Tamblyn, Russ Biography

biography of Tamblyn, Russ

Russell Irving Tamblyn
30 December 1934, Los Angeles, California, USA
5' 9"
Russ Tamblyn might as well face it...he will be a Jet "till his last dying day." Indelibly linked to the "womb to tomb" role of Riff, the knife-wielding, rocket-tempered, Baryshnikov-styled gang leader of the streetwise Jets in the musical film masterpiece _West Side Story (1961)_ (qv), it's not a bad way to be remembered! Russ was actually 27 when he portrayed the teenage troublemaker who became the '50s equivalent of the Mercutio character in the Romeo and Juliet-inspired adaptation. To describe Tamblyn as talented and extremely agile is a huge understatement. This awesome musical performer was born in Los Angeles, California on December 30, 1934, and groomed early for stardom. Discovered at age ten by actor 'Lloyd Bridges (I)' (qv) for the play "Stone Jungle", Russ was soon performing on radio and in L.A.-based musical revues. Billed as "Rusty Tamblyn" then, the tousle-haired scrapper played a student extra in his first film _The Boy with Green Hair (1948)_ (qv) starring another child actor, 'Dean Stockwell' (qv). Having taken up dancing and acrobatics from the age of 6, Tamblyn marked his abilities with his very first TV appearance on the "The Ed Sullivan Show." Eventually handed a starring role in the "B" film _The Kid from Cleveland (1949)_ (qv), he was signed by an eager MGM who saw his potential as a juvenile actor. Featured in the popular family-oriented comedy _Father of the Bride (1950)_ (qv), and its sequel _Father's Little Dividend (1951)_ (qv), Tamblyn also had a prime role in the war drama _Take the High Ground! (1953)_ (qv) before taking off in musical films. Demonstrating exceptional athleticism in one of MGM's best, _Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)_ (qv), Tamblyn's timing was regrettably off as musicals were quickly on the wane. He adjusted, however. A starring role in the low-budget _The Young Guns (1956)_ (qv) led to excellent reviews in the ensemble box-office soaper _Peyton Place (1957)_ (qv). Tamblyn, along with 'Lana Turner' (qv), 'Arthur Kennedy (I)' (qv), 'Hope Lange' (qv) and 'Diane Varsi' (qv), all received Oscar nominations for their participation. Russ scored quite well in the title role of _tom thumb (1958)_ (qv), which became a large stepping stone in his being cast as Riff in 1961. Following this achievement, however, the offers started dwindling. Tamblyn's last co-starring roles in quality films were shot overseas with the British-produced chiller _The Haunting (1963)_ (qv) with 'Julie Harris (I)' (qv) and 'Claire Bloom (I)' (qv), and the British-Yugoslavian Viking costumer _The Long Ships (1964)_ (qv) starring 'Richard Widmark' (qv) and 'Sidney Poitier' (qv). After that, his career grew quite dismal. Titles such as _The Female Bunch (1971)_ (qv), _Satan's Sadists (1969)_ (qv), _Scream Free! (1969)_ (qv), _Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)_ (qv) and _Blood Screams (1990)_ (qv) pretty much tells the story. On the road in the lean years with minor stage productions here and there, including the musical "Cabaret," Russ all but disappeared from the viewing audience. When he finally nabbed the role of the overtly weird (and who wasn't on that show?) psychiatrist Dr. Lawrence Jacoby in the popular TV cult series _"Twin Peaks" (1990)_ (qv), it was the first time Tamblyn had generated interest in over two decades. Barely recognizable with his wild-eyed look, mangy hair and frizzy beard, he has since gained employment off this eccentric image. Married three times, Tamblyn has lately taken on choreographic duties and the managing of actress/daughter 'Amber Tamblyn' (qv)'s career, she of _"Joan of Arcadia" (2003)_ (qv) fame.
Gary Brumburgh /

-   'Venetia Stevenson' (qv) (14 February 1956 - 1 April 1957) (divorced)

-   'Sheila Elizabeth Kempton' (7 May 1960 - ?) (divorced); 2 children

-   'Bonnie Tamblyn' (qv) (? - present); 1 child

-   Has often played odd, slightly off-kilter characters

-   Son of 'Eddie Tamblyn (I)' (qv). Brother of 'Larry Tamblyn' (qv) of the rock band 'The Standells' (qv). Father of 'Amber Tamblyn' (qv).

-   Was a gymnast at North Hollywood High School. A buoyant dancer and tumbler, Tamblyn began acting in films in 1948. His abilities as an acrobat and gymnast led to his being cast in such spectacular and dynamic dance films as _Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)_ (qv) among others.

-   Married three times; all his wives were involved in show business. 'Venetia Stevenson' (qv) was a film actress, British Elizabeth Kempton (born 1935) was a Vegas showgirl and present wife, 'Bonnie Tamblyn' (qv), is a folk singer.

-   In 1997, he made a one-shot guest appearance on _"General Hospital" (1963)_ (qv) in a song-and-dance sketch that featured his daughter, 'Amber Tamblyn' (qv).

-   Appeared in three episodes of _"Joan of Arcadia" (2003)_ (qv) on which his daughter 'Amber Tamblyn' (qv) starred: "Night without Stars", "Do the Math" and "Friday Night".

-   Has always claimed that his biggest professional disappointment was not getting the title role in the post-Broadway tour of "Barnum". The part went to 'Tony Orlando (I)' (qv), instead.

-   Starred with 'Natalie Wood (I)' (qv) and her sister 'Lana Wood (I)' (qv) : as Riff in _West Side Story (1961)_ (qv) with Natalie; and as Link in _Scream Free! (1969)_ (qv) with Lana. Both films also co-starred 'Richard Beymer' (qv).

-   His standout dance sequence while performing the role of Eric in _The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)_ (qv) duplicated some of his dance moves from _Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)_ (qv) and, in fact, added some athletics that went beyond those original moves.

-   Has done art work such as painting, drawing and creating collages. His "spacescapes" have been displayed at exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Art Museum and the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art.

-   In July 2006, he was a guest at the Western Film Fair in Charlotte, North Carolina along with 'Ben Murphy (I)' (qv), 'Roger Davis (I)' (qv), 'Steve Kanaly' (qv), 'Marjorie Lord' (qv), 'Coleen Gray' (qv), 'Mark Goddard (I)' (qv), 'Ronnie Schell' (qv), 'Tom Reese (I)' (qv) and 'Cheryl Rogers (I)' (qv).

-   Father of China Tamblyn (member of the Kirby Grips musical group).

-   Co-starred with 'Richard Beymer' (qv) in both _West Side Story (1961)_ (qv) and _"Twin Peaks" (1990)_ (qv).

-   Originally auditioned for the part of "Tony" in _West Side Story (1961)_ (qv), but was cast as "Riff" instead, while the part of "Tony" went to 'Richard Beymer' (qv).

-   Godfather of his daughter 'Amber Tamblyn' (qv) is 'Dean Stockwell' (qv).

-   Was considered for the role of Cookie in the 'Elvis Presley' (qv) picture _G.I. Blues (1960)_ (qv), according to the 'Hal B. Wallis' (qv) papers at AMPAS Library.

-   Attended North Hollywood High School.

-   "The Illustrated Who's Who of the Cinema." Edited by Ann Lloyd and Graham Fuller. Child & Henry Publishing Pty. Ltd., 27 Kings Road, Hornsby, New South Wales, Australia. ISBN 0867773049

-   [on his performance as "Riff" in _West Side Story (1961)_ (qv)] Life is so strange. "West Side Story" was one of the high points of my career. Yet, when I first saw it, I was really disappointed in how I came off. Since then, 'Fred Astaire' (qv) has told me how much he admired my dancing in it. Now I see it very differently.

-   (April 2002) Lives in Santa Monica, California and manages daughter Amber's career.

-   (June 2003) Currently playing "Capt. John Green" in 'Neil Young (I)' (qv)'s multimedia "Greendale" tour. He is also directing and choreographing the production numbers for the tour.

-   (November 2011) Currently writing his autobiography "Dancing On The Edge"

-   "Radio Times" (UK), 24 October 1990, pg. 5, by: Rowena Mafham, "Tamblyn take two"

-   "Psychotronic Video" (USA), Winter 1990, Vol. 1, Iss. 8, pg. 50-58, by: Ian Johnson, "Russ Tamblyn: From Your First Cigarette to Your Last Dying Day"

-   "Starlog" (USA), July 1988, Vol. 12, Iss. 132, pg. 26-30,+95, by: Steve Swires, "Russ Tamblyn's Tiny Triumphs"

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Acting in movies

  1. "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret" (2009) {The Crime Scene, the Storyteller and the Sanctimonious Tower of Morality (#2.5)}
  2. A West Side Story: The Film and the Philharmonic (2013) (TV)
  3. Chakiris (2013) (TV)
  4. Django Unchained (2012)
  5. "Banda sonora" (2007) {(#8.4)}
  6. "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret" (2009) {Conclusion (#2.6)}
  7. "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret" (2009) {How the Liver and the Salad Conspired to Ruin Todd's Good Deed (#2.3)}
  8. "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret" (2009) {In Which Todd Accidentally Learns a Secret and Brent and Doug Get Closer to Further from the Truth (#2.4)}
  9. "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret" (2009) {Todd and his Valet Arrive in Leeds and What They Saw There (#2.2)}
  10. "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret" (2009) {Todd's Terrible Day Ends and His Next Terrible Day Begins (#2.1)}
  11. Drive (2011/I)
  12. "The Talk" (2010) {(2011-11-16)}
  13. The Further Adventures of Edmund and Pablo (2010) (TV)
  14. "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret" (2009) {What Can Only be Considered a Dreadful Day for Todd (#1.6)}
  15. "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret" (2009) {Where Todd and Brent Misjudge the Mood of a Solemn Day (#1.5)}
  16. Hollywood Singing and Dancing: A Musical Treasure (2008) (TV)
  17. The Scene That Stole Jailhouse Rock (2007) (V)
  18. The 30th Annual People's Choice Awards (2004) (TV)
  19. The Masters Behind the Musicals (2004) (V)
  20. "Joan of Arcadia" (2003) {Do the Math (#1.19)}
  21. "Joan of Arcadia" (2003) {Friday Night (#2.8)}
  22. "Joan of Arcadia" (2003) {Night without Stars (#1.15)}
  23. West Side Memories (2003) (V)
  24. Cinerama Adventure (2002)
  25. Bourne to Dance (2001) (TV)
  26. Inviati speciali (2000)
  27. "Backstory" (2000) {Peyton Place}
  28. "General Hospital" (1963) {(2000-09-15)}
  29. "General Hospital" (1963) {(2000-09-19)}
  30. Christian Scare Films Vol. 4 (1999) (V)
  31. Inherit the Wind (1999) (TV)
  32. Little Miss Magic (1998)
  33. Johnny Mysto: Boy Wizard (1997) (V)
  34. Mary Pickford: A Life on Film (1997)
  35. My Ghost Dog (1997) (TV)
  36. Sobbin' Women: The Making of 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers' (1997) (TV)
  37. "Nash Bridges" (1996) {The Counterfeiters (#2.15)}
  38. Invisible Mom (1996) (V)
  39. Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfolds (1995)
  40. Rebellious (1995)
  41. Starstruck (1995)
  42. Cabin Boy (1994)
  43. Golden Globes 50th Anniversary Celebration (1994) (TV)
  44. "Babylon 5" (1994) {A Distant Star (#2.4)}
  45. Little Devils: The Birth (1993)
  46. Running Mates (1992) (TV)
  47. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)
  48. "Movie Memories with Debbie Reynolds" (1991)
  49. Crazy About the Movies: Dennis Hopper (1991) (TV)
  50. Gala TP de oro 1990 (1991) (TV)
  51. Wizards of the Demon Sword (1991)
  52. "Twin Peaks" (1990) {(#2.14)}
  53. "Twin Peaks" (1990) {(#2.15)}
  54. "Twin Peaks" (1990) {(#2.17)}
  55. "Twin Peaks" (1990) {(#2.21)}
  56. "Twin Peaks" (1990) {(#2.22)}
  57. Aftershock (1990)
  58. Blood Screams (1990)
  59. Twin Peaks/Cop Rock: Behind the Scenes (1990) (TV)
  60. "Late Night with David Letterman" (1982) {(1990-08-02)}
  61. "Twin Peaks" (1990) {(#1.2)}
  62. "Twin Peaks" (1990) {(#1.3)}
  63. "Twin Peaks" (1990) {(#1.4)}
  64. "Twin Peaks" (1990) {(#1.5)}
  65. "Twin Peaks" (1990) {(#1.6)}
  66. "Twin Peaks" (1990) {(#1.7)}
  67. "Twin Peaks" (1990) {(#1.8)}
  68. "Twin Peaks" (1990) {(#2.1)}
  69. "Twin Peaks" (1990) {(#2.10)}
  70. "Twin Peaks" (1990) {(#2.3)}
  71. "Twin Peaks" (1990) {Pilot (#1.1)}
  72. Desert Steel (1989)
  73. "Quantum Leap" (1989) {Thou Shalt Not... - February 2, 1974 (#2.7)}
  74. B.O.R.N. (1988)
  75. Necromancer (1988)
  76. The Phantom Empire (1988) (V)
  77. Commando Squad (1987)
  78. Cyclone (1987)
  79. This Is Your Life (1987) (TV)
  80. "Fame" (1982) {Baby, Remember My Name (#6.24)}
  81. "Fame" (1982) {Hold That Baby (#6.6)}
  82. "Fame" (1982) {Losin' It (#5.23)}
  83. That's Dancing! (1985)
  84. The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal (1985)
  85. Human Highway (1982)
  86. It Came from Hollywood (1982)
  87. "Nero Wolfe" (1981) {Before I Die (#1.3)}
  88. "The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams" (1977) {The Skyrider (#2.22)}
  89. Black Heat (1976)
  90. "The Quest" (1976) {The Captive (#1.1)}
  91. The World Through the Eyes of Children (1975)
  92. Win, Place or Steal (1975)
  93. That's Entertainment! (1974)
  94. "ABC's Wide World of Entertainment" (1973) {That's Entertainment! 50 Years of MGM}
  95. "Cade's County" (1971) {Ragged Edge (#1.20)}
  96. Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971)
  97. The Female Bunch (1971)
  98. The Last Movie (1971)
  99. Satan's Sadists (1969)
  100. Scream Free! (1969)
  101. "The Name of the Game" (1968) {A Hard Case of the Blues (#2.2)}
  102. Furankenshutain no kaijĆ»: Sanda tai Gaira (1968)
  103. "Iron Horse" (1966) {Decision at Sundown (#1.25)}
  104. "Tarzan" (1966) {Leopard on the Loose (#1.3)}
  105. "Days of Our Lives" (1965)
  106. Son of a Gunfighter (1965)
  107. "Gunsmoke" (1955) {He Who Steals (#10.36)}
  108. The Long Ships (1964)
  109. Follow the Boys (1963)
  110. The Haunting (1963)
  111. "Channing" (1963) {The Last Testament of Buddy Crown (#1.12)}
  112. "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1963) {Silent Love, Secret Love (#1.2)}
  113. How the West Was Won (1962)
  114. The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)
  115. West Side Story (1961)
  116. Cimarron (1960)
  117. High School Confidential! (1958)
  118. tom thumb (1958)
  119. Don't Go Near the Water (1957)
  120. Peyton Place (1957)
  121. The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)
  122. The Last Hunt (1956)
  123. The Young Guns (1956)
  124. "MGM Parade" (1955) {(#1.23)}
  125. "The Walter Winchell Show" (1956) {(#1.13)}
  126. Hit the Deck (1955)
  127. Many Rivers to Cross (1955)
  128. Deep in My Heart (1954)
  129. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
  130. Take the High Ground! (1953)
  131. Retreat, Hell! (1952)
  132. The Winning Team (1952)
  133. As Young as You Feel (1951)
  134. Cave of Outlaws (1951)
  135. Father's Little Dividend (1951)
  136. Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950)
  137. Deadly Is the Female (1950)
  138. Father of the Bride (1950)
  139. The Vicious Years (1950)
  140. Reign of Terror (1949)
  141. Samson and Delilah (1949)
  142. The Kid from Cleveland (1949)
  143. The Boy with Green Hair (1948)


  1. Human Highway (1982) (screenplay) <1,4,1>


  1. The Cool School (2008) (archive and stills)
  2. "Fame" (1982) {Losin' It (#5.23)} (choreographer)
  3. Human Highway (1982) (choreographer)