#FACinfocus: Jose De Vega Jr., Actor & Choreographer, 55th Anniversary of West Side Story

It’s time to celebrate one of the greatest musicals of all time. Today, West Side Story turns 55!

Yes, 55 years ago today, October 18, 1961, the musical film was theatrically released and it received high praise from critics and audiences nationwide.  It became the second highest grossing film of the year in the United States. The film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won ten gold Oscar statuettes, including Best Picture (as well as a Special Award for co-director Jerome Robbins), becoming the record holder for the most wins for a movie musical.

My favorite movie musical at the time (Rent is currently my all time favorite) when I first watched it on late night syndicated television in Chicago thanks to friends who suggested I see it after we saw Grease at the local movie theater.  Both films dealt with similar social themes.

After all these years and countless times of watching West Side Story (even having the DVD in my film collection), it was until July 3rd of this year, I saw a tweet using the #UnderratedAsian hashtag as this:

jose-twitter

The following is from a Los Angeles Times article [link] about FilAm actor, Jose De Vega, Jr.

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Jose De Vega Jr.; Actor Worked to Eliminate Ethnic Stereotypes

April 12, 1990 From a Times Staff Writer  

Jose De Vega Jr., an actor and choreographer who worked with the organization Great Leap to stamp out ethnic stereotypes in movies and television, has died of AIDS. He was 56.

De Vega died Sunday [April 8, 1990] at Veterans Memorial Hospital in Westwood.

Born Jan. 4, 1934, in San Diego to a Filipino father and Colombian mother, De Vega began his career as the character Chino in the Broadway and film versions of “West Side Story.”

For the last nine years, De Vega had choreographed, directed and performed in concerts and productions of Great Leap, a Los Angeles group of Asian American artists working to end entertainment stereotypes. He sang in the group’s “Talk Story” last year at the Los Angeles Theater Center.

He had appeared in the film “Blue Hawaii” and in the television series “Bonanza,” “Dynasty,” “Mission Impossible” and “Hart to Hart.”

De Vega is survived by his mother, Socorro De Vega, and a sister, Isabele Gorre.

Memorial services will be held at 7:30 p.m. April 19 at St. Victor’s Church, 8634 Holloway Drive, West Hollywood, and at 5 p.m. April 29, at Senshin Buddhist Temple, 1311 W. 37th St.

The family suggests memorial contributions to Hollywood Helps and AIDS Project L.A.

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 Jose De Vega, Jr. played the character of Chino Martin, the best friend of Bernardo (played by George Chakiris) the leader of the Sharks.  His character killed Tony Wyzek (played by Richard Beymer), leader of the Jets in an act of rage after Tony accidentally killed Bernardo in a gang fight after Riff’s death.  He was arrested by the police at the close of the film.  All for the love of Natalie Wood’s Maria…  Maria!  The most beautiful sound I ever heard, Maria!  All the beautiful sounds of the world in a single word . . Maria!   

Click below to watch two clips from 1961’s West Side Story:

The film is culturally significant by the United States Library of Congress and it was selected for the National Film Registry in 1997.  And, the film hits on many relevant themes America is dealing today.  Watch West Side Story this week in celebration of today’s 55th anniversary!  As well as Mr. De Vega, Jr.’s contributions in both entertainment and forwarding/protecting Filipino representation in the arts.

Written by Edwin Santos (10/18/16)

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FilAm Creative (FAC) is an all volunteer community organization dedicated to the advancement of Filipino-Americans in entertainment and media.

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One thought on “#FACinfocus: Jose De Vega Jr., Actor & Choreographer, 55th Anniversary of West Side Story

  1. WEst Side Story is a beautiful film that has not lost its lustre and has aged rather gracefully more than 55 years later. I’m hoping for another screening of the film West Side Story to come to my general area soon.

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