REMEMBERING SUZIE KAYE
In 2002 I interviewed 60s starlet (and West Side Story alumni) Suzie Kaye for my book Drive-in Dream Girls. She was so delightful to speak with. I recently read the new book Our Story: Jets & Sharks Then and Now. I bought it in anticipation in reading Suzie Kaye’s chapter. I was disappointed to learn that she did not contribute and then was stunned to see her name on the “In Memory” page. I then learned from her friend actress BarBara Luna that Suzie had (unbeknownst to me) passed away in 2008.
Either as a sultry brunette or dippy blonde, Suzie Kaye was a talented actress/singer/dancer who made her mark in ‘60s drive-in movies. The petite Kaye, a veteran of many stage productions while growing up in New York City, made her film debut as Rosalia, a Shark girl, in the Academy Award-winning musical West Side Story (1961). She recalled in Drive-in Dream Girls, “Natalie Wood was fine to work with but a little distant. I think she was fearful and a bit uncomfortable being around all these New York dancers. I never had any run-ins with her. Off the set we were gangs through and through. We even played cards separately. We didn’t mix because a lot of us were Method Actors—I know I was. We just stayed in character most of the time because it made it easier.” She is in the tight striped dress in the “America” number below.
As a brunette she went on to play small roles in a few more films including Tammy and the Doctor (1963) with Sandra Dee and the beach-party-in-the-snow Wild Wild Winter (1966) with Gary Clarke and Chris Noel. Feeling her career needed a boost, Kaye dyed her hair blonde. This seemed to suit her perky personality better, as she went on to work in a string of teenage comedies and musicals including Clambake (1967) with Elvis Presley; It’s a Bikini World (1967) with Tommy Kirk and Deborah Walley; and C’mon, Let’s Live a Little (1967) with Bobby Vee and Jackie DeShannon. Kaye is the cute blonde in teh gold lame bikini in the below clip.
After smaller roles in the biker flick The Angry Breed (1968) and the comedy The Comic (1969), Kaye was cast as Angel Chernak, one of the early Seventies most memorable daytime vixens, on Love Is a Many Splendored Thing. “Angel Chernak was an absolute villainess until she got cancer and then atoned,” remarked Suzie in Drive-in Dream Girls. After a four year run, the soap was cancelled in 1973 and Kaye retired from acting to concentrate on a career in business.