Russ Tamblyn Biography

Russ Tamblyn is an American actor and dancer, best known for his portrayal of ‘Riff’ in the iconic film ‘West Side Story.’ Check out this biography to know about his childhood, family, personal life, career, and achievements.

Quick Facts

Birthday: December 30, 1934

Nationality: American

Famous: Actors Dancers

Age: 85 Years, 85 Year Old Males

Sun Sign: Capricorn

Also Known As: Russell Irving Tamblyn

Born Country: United States

Born in: Los Angeles, California, United States

Famous as: Actor

Height: 5'9" (175 cm), 5'9" Males


Spouse/Ex-: Bonnie Murray Tamblyn, Elizabeth Kempton (m. 1960–1979), Venetia Stevenson (m. 1956–1957)

father: Eddie Tamblyn (Edward Francis Tamblyn)

mother: Sally Aileen (Triplett)

siblings: Bonnie Murray Tamblyn

children: Amber Tamblyn, China Tamblyn

U.S. State: California

City: Los Angeles

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Russ Tamblyn is an American actor and dancer, popularly known for his portrayal of ‘Jets’ gang leader ‘Riff’ in the iconic film ‘West Side Story.’ Born into a family that was engaged in show business, Tamblyn was trained to be a gymnast in his youth. As a child, he would perform at every kind of venue, from small playhouses to the ‘Madison Square Garden.’ He was discovered by Lloyd Bridges, who gave a 10-year-old Tamblyn his first role in a play named ‘Stone Jungle.’ This launched him as a child actor working for ‘Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’ (MGM). This was also a start to his extensive career in the entertainment industry. After a few successful stints in movies, Tamblyn made fewer TV appearances, as the offers started to dwindle. One of his most popular roles was that of the eccentric psychiatrist ‘Dr. Lawrence Jacoby’ in the popular TV series ‘Twin Peaks.’ The wild-eyed look, replete with mangled hair and a frizzy beard later became his trademark.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • Discovered by Lloyd Bridges at the age of 10, he eventually earned his first film, ‘The Boy with Green Hair,’ in 1948. The juvenile actor, also called “Rusty Tamblyn” at the time, played a student “extra.”
  • In 1949, Tamblyn was given a bigger role in ‘The Kid from Cleveland.’ While the movie was not a huge success, it established him as a film actor and earned him minor roles in ‘Reign of Terror’ and Cecil B DeMille’s 1949 version of ‘Samson and Delilah’ (which featured him as young ‘Saul’).
  • The early 1950s saw him earning small roles in films such as ‘Gun Crazy’ (which featured him as the younger ‘Bart Tare’). He was also part of ‘Father of the Bride’ (in which he played Elizabeth Taylor’s younger brother) and its sequel, ‘Father’s Little Dividend.’ From 1950 to 1952, he also appeared in ‘Captain Carey, U.S.A,’ ‘The Winning Team,’ and ‘Retreat, Hell!’
  • Impressed by his performance in ‘Retreat, Hell!,’ ‘MGM’ offered him a long-term contract. Under the new contract, he played a young soldier in boot camp in ‘Take the High Ground!,’ directed by Richard Brooks in 1953.
  • In 1954, his training in gymnastics and acrobatics prepared him for his breakthrough role of ‘Gideon,’ the youngest brother in ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.’ The film was a huge hit and established him at ‘MGM.’ The same year, he performed in the musical ‘Deep in My Heart.’
  • In 1955, he played Eleanor Parker’s brother in the Western ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ and was part of the young ‘MGM’ cast, which also included Jane Powell and Debbie Reynolds, in the musical ‘Hit the Deck.’
  • In 1956, he supported older actors in two Westerns: ‘The Last Hunt’ (which flopped) and ‘The Fastest Gun Alive’ (which was a big hit and displayed his extraordinary “shovel dance”).
  • In 1957, he served as Elvis Presley’s uncredited choreographer in ‘Jailhouse Rock.’ The same year, ‘MGM’ loaned him to ‘Allied Artists’ for his first starring role, in ‘The Young Guns.’ Under ‘MGM,’ he worked with Glenn Ford and Gia Scala in ‘Don’t Go Near the Water,’ a comedy set among members of the ‘US Navy.’ He also portrayed ‘Norman Page’ in the film ‘Peyton Place,’ opposite Lana Turner and Diane Varsi, for which he received an ‘Academy Award’ nomination for the ‘Best Supporting Actor.’
  • In 1958, before Tamblyn was named to the ‘US Army,’ he delivered two hits: the film ‘High School Confidential’ and the musical ‘Tom Thumb.’ He played the titular role in the latter.
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  • In 1960, upon his return, he was cast in a supporting role in ‘Cimarron.’ The following year, he appeared in ‘The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm’ and ‘How the West Was Won.’
  • From 1963 to 1965, he appeared in ‘The Haunting,’ ‘Follow the Boys,’ ‘The Greatest Show on Earth,’ ‘Channing,’ ‘The Long Ships,’ and ‘Days of Our Lives.’ He also played a lead role in a low-budget ‘MGM’ Western named ‘Son of a Gunfighter.’
  • From 1966 to 1978, he appeared in ‘War of the Gargantuas,’ ‘Satan’s Sadists,’ ‘The Last Movie,’ ‘The Female Bunch,’ ‘Dracula vs. Frankenstein,’ ‘Cade’s County,’ ‘The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams,’ and ‘Black Heat.’
  • From 1982 to 1988, he appeared in ‘Human Highway,’ ‘Commando Squad,’ ‘The Phantom Empire,’ and ‘Necromancer.’
  • In the 1990s, he was seen in movies such as ‘Running Mates,’ ‘Cabin Boy,’ ‘Babylon 5,’ ‘Invisible Mom,’ and ‘Little Miss Magic.’
  • Of late, he has been featured in movies such as ‘Drive,’ ‘Django Unchained,’ ‘Hits,’ ‘The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret,’ and the revival of ‘Twin Peaks.’
  • He wrote the screenplay for the 1982 movie ‘Human Highway.’
  • He contributed to the soundtracks of the series ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ and the movies ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Hit the Deck.’
Major Works
  • His most notable role has been that of ‘Riff,’ leader of the ‘Jets’ street gang, in the iconic ‘West Side Story’ in 1961.
Family, Personal Life & Legacy
  • Tamblyn married TV actor Venetia Stevenson in 1956, but the couple divorced the following year. In 1960, he married showgirl Elizabeth Kempton in Las Vegas. The couple had a daughter, China, before divorcing in 1979. His second child, actor Amber Tamblyn, was born in 1983, to wife Bonnie Murray, whom he had married in 1981.
  • In 2012, it was announced that he had been working on writing an autobiography titled ‘Dancing on the Edge.’
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  • He reprised the role of ‘Dr. Lawrence Jacoby’ from the cult favorite ‘Twin Peaks’ in the soap opera ‘General Hospital.’ The song-and-dance sketch also featured his daughter Amber.


Golden Globe Awards
1956 Most Promising Newcomer - Male Hit the Deck (1955)

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