultimate performance was high. So high, that Leonard Bernstein himself actually stepped in and rehearsed the show. To this day, David is still in awe with Bernstein’s magic and strength that was so infectious and how he was able to bring out the best in the performers. His animation and energy was simply inspirational that David and the rest of the cast were surprised by the depth of sounds that were squeezed out of them. In the end, David and his cast mates delivered what he considers to be the greatest performance of WSS ever, with every number being a show-stopper.

West Side Story also marked a significant transition period for David as well. For the first time, he was playing a somewhat adult role, and was considered a heartthrob by many of the young female fans. Besides dealing with autograph seekers by the stage door every evening, and even on just walking down the street, David and the rest of the cast enjoyed the envy and respect of the theatre community in general. When they attended their regular dance and acting classes, others would stare at them with awe. Another perk was all the invitations to parties and events. It was a magical time for David.

Good looks run in the family:
David’s younger brother, Marc,7 years old

There were also changes happening off-stage. After 17 years of being an only child, David found out that his parents, Sadie and Samuel, were going to present him with a sibling. Being a big brother was another role in which David took seriously and enjoyed. Like his big brother, Marc enjoyed performing as a child, but eventually ventured into the business world. Today, David and Marc enjoy a very close and loving relationship.

JUNE 2003

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.

David, Russ Tamblyn and the rest of the Jets in their turf

London calling:

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 instead—but that’s 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 John’s 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 wasn’t 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 John’s 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 David’s 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.

Tucker Smith and David during Cool

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.

The two Baby Johns: Eliot Feld and David in their first production, Sandhog

Eliot and David in their second production, West Side Story

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.

The Jets: Eliot, David, Tucker Smith, Scooter Teague,
Russ Tamblyn and Tony Mordente

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 Tony’s 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 you’re a Jet, you…. Stay……… a Jet.

Tucker Smith, and the Puckish Pair: David, and Tony Mordente

Monkey Business:

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 David’s 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 David’s 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 David’s 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 rabbi’s head, as David tried in vain to coax the critter down. A-Rab eventually jumped back into David’s arms. The Rabbi took it all in stride and they all shared a good laugh together, including A-Rab.

Fellow Rebel:

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 David’s welfare, even though David had totaled Sal’s car.

Through Sal, David met and partied with many of Hollywood’s 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 David’s talent and recommended him to Morton DaCosta, the director of Music Man, but it was decided that David as too old for the part. David’s pal Ron Howard, who eventually played the little brother in the film, and then went on to be one of the stars of TV’s Happy Days would follow David’s 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!

Russ Tamblyn, Sue Oakes, David and the rest
of the Jets during Rain Dance Season

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 didn’t 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 Natalie’s 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 wasn’t 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.

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