Bernstein Speaks on the Genesis of ‘West Side Story’: “Of Course It Can’t Be on the East Side!” (Audio exclusive)

I looked at Arthur, and said, that’s it! …

Given the extent to which Leonard Bernstein is synonymous with his West Side Story, you might be surprised to learn this American cultural juggernaut was born during a moment as unassuming as a man sitting by the pool, reading the newspaper, talking with a colleague. But, as Bernstein explained to biographer John Gruen, that is exactly what happened.

“This is something absolutely fresh!”

Listen to Bernstein speak:

I now jump back to ’55, where I’m sitting beside the pool of the Beverly Hills Hotel, and there’s Arthur Laurents…

We made a sort of start at it, but then I had to hold it up, while I finished Candide, that’s the way it was…

In December of 1956, Candide opened on Broadway — and was a complete box office disaster — closing two months later in February 1957. From the ashes of that experience, however, sprang West Side Story, practically fully-formed:

Well so much for Candide – it didn’t go … the next minute I plunged into West Side
The rest was history…

And to think: this seminal piece of Bernstein sprang, in part, from a quiet afternoon at the pool, reading the newspaper.

About this content

The Bernstein Experience brings to you, for the first time ever, exclusive audio from intimate recording sessions of Leonard Bernstein by John Gruen, author and photographer, who interviewed Bernstein, his family, and his confidants in Italy for seven weeks during the summer of 1967.

Copyright: Estate of John Gruen. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Special thanks to Julia Gruen.

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