Last Tuesday, my favourite dancer in Hollywood died at the age of 86. Cyd Charisse had had a brilliant career in Hollywood musicals, having danced in the best of them from her first major dancing role in "Singing In The Rain" partnered with Gene Kelly, to her Broadway début, at 70 years of age no less, in a role of an ageing ballerina in Grand Hotel. She even appeared in the video clip of Janet Jackson's song "Allright"
She was not the greatest of actresses. As Guardian writes in her obituary:
When she sang, she was dubbed. When she spoke, she was on cue, at best. But when she danced, there was no need for artifice. A couple of dozen times in the 1950s, she moved across a screen to music and brought us all close to heaven.
Memorable in her partnering with the two legends of film dance, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, Cyd was special because she was classy and sexy and an excellent dancer, not to mention beautiful. But a beauty unlike the prim and proper bottle blonde girls populating the major motion picture companies' rosters. When she began her career in films, as an actress who danced, she usually was cast as an exotic woman (even Polynesian) due to her dark hair and sultry features. She eventually chose to dedicate herself to dancing, beginning an illustrious career.
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 later revealed that that had been an invention of the MGM publicity machine.
She was born Tula Ellice Finklea on March 8, 1922, in Amarillo, Texas. Her older brother nicknamed her Sid, a variation on Sis. In Hollywood, she changed the spelling to Cyd.
Ironically, she began ballet lessons at age 6, encouraged by her father, Ernest, after she developed a mild case of polio that left her with a slight atrophy on her right side. Who could then imagine how that frail child would turn out?
She was married to singer Tony Martin for 60 years, amazing even for a normal couple, let alone Hollywood. She stayed away from gossip and scandals, projecting to the very end the image of a real lady. She is survived by her husband, her two sons and grandchildren.
Here are three of her most iconic performances - and my top favourites:
1. From the film "The Band Wagon" with Fred Astair in 1953:
2. From the film "Dancing In The Rain" with Gene Kelly, in 1952:
3. From the film "Meet Me In Las Vegas" in 1956: