David, who spent 20 years of his later life in Bangkok, shot to fame as a feisty dancer and gang member of The Jets in the Academy Award-winning blockbuster musical ‘West Side Story’ in 1961 before expanding his portfolio with a host of musical productions and movies.
One of his last endeavors was a book ‘Tough Guys Do Dance’ detailing his life among the titans of Tinsel Town. It’s an amazing insider’s version of these Hollywood legends, no holds barred.
They include fascinating observations on Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Elvis Presley, Diana Ross, Bobby Darin, Liza Minnelli, Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Paul Simon, Steve McQueen, John Wayne, Princess Grace of Monaco, Fred Astaire, Kirk Douglas, Sammy Davis Jr, Dean Martin, Woody Allen, Bob Hope, Alice Cooper, Tom Jones, Hugh Hefner, Pamela Anderson and many more.
David, who was born in London, England, moved with his family to Brooklyn, New York, at the age of 12, shortly after World War II
Before debuting as Baby John in the original Broadway play of West Side Story at the age of 17, David was already a veteran of many Broadway productions, and over 150 live television shows.
At 19, he appeared as A-Rab in the motion picture version of West Side Story, which went on to win Academy Awards.
Over the next 60 years, David won 26 major award nominations either as director, producer, writer or choreographer, notching 15 wins.
Despite poor health in recent years, David insisted he had more movie projects in the pipeline than at any time in the past.
The following are edited extracts from the manuscript, provided exclusively to The BigChilli, giving David’s thoughts on just a few of the many characters and legends he met, befriended and loved during a long and extraordinary career.
“I’ve had the most amazing life, and I’ve been fortunate to work with so many superstars.
“It’s taken me over fifteen years to write this story, as every day I remember things that I had forgotten from my past. I would like other people to read it and share with me and enjoy both the highs and the lows, the ups and the downs. Since I naturally see everything like a film, let’s flash back to… The beginning… Lights…Camera…
Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco
I saw her for the first time stepping out of an old, chauffeured Rolls Royce in front of the palace. I was actually nervous and shaking. When we met, her smile was so radiant, her skin so pure, and her face so elegant and angelic that I was stunned into submission. She was unlike any other girl, any Broadway or movie star, I had ever seen. She was like an apparition, like something spiritual, almost religious. I know it sounds dramatic, but she was that special.
She opened up to me and told me that she felt like a bird in a cage. She told me that she often felt uncomfortable living a life of such luxury in a world where so many were impoverished. I felt like I was talking to the girl next door. She had left the princess somewhere behind in the palace. This Grace Kelly was just like so many other girls that I have known, although she never lost her elegance, her femininity, or her sincerity. Her straightforward honesty was beguiling. She was the ultimate princess.
I became very friendly with Natalie (who also starred in West Side Story) and I recall her telling me that she was terribly afraid of water, and used to dream about drowning in it.
And, in fact, she did die by drowning.
How prophetic and strange that turned out to be. She was such a sweet and unassuming girl.
I remember just before she died, Robert Wagner (her husband), Natalie, my girlfriend and I were sitting in the lounge of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and Nat and I were singing all of the score from West Side Story.
Natalie liked to drink and she was feeling no pain. Robert came beside me and whispered in my ear. He asked me to finish the singing with Natalie, as he could see Nat was going downhill. I said sure and we planned to meet in the morning. I never saw Natalie Wood again.
I met Muhammad Ali and what a thrill that was. My father was a boxer when he was a young man, and he won 22 fights in a row. He finally quit as there was a lot of pressure from his family.
I myself am a big boxing fan and have been to quite a few heavyweight championship bouts in Vegas. My dad taught me to box at a very young age, and it’s always stayed with me to this day.
Ann-Margret was a hot young singer and actress, very beautiful, who originally came from Sweden. I’ll never forget the first time I saw her. She was like a breath of fresh air.
She was ever so charming and gorgeous and she had a great personality and she and I hit it off really well. What I loved about Ann was that she used to act like a little kid. She had no airs, and was so pure and simple, just like her mom and dad, who I had the pleasure of meeting later on. Such sweet, simple people.
Over a three-year period, we had worked together a lot, and I had really come to cherish that diva/ sometimes little girl who came from the humble Brewster Projects in Detroit. To all you young girls that think life is tough, take heed from this great woman. She overcame unbelievable obstacles and is now considered one of the all-time greatest artists. Never give up your dreams! For me, working with Diana Ross was truly one of the great pleasures of my life. She is a remarkable woman and a one-off. When Diana was born, they threw away the mold.
My lawyer and one of my best friends, David Rudich, told me about this girl he was dating named Lynda Carter. He said she was, or had been, a contestant in the Miss Universe contest, which meant she had to be beautiful with a shapely figure and probably quite bright.
Not only is she all of these, she is also elegant, feminine, classy, and has a great sense of humor to boot. And she is absolutely stunning!!
I also found out during this time that Lynda had a terrific voice, and so we spent hours and hours fantasizing an act for Lynda when she would become famous.
One day she tells me about an audition for a TV series ‘Wonder Woman.’ This didn’t impress me at all, as it wasn’t a very creative job, in fact, it was a joke to serious actors, and so I didn’t give it much thought. Then one day she calls me after her last audition and tells me they want her for the starring part in the TV series — and aren’t I excited!!!
All my girl dancers (in the making of the movie Viva Las Vegas) went bonkers when they knew they were going to meet The King of Rock and Roll. You’d have thought they were getting ready for a date, the way they were primping and making themselves up, it was really cute.
And when HE walked in the room for the first time, they all looked like they were going to faint.
Elvis came in with a huge entourage of the Memphis Mafia and came right up to me and – can you believe this? – he actually INTRODUCED himself to me!!
Hahaha.....Like I didn’t know who he was!!
But seriously, I could see right off that he was a humble, sincere and very down to earth guy.
Elvis, unlike most of the other Hollywood stars, never went to the Hollywood parties and in fact never went out. Colonel Tom Parker, his manager who received 50% of all Elvis’ income, kept him under wraps. Nobody ever got to see him in person those days.
The curious death of David Carradine in Thailand
David called me out of the blue one day in May 2009 and wanted to know what it was like living in Bangkok.
I told David that I was really enjoying living in Bangkok, and wondered why he was asking me the question.
He said he had been offered to do a French film, ‘Stretch’ which was to be shot in Bangkok, and he was just wondering about my experiences there.
Six weeks later, in June and after several missed calls from each other, I wake up and see that the top CNN breaking news story was about the death of David Carradine.
The report claimed that David had committed suicide in Bangkok the night before.
It said that he had hung himself in a closet of a hotel room.
I was in shock to say the least. I just couldn’t believe it and didn’t understand it.
David had been so full of life during our phone calls, making millions of dollars a film.
His manager Chuck Binder said David was riding high, and there was no way that he would take a flight from the States to Bangkok to hang himself in a hotel room closet.
He could’ve done that just as easily in Los Angeles if he had so wished.
The newspaper suicide report was simply ludicrous, and both Chuck and I knew it was not true as David was on a huge prelaunch of his film career.
I knew deep in my heart that for some reason a cover up was going on, but I didn’t know the reason.
During an interview with a local newspaper, a strange thing happened. The Editor turned off the recording device and said to me, “This is off the record, David.” He then continued, “Our newspaper has people working for us all over the city, in every hotel, in the police force, in all the clubs; people who give us leads and information on big stories like this. And for some reason nobody here will talk to us about this case. Not one person in the entire city.”
He continued, “I don’t understand what’s going on as I have never come across this before in my entire career.”
I found out later that David had been in the bar of the hotel on the afternoon he died. He had been at the bar drinking with one or two lady boys, then left to go into the lobby of the hotel where he played the piano around 4pm.
Subsequently got up and went to the elevator and waved back at the same guests he had been playing the piano for with a smile on his face as if saying goodnight to them.
This is definitely NOT someone who’s about to kill himself. (In his book, the author gives his version of what led to the death of David Carradine).
Before leaving London for Thailand, one of the most meaningful interactions of my lifetime had occurred by chance, resulting in a wonderful friendship with one of the most misunderstood of all celebrities.
Obviously, we are all aware of the charges that were levelled at Michael, but I never thought much about it because I know that Roman Polanski was set up with a young girl and I know of many other cases where innocent people have been preyed upon and set up to look guilty. It has killed some careers and ruined numerous lives.
Wherever Michael appeared, he was the hot ticket, and in Amsterdam, they sold out in forty-five minutes for all six shows — amazing! He was truly a phenomenon. At the hotel, hundreds of screaming kids were being held back by the police as they waited for Michael.
He nodded in appreciation and was swooped up and almost carried to the elevator by his entourage. I turned and watched him disappear, and I thought, what a giving person.
He just arrived in town, and even before he checks into the hotel, he goes straight to the hospital to visit the seriously sick children in the cancer ward. He really loved children, and I loved the child in Michael! I accompanied him on many such trips. We would visit two hospitals a day, unannounced. Of course, when we showed up, the hospital went crazy as word spread like wildfire that Michael Jackson was there. He always visited the children with incurable diseases first. He took photos with the kids and signed autographs for them. They were ecstatic!
Then, after leaving the ward, he would meet privately with a nurse and his secretary, where he would ask the nurse what kind of equipment they were most in need of and what might help the children, either to cure them or to at least make their lives easier. His secretary wrote down everything that the nurse told him.
Tirelessly, he would visit these children, just to brighten up their lives. Then we would do the same thing all over again at another hospital. In one week, I saw Michael give at least $10 million to different hospitals this way, anonymously. I also know for a fact that he gave tens of millions of dollars to many other children’s charities anonymously.
Marlon Bran do
As an actor, Marlon Brando was in a class all his own, and I had always admired his talent. ‘On the Waterfront’ is one of my favorite films of all time, and I loved his Mr Christian in ‘Mutiny on the Bounty.’ I had also seen pictures of his totally ecological island in Tahiti. He seemed like such an amazing guy. He rarely acted anymore, but when he did, it was looked upon as a great event in cinema. And when he occasionally took a role in a film, he was paid the unthinkable sum of $1 million a day. ecological island in Tahiti. He seemed like such an amazing guy. He rarely acted anymore, but when he did, it was looked upon as a great event in cinema. And when he occasionally took a role in a film, he was paid the unthinkable sum of $1 million a day.