Cyd Charisse

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Cyd Charisse
Cyd Charisse - 1949.jpg
1949
BornTula Ellice Finklea
(1922-03-08)March 8, 1922
Amarillo, Texas, U.S.
DiedJune 17, 2008(2008-06-17) (aged 86)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Heart attack
Resting place
Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery
Other namesLily Norwood
Felia Siderova
Maria Istomina
OccupationActress, dancer
Years active1939-2007
Spouse(s)Nico Charisse
(m. 1939-1947; divorced)
Tony Martin
(m. 1948-2008; her death)
 
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Cyd Charisse
Cyd Charisse - 1949.jpg
1949
BornTula Ellice Finklea
(1922-03-08)March 8, 1922
Amarillo, Texas, U.S.
DiedJune 17, 2008(2008-06-17) (aged 86)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Heart attack
Resting place
Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery
Other namesLily Norwood
Felia Siderova
Maria Istomina
OccupationActress, dancer
Years active1939-2007
Spouse(s)Nico Charisse
(m. 1939-1947; divorced)
Tony Martin
(m. 1948-2008; her death)

Cyd Charisse (March 8, 1922 – June 17, 2008)[1] was an American actress and dancer.

After recovering from polio as a child, and studying ballet, Charisse entered films in the 1940s. Her roles usually focused on her abilities as a dancer, and she was paired with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly; her films include Singin' in the Rain (1952), The Band Wagon (1953) and Silk Stockings (1957). She stopped dancing in films in the late 1950s, but continued acting in film and television, and in 1992 made her Broadway debut.

In her later years, she discussed the history of the Hollywood musical in documentaries, and was featured in That's Entertainment! III in 1994. She was awarded the National Medal of the Arts and Humanities in 2006.

Early life[edit]

Charisse was born as Tula Ellice Finklea in Amarillo, Texas, the daughter of Lela (née Norwood) and Ernest Enos Finklea, Sr., who was a jeweler.[2][3] Her nickname "Sid" was taken from a sibling trying to say "Sis".[4] (It was later spelled "Cyd" at MGM to give her an air of mystery.) She was a sickly girl who started dancing lessons at six to build up her strength after a bout with polio. At 12, she studied ballet in Los Angeles with Adolph Bolm and Bronislava Nijinska, and at 14, she auditioned for and subsequently danced in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as "Felia Siderova"[5][6] and, later, "Maria Istomina".[6]

During a European tour, she met up again with Nico Charisse, a handsome young dancer she had studied with for a time in Los Angeles. They married in Paris in 1939. They had a son, Nicky, born in 1942.[4]

Career[edit]

The outbreak of World War II led to the breakup of the company, and when Charisse returned to Los Angeles, David Lichine offered her a dancing role in Gregory Ratoff's Something to Shout About. This brought her to the attention of choreographer Robert Alton – who had also discovered Gene Kelly – and soon she joined the Freed Unit at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where she became the resident MGM ballet dancer.[5] In an early role, she had her first speaking part supporting Judy Garland in the 1946 film The Harvey Girls.[7]

Charisse was principally celebrated for her onscreen pairings with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. She first appeared with Astaire in a brief routine in Ziegfeld Follies (produced in 1944 and released in 1946). Her next appearance with him was as the lead female role in The Band Wagon (1953), where she danced with Astaire in the acclaimed "Dancing in the Dark" and "Girl Hunt Ballet" routines.

Charisse and Gene Kelly in the "Broadway Melody Ballet" sequence from Singin' in the Rain

As Debbie Reynolds was not a trained dancer, Gene Kelly chose Charisse to partner with him in the celebrated "Broadway Melody" ballet finale from Singin' in the Rain (1952), and she co-starred with Kelly in 1954's Scottish-themed musical film Brigadoon. She again took the lead female role alongside Kelly in his penultimate MGM musical It's Always Fair Weather (1956).[8]

In 1957, she rejoined Astaire in the film version of Silk Stockings, a musical remake of 1939's Ninotchka, with Charisse taking over Greta Garbo's role. In his autobiography, Astaire paid tribute to Charisse, calling her "beautiful dynamite" and writing: "That Cyd! When you've danced with her you stay danced with."[9][10]

She had a slightly unusual serious acting role in Party Girl (1958), where she played a showgirl who became involved with gangsters and a crooked lawyer, although it did include two dance routines.

In her autobiography, Charisse reflected on her experience with Astaire and Kelly: "As one of the handful of girls who worked with both of those dance geniuses, I think I can give an honest comparison. In my opinion, Kelly is the more inventive choreographer of the two. Astaire, with Hermes Pan's help, creates fabulous numbers – for himself and his partner. But Kelly can create an entire number for somebody else ... I think, however, that Astaire's coordination is better than Kelly's ... his sense of rhythm is uncanny. Kelly, on the other hand, is the stronger of the two. When he lifts you, he lifts you! ... To sum it up, I'd say they were the two greatest dancing personalities who were ever on screen. But it's like comparing apples and oranges. They're both delicious." [11]

After the decline of the Hollywood musical in the late 1950s, Charisse retired from dancing but continued to appear in film and TV productions from the 1960s through the 1990s. She had a supporting role in Something's Got to Give (1962), the last, unfinished film of Marilyn Monroe. She made cameo appearances in Blue Mercedes's "I Want to Be Your Property" (1987) and Janet Jackson's "Alright" (1990) music videos.

Her last film appearance was in 1994 in That's Entertainment! III as one of the onscreen narrators of a tribute to the great MGM musical films.

Personal life[edit]

Charisse was married to singer Tony Martin from 1948 until her death. The marriage lasted 60 years. Charisse's first husband, whose surname she kept, was Nico Charisse (March 1906 – April 1970);[12] they were married from 1939 to 1947.[13]

She had two sons, Nico "Nicky" Charisse from her first marriage, and Tony Martin, Jr. (August 28, 1950 - April 10, 2011), from her second.[13] Her daughter-in-law is actress and model Liv Lindeland, married to Tony Martin, Jr. until his death in 2011.

Charisse in 1987, by Allan Warren

Charisse wrote a joint biography with Martin (and Dick Kleiner) entitled The Two of Us (1976). She was featured in the 2001 Guinness Book of World Records under "Most Valuable Legs", since a $5 million insurance policy was reportedly accepted on her legs in 1952. MGM was reputed to have insured her legs for a million dollars each, but Charisse revealed that that had been an invention of the MGM publicity machine.

In 1990, following similar moves by MGM colleagues Debbie Reynolds and Angela Lansbury, Charisse produced the exercise video Easy Energy Shape Up, targeted for active senior citizens.

Later years and death[edit]

She made her Broadway debut in 1992 in the musical version of Grand Hotel as the aging ballerina, Elizaveta Grushinskaya.[4] In her eighties, Charisse made occasional public appearances and appeared frequently in documentaries spotlighting the golden age of Hollywood.

Charisse was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California on June 16, 2008, after suffering an apparent heart attack. She died the following day at age 86.[14] She was buried on June 22, 2008, at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery in Culver City, California, following a Christian ceremony presided over by Dr. Gary Allan Dickey, Senior Pastor of The United Methodist Church in Westlake Village.[15][16]

Honors[edit]

Accepting the National Medal of Arts and Humanities Award in 2006, photo by Paul Morse

On November 9, 2006, in a private White House ceremony, President George W. Bush presented Cyd Charisse with the National Medal of the Arts and Humanities, the highest official U.S. honor available in the arts.[17]

Tributes[edit]

In her collection "Tauzia 1945" fashion designer Marcela Calvet pays tribute to her by naming an exotic handbag after Cyd Charisse.

Filmography[edit]

Features:

Short subjects:

Stage work[edit]

Music videos[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Cyd C. Martin". Social Security Death Index. New England Historic Genealogical Society. Retrieved 9 March 2011. 
  2. ^ Film Reference site
  3. ^ NY Times article
  4. ^ a b c Cyd Charisse dies in LA at 86
  5. ^ a b Wollen, Peter (1992). Singin' in the Rain. London: British Film Institute. p. 42. ISBN 0-85170-351-8. 
  6. ^ a b Missiaen, Jean-Claude (1978). Cyd Charisse, du ballet classique à la comédie musicale. Paris: Henri Veyrier. p. 38. ISBN 2-85199-186-8. 
  7. ^ Frank Miller. "The Harvey Girls -- Articles". Turner Classic Movies. 
  8. ^ Charisse's singing voice was usually dubbed in her musical film appearances, most often by India Adams.
  9. ^ Astaire, Fred (1959). Steps in Time. London: Heinemann. p. 319. ISBN 0-241-11749-6. 
  10. ^ In a documentary on the making of The Band Wagon (included in that film's 2006 DVD release), Charisse cites Astaire's tribute as: "When you dance with Cyd Charisse, you've been danced with".Findarticles.com
  11. ^ Charisse, Cyd; Tony Martin, Dick Kleiner (1976). The Two of Us. New York: Mason/Charter. ISBN 0-88405-363-6. 
  12. ^ Social Security Death Index
  13. ^ a b Berkvist, Robert (2008-06-18). "Cyd Charisse, 86, Silken Dancer of Movies, Dies". nytimes.com. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  14. ^ Legendary dancer Cyd Charisse dies, CNN
  15. ^ Celebrity Deaths: Cyd Charisse
  16. ^ Cyd Charisse and Tony Martin--Christian Funeral at a Jewish Cemetery
  17. ^ Washington Post coverage of her award presentation at the White House

External links[edit]