Monday, January 29, 2024

Cyd Charisse, Dancer

We all know celebrities famous during our lifetime but most of us don't know artists, musicians and actors of earlier generations. Sometimes it's worth looking at their work for sparkling brilliance. 

I've been savoring the talents of dancer/actress Cyd Charisse lately. I first heard of her in my twenties watching classic musicals. Cyd danced in dozens of them during that genre's heyday (1945-1959). She was one of only a few women who danced with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. She later compared the two titans in her memoir. 

Born in Texas in 1922, Cyd contracted polio when she was six. She took dance lessons to strengthen her body and recovered from the disease. Cyd's dancing progressed quickly and she turned pro in her teens. She was discovered by the same choreographer who found Gene Kelly. Cyd appeared in many films, some classics, and later acted on television. She lived to age 86, dying in 2008. (Most dancers live long lives from their good physical shape.)

You know instantly watching Cyd dance that she was exceptional. Her fluidity, range and poise are super-human. Fred Astaire believed she was the best female dance-partner he ever had and said "when you dance with Cyd, you stayed danced with." :)

Cyd had only a small role in "Singing In The Rain" (1952) but for the dance-finale Gene Kelly chose her instead of co-star Debbie Reynolds. Kelly explained it was because Cyd was a trained dancer and Debbie was not. 

Interesting Cyd trivia: (1) Hollywood famously insured Cyd's legs for $5 Million in the 1950s, a huge amount back then. (2) Cyd's real name was Tula Ellice Finklea. Ouch!

As obvious as her dancing talent was Cyd's beauty. Being a movie star was easy for her. She carried screen romances convincingly. In "Silk Stockings" (1957) she plays a rigid Communist Party member from Russia who visits Paris on political assignment. She becomes entranced by the city and falls in love with Fred Astaire's American character. I laugh at this dialogue from their early encounter:

[Fred] Ninotchka, don't you like me at all?

[Cyd] The arrangement of your features is not entirely repulsive to me.

[Fred] Oh, thank you. Don't you think in time you might go a little further than that?

[Cyd] I have not seen the rest of you.


  1. I've seen "Singing in the Rain" a few times - Cyd is the best!

  2. That's a new name for me! I'll have to do some old movie watching. ;)

    1. Once you know who she is, you'll see she outshines all of the rest.

  3. Hmmm, I need to rewatch singing in the rain to look out for her! Nice to know about her as I had no idea who she wss! Kxx

    1. You'll see Cyd dance -- phenomenally -- in the finale. I remember when I first saw it wondering why Debbie Reynolds wasn't Gene's dance-partner. Now I know why. Cyd was a great dancer.