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Why Tony From The Original West Side Story Looks So Familiar

The 2021 Spielberg-directed musical "West Side Story," starring Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler, may have disappointed at the box office (via CNBC), but it was almost universally acclaimed by critics and audiences, with a 91% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes to date. With 67 award wins, including the best supporting actress Oscar for Ariana DeBose, Spielberg's fresh take will no doubt draw a new generation of viewers to the original 1961 film version, directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. Based on the Bernstein and Sondheim musical that set Shakespeare's romantic tragedy "Romeo and Juliet" on the streets of the Upper West Side, the 1961 film won 10 Oscars, including best film, best director, and best color cinematography (via IMDb). Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood played the star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria, whose forbidden but unstoppable love amid hatred and violence leads to inevitable tragedy.

A relative unknown at the time, Richard Beymer's performance as Tony in "West Side Story" earned him Golden Globe nominations in 1962 for most promising newcomer as well as best actor in a comedy or musical (via IMDb). A talented singer and dancer, Beymer was just nine years old when he made his screen debut in 1948 on the TV show "Sandy Dreams." His professional acting career has since spanned eight decades. Beymer is also an accomplished photographer, filmmaker, and activist — he joined the "Freedom Summer" movement in 1964 and made a now-celebrated documentary "A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer" (via The New York Times).

If you think you've seen Richard Beymer somewhere else before, it might be from one of these other major highlights of his prolific screen career.

Beymer appeared in Johnny Tremain

Richard Beymer's first major film role was in Disney's 1957 patriotic adventure "Johnny Tremain." Based on the children's novel by Esther Forbes, the movie follows the journey of a young silversmith's apprentice who finds himself out of work after burning his hand on molten silver. Johnny's wanderings lead him to witness and take part in key events of American Revolutionary War history, including the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere's famous ride, and the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

Beymer played Rab Silsbee, a young typesetter who befriends and mentors Johnny (Hal Stalmaster), playing a critical role in the hero's journey. A member of the Sons of Liberty, a separatist group that meets to strategize revolt against English rule, Rab introduces Johnny to Boston politics. Johnny soon becomes a messenger for the colonial resistance and gets involved with leading figures of the revolution, including Samuel Adams (Rusty Lane). A brave and passionate patriot, Rab sacrifices his life for the cause and is killed at the Battle of Lexington. But playing Rab wasn't the only time Beymer appeared on the big screen in a story set during a historic conflict.

Beymer played Private Schultz in The Longest Day

Released in 1962, "The Longest Day" is a sprawling, spectacular, and lengthy war epic retelling the events of June 6, 1944 — the day Allied forces launched their invasion of German-occupied France. The film presents D-Day from multiple perspectives, including those of the U.S., British, Free French, and German forces. Based on extensive research by novelist Cornelius Ryan, "The Longest Day" is considered "the ultimate D-Day film" by Rob Citino, Senior Historian at the National WWII Museum (via Time). The film boasted a massive cast that included John Wane, Robert Ryan, Richard Burton, Henry Fonda, Sean Connery, Robert Mitchum, Roddy McDowall, Frank Finlay, and George Segal. Some cast members had even served in the war, including Henry Fonda and Richard Todd (via the National WWII Museum), and many of the film's technical consultants were directly involved in D-Day (via Military History Matters).

A 22-year-old Richard Beymer had a significant role in "The Longest Day," playing Private Arthur "Dutch" Schultz, who was based on an actual D-Day veteran (via The D-Day Memory Tour). The film version of Private Schultz wins a small fortune in a card game before the battle, parachutes into Normandy, gets lost, and makes his way to a French farmhouse, where he meets badly wounded RAF Flight Officer David Campbell (Richard Burton). In one of the film's highlights, Schultz and Campbell share an intimate and existential scene in which they muse on the day's events and the meaning of war. Schultz declares, "You know something? I haven't fired my gun all day. I keep hearing shootin', but every time I get there, everybody's gone!" Campbell responds, "It's funny, isn't it? He's dead, I'm crippled, you're lost. I suppose it's always like that. I mean war."

Beymer had guest spots on several popular TV series

Richard Beymer built his resumé outside of war films as well. TV viewers might recognize him from guest spots in a multitude of popular shows across five decades. In 1966, he appeared in three episodes of the NBC medical drama "Dr. Kildare" as the Reverend Jack Elder. A year later, Beymer played a cadet at a remote training camp that's been infiltrated by a Thrush secret agent in an episode of NBC espionage drama "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." In the 1980s, he also made brief appearances in ABC's comedy-drama "Moonlighting" and in the wildly popular soap "Dallas." Between 1987 and 1996, Beymer showed up in six episodes of "Murder, She Wrote," playing a different character each time.

Notably, sci-fi fans saw Beymer in a recurring role on Season 9 of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" in 1993. He played Li Nalas, a legendary Bajoran fighter in the resistance against the Cardassian occupation, in a three-episode story arc. After Kira (Nana Visitor) and O'Brien (Colm Meaney) spring him from a Cardassian labor camp, Nalas replaces Kira as Bajoran liaison officer on DS9. He helps Commander Sisko (Avery Brooks) defend the station against the Bajoran nationalist group "the Circle," and the reluctant hero ultimately chooses to sacrifice his own life to save Sisko's.

Beymer went from sci-fi to the supernatural for the 1996 episode of "The X-Files" titled "Sanguinarium," in which David Duchovny's Mulder and Gillian Anderson's Scully are called in to investigate the bloody murder of a patient during surgery. The killer is his surgeon, who claims he was possessed. While Scully naturally takes the scientific route, suspecting a sleeping pill addiction contributed to his strange actions, Mulder posits that witchcraft is to blame. Their initial suspect is a nurse who's seemingly a practicing witch, but the real "monster of the week" turns out to be Beymer's Dr. Franklin, whose wholesome appearance hides a monstrous secret.

Richard Beymer played Benjamin Horne in Twin Peaks

But Richard Beymer was no stranger to playing nefarious characters by the time of his appearance on "The X-Files." In 1990, ABC's genre-defying TV sensation "Twin Peaks" hooked, baffled, and infuriated audiences. The brainchild of Mark Frost and David Lynch, "Twin Peaks" mashed police procedural, daytime soap, small-town quirk, saccharine sentimentalism, goofy comedy, occult mysticism, and horror. Set in the titular Washington state mountain town, "Twin Peaks" explores the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) and the catastrophic impact it has on her tight-knit community. In the course of his investigations and the pursuit of Laura's killer, FBI special agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) uses methods both conventional and unconventional and encounters a constellation of oddball locals, most of whom have something dark to hide.

Beymer played a local business magnate and owner of the Great Northern Hotel, Benjamin Horne — a major player in the community of Twin Peaks and in the murder investigation. Ben's questionable activities include using the perfume counter of Horne's Department Store as a recruiting ground for sex workers at One Eyed Jack's brothel and casino, double-crossing his business partner, Catherine Martell (Piper Laurie), and burning down the local Packard Saw Mill to make way for his Ghostwood Estates real-estate development scheme. Ben is a complicated guy; given his unsavory treatment of women, perhaps the most fascinating aspect of his character is his relationship with his daughter, Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn). The pair spend much of the series in conflict, especially when Audrey's amateur sleuthing leads to her discovery of Ben's One Eyed Jacks connection and his romantic involvement with the deceased Laura Palmer. But Ben always supported his daughter's independence and entrepreneurial spirit, which ironically may have led to her environmental activism and subsequent hospitalization after protesting at the Twin Peaks bank.

Beymer reprised the role of Benjamin Horne in Twin Peaks: The Return

In 2014, David Lynch fans got the news they had long been waiting for when Showtime announced the production of a new "Twin Peaks" miniseries written by Lynch and Mark Frost, the writers of the original series, and directed by Lynch (via Deadline). "Twin Peaks: The Return" aired in 2017 to immense critical acclaim (currently holding at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes), picking up the story 25 years after the events of the first two seasons, with FBI agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) trapped in the Black Lodge while his evil doppelgänger goes on the rampage possessed by Killer BOB. Much of the original cast returned with MacLachlan, including Madchen Amick, Dana Ashbrook, Sherilyn Fenn, Miguel Ferrer, and Sheryl Lee, along with newcomers such as Monica Bellucci, Michael Cera, Robert Forster, Amanda Seyfried, Tom Sizemore, and Naomi Watts.

Richard Beymer reprised his role as Ben Horne in "The Return," continuing to run the Great Northern Hotel and dealing with his brother, Jerry (David Patrick Kelly), who has become a successful investor in the legal marijuana business. Ben no longer seems to be embroiled in the nefarious business deals of old, being mostly preoccupied with family strife, with his bad-seed grandson, Richard, running wild and causing mayhem, and Ben's daughter, Audrey, recovering from her 25-year coma.

fourth season of "Twin Peaks" remains tantalizingly possible, but remote, so it's unclear whether we'll see Beymer as Ben Horne again.