Remembering Cyd Charisse, Dancer
Updated: March 7 2017 with new vintage video clips and images celebrating Cyd Charisse – her life, dancing, partners, movies, and fashions from the 1940s and 1950s.
The beautiful Cyd Charisse was born Tula Ellice Finklea in Texas born 93 years ago today (b. March 8, 1922 – d. June 17, 2008). Cyd Charisse overcame a slight case of childhood polio to become known for her superb dancing on stage and in movies. Below, Cyd Charisse with frequent onscreen dancing partner Fred Astaire in 1945’s Ziegfeld Follies.
At age 6 Cyd Charisse began dancing ballet to assist with recovery from polio; by age 14 she was dancing in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo on a European tour. In 1939, 17 year old Cyd was on tour with the ballet company in Europe when World War II began; she and fellow dancer Nico Charisse (17 years her senior) went to Paris, where they married on August 12, 1939.
Nico and Cyd Charisse settled in Los Angeles and son Nicky Charisse was born there in 1942 (they divorced in 1947).
A year later Cyd Charisse was offered her first movie role in Something to Shout About, and she became the MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) ballet dancer in residence. Her first featured film role was with Fred Astaire and Lucille Ball in 1946’s Ziegfield Follies.
Below, a Cyd Charisse 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s fashion & dance montage tribute.
Some other featured roles, co-stars, and movies in the mid-1940’s films for Cyd Charisse included two movies with Margaret O’Brien – Three Wise Fools (1946), and The Unfinished Dance (1947).
Cyd Charisse appeared with Gower Champion in the star-studded musical Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), in the segment titled “Roberta”. The cast of Till the Clouds Roll By included Judy Garland, Kathryn Grayson, Lena Horne, June Allyson, Van Heflin, Van Johnson, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, Robert Walker, Angela Lansbury, and singer-actor Tony Martin.
That same year, The Harvey Girls (1946) featured Till the Clouds Roll By co-stars Cyd Charisse, Judy Garland, and Angela Lansbury, along with Ray Bolger.
The romantic musical drama Fiesta (1947) with Esther Williams, Mary Astor, and Alan Napier (Batman), was the first movie to co-star Ricardo Montalban and Cyd Charisse. Below, Cyd Charisse and Ricardo Montalban dance together in Fiesta:
Ricardo Montalban and Cyd Charisse would work together several more times in movies and on TV:
- On an Island With You (1948) with Esther Williams, Peter Lawford, and Jimmy Durante.
- The Kissing Bandit (1948) starring Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Mildred Natwick (The Snoop Sisters) and Ann Miller.
- The Mark of the Renegade (1951).
- Sombrero (1953), with Pier Angeli, Vittorio Gassman, and Yvonne De Carlo.
- More than 20 years after Sombrero, Cyd Charisse, Yvonne De Carlo and Ricardo Montalban were part of the large cast in Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) starring Madeline Kahn. Their Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood co-stars included Teri Garr, Bruce Dern, Art Carney (The Honeymooners), Virginia Mayo, Jackie Coogan, Ethel Merman, Ann Miller, Dean Stockwell, Tab Hunter, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Morey Amsterdam (The Dick Van Dyke Show), and many others.
- Cyd Charisse guest-starred on Ricardo Montalban’s TV series Fantasy Island (in 1978 and 1983).
In 1948, Cyd Charisse married her Till The Clouds Roll by co-star, singer Tony Martin. Their son Tony Martin Jr. was born in 1950. Cyd Charisse and Tony Martin remained married until her death in 2008. Below, Tony Martin and Cyd Charisse with Donny Osmond and Marie Osmond, on the Donny and Marie show in 1977.
The musical Words and Music (1948) starred Mickey Rooney, Perry Como, Gene Kelly, Ann Sothern, Janet Leigh, and Mel Torme. Words and Music reunited Cyd Charisse and several of her Till the Clouds Roll By co-stars – June Allyson, Judy Garland, and Lena Horne.
Tension (1949) was a rare non-musical crime-drama for Cyd Charisse, and co-starred Richard Basehart, William Conrad (Cannon), and Barry Sullivan. That same year, William Conrad and Cyd Charisse appeared in the romantic drama East Side, West Side (1949). Their East Side, West Side co-stars included Barbara Stanwyck, James Mason, Van Heflin, Ava Gardner, and Nancy Reagan.
Right, Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly in a scene from Singin’ in the Rain. (Photo: YouTube | Singin’ in the Rain 1952).
In addition to being co-stars in Words and Music, and Singin’ in the Rain, Cyd Charisse was paired onscreen with Gene Kelly again in 3 more films:
- Brigadoon (1954), with Van Johnson,
- It’s Always Fair Weather (1955), with Dan Dailey. Dan Dailey and Cyd Charisse were co-stars again the following year in Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956), with Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched), Jim Backus, and George Chakiris.
- Cyd Charisse danced with James Mitchell (All My Children) in the musical biography Deep in My Heart (1954), which starred Jose Ferrer, Merle Oberon, and Jim Backus. Also appearing in Deep in My Heart, were her husband Tony Martin, along with Gene Kelly, Rosemary Clooney, Jane Powell, Vic Damone, Ann Miller, and Howard Keel. Below, James Mitchell and Cyd Charisse in a beautiful dance sequence from Deep in My Heart.
Another frequent co-star for Cyd Charisse was Fred Astaire. In addition to appearing in 1946’s Ziegfield Follies, Fred Astaire and Charisse danced together in:
- The Band Wagon (1953), with Nanette Fabray and James Mitchell.
- Silk Stockings (1957), Janis Paige and Peter Lorre. Cyd Charisse played Russian dancer Ninotchka Yoschenko in Silk Stockings.
(Cyd Charisse Photo: YouTube | Silk Stockings 1957)
By the 1950’s the movie roles for Cyd Charisse were dwindling. She co-starred with Rock Hudson in Twilight For The Gods (1958); and in Party Girl (1958) with Robert Taylor and Lee J. Cobb. Below – Cyd Charisse in a video dance clip from Party Girl (1958), one of the last movies she danced in.
Cyd Charisse retired from dancing in the movies in 1959, although she did continue to act. She appeared in several movies during the 1960’s:
- Five Golden Hours (1961) with Ernie Kovacs and George Sanders.
- Assassination in Rome (1965), a thriller co-starring Hugh O’Brian.
- The Silencers (1966), an adventure-comedy co-starring Dean Martin and Stella Stevens.
- Two Weeks in Another Town (1962), a drama filmed in Italy starring Cyd Charisse, Kirk Douglas, George Hamilton, and Leslie Uggams. Below, Kirk Douglas and Cyd Charisse in a scene from Two Weeks in Another Town.
(Photo: YouTube | Two Weeks in Another Town 1952)
During the 1970’s and her 50-plus years, Cyd Charisse kept busy with small roles in movies and the occasional appearance on TV. Baby boomer and seniors fans may remember seeing her in guest-starring gigs on popular 1970’s and 1980’s TV series such as Hawaii Five-O, The Love Boat, and Medical Center, in an episode with Joseph Campanella. She was reunited with her Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) co-star Angela Lansbury almost 40 years later, when she guest-starred on Lansbury’s series Murder She Wrote in 1985.
An active, fit senior herself, at age 68 Cyd Charisse produced an exercise video Easy Energy Shape Up for senior citizens. Charisse topped that in her seventies, with a Broadway debut as an aging ballerina in Grand Hotel (1992), and continued to make appearances in Hollywood documentaries into her eighties. She was awarded the National Medal of the Arts and Humanities by President George Bush in 2006.
In documentary crime-drama TV movie The Empire State Building Murders (2008), Cyd Charisse appeared with former co-star Kirk Douglas, as well as Ben Gazzara, Anne Jeffreys, Mickey Rooney, and Marsha Hunt. The Empire State Building Murders was Cyd Charisse’s last film acting role.
Below, Cyd Charisse in a montage of images from Ziegfeld Follies (1946), Silk Stockings (1957), and Singin’ in the Rain (1952):
(Cyd Charisse Photo Sources: YouTube | Montage: Senior City)
Cyd Charisse died at the age of 86 on June 17, 2008. She was survived by 2nd husband Tony Martin and her two sons, and left behind a wonderful legacy of dance on film.
Baby boomer Anita Hamilton lives in Hamilton, Ontario with her family and 3 mini-dachshund minions. She’s a lifelong voracious reader who enjoys researching and has extensive experience in sales, marketing and copy writing. Senior City was inspired when she had difficulty finding local housing, products and services online for her elderly parents.