Cyd Charisse


Dancer
Cyd Charisse

About

Also Known As
Tula Ellice Finklea, Lily Norwood
Birth Place
Amarillo, Texas
Born
March 08, 1922
Died
June 17, 2008

Biography

No less of an icon than Fred Astaire once said about Cyd Charisse, "When you've danced with Cyd, you stay danced with." And in a sense, that was the legacy of the actress and dancer, whose sinuous style and breathtaking beauty captivated moviegoers during the 1940s and '50s in classic musicals like "Singin' in the Rain" (1952), "The Band Wagon" (1953) and "Silk Stockings" (1957). Chariss...

Photos & Videos

The Band Wagon - Cyd Charisse Publicity Series
It's Always Fair Weather - Group Publicity Stills
Brigadoon - Publicity Dancing Stills

Family & Companions

Nico Charisse
Husband
Ballet instructor. Married on August 12, 1939 in France; divorced in 1947; began studying dance with him from the age of 13.
Tony Martin
Husband
Singer. Married on May 15, 1948; born on December 25, 1912 in San Francisco; formerly married to singer and actor Alice Faye from 1937 to 1940.

Notes

Credited as Lily Norwood in first film, though in credits of second film, "Mission to Moscow," both Cyd Charisse and Lili Norwood appear.

The name Cyd evolved because her brother couldn't pronounce "Sis".

Biography

No less of an icon than Fred Astaire once said about Cyd Charisse, "When you've danced with Cyd, you stay danced with." And in a sense, that was the legacy of the actress and dancer, whose sinuous style and breathtaking beauty captivated moviegoers during the 1940s and '50s in classic musicals like "Singin' in the Rain" (1952), "The Band Wagon" (1953) and "Silk Stockings" (1957). Charisse's on-screen visibility grew less frequent with the decline of the Hollywood musical in the late 1950s, though she could be glimpsed in decorative or exotic roles in films and on television for the next four decades before her death in 2008.

Born Tula Ellice Finklea in Amarillo, TX on March 8, 1922, her screen name came from a nickname bestowed upon her by an older brother who could not pronounce "sis." Sickly from an early age after a bout with polio, she took dance lessons to regain her strength, and showed enough promise to warrant an audition with the Ballet Russes, which brought her talent to audiences both in the United States and in Europe. While in Europe, she was reunited with a young dancer she had trained with named Nico Charisse, and the couple wed in 1939. The outbreak of World War II sent her back to the United States, where she settled with her new husband in Los Angeles. While there, Ballet Russes star David Lichine tapped her to perform in a new feature, Gregory Ratloff's "Something to Shout About" (1943). The film was not a success, and though Charisse had no initial interest in becoming a movie actress, she was signed to a seven-year contract with MGM and joined the Freed Unit, one of three talent pools headed by producer/lyricist Arthur Freed and directors Jack Cummings and Joe Pasternak, who oversaw a pool of dancers, singers, choreographers and composers for MGM's musical films. She was soon put through the studio's rigorous grooming process, which gave her drama and elocution lessons to eliminate her Texas accent. She also took singing lessons, though she did not prove as talented in that department as she did at dancing, leading her numbers in subsequent musicals to be dubbed by singer India Allen.

Charisse was unbilled for several of her early appearances; among these being "Ziegfield Follies" (1944), in which she briefly shared the screen with one of her greatest future co-stars, Fred Astaire. Eventually, she worked her way up to featured dancer in a wide variety of musicals, which allowed her to show off her versatility in different styles of dance. Charisse also took the occasional dramatic role in films like the noir "Tension" (1949) and "East Side, West Side" (1949), where her dark good looks were put to use as various femme fatales or ethnic types. As her career began to gain momentum, her marriage to Charisse came to an end in 1948, but she was soon married to popular crooner Tony Martin, with whom she had a son, Tony Jr., in 1950. Her pregnancy kept her from appearing opposite then-reigning dance king Gene Kelly in his landmark "An American in Paris" (1951), but the actor-choreographer-director remembered her for his next project.

That film, "Singin' in the Rain" (1952) became her breakout film. Cast after producer Freed sought a more skilled partner for Kelly in the film's climactic "Broadway Melody Ballet," she stunned audiences and critics alike with the depth and range of her talent, which were made all the more memorable by her dark loveliness. From her first appearance as a gangster's moll dressed in flapper green dress with legs up to here, to the later romantic ballet, in which she stunned critics and audiences with her 25-foot Chinese silk scarf that floated in the air behind her with the aid of a wind machine. The film cemented her reputation as one of the most skilled dancers in Hollywood, and she quickly followed its success with another acclaimed film, "The Band Wagon" (1953), this time opposite Astaire. Charisse played a ballerina who is chosen to perform opposite Astaire's fading movie star in a dark musical interpretation of the Faust legend. The pair's initial insecurities about each other eventually give way to love, and their two dance numbers - "Dancing in the Dark" and "Girl Hunt Ballet" (which parodied the gritty hard-boiled novels of Mickey Spillane) - were among the most technically stunning and hot-blooded performances on screen during the 1950s.

Charisse was the co-star and dance partner of choice for Kelly and Astaire in some of their best efforts in the 1950s. She was Fiona Cooper, resident of "Brigadoon" (1954) and love interest to Kelly's bewildered traveler in Vincente Minnelli's film adaptation of the popular musical, and later co-starred with him in his final big-screen musical, the troubled "It's Always Fair Weather" (1955). She also appeared in Astaire's musical swan song, "Silk Stockings" (1957), a song-and-dance take on the Greta Garbo comedy "Ninotchka" (1939) with Charisse in the Garbo role. Her performance would earn her a Golden Globe nomination. When asked to name her favorite among the two screen dance legends, she cited that while Kelly was the more athletic dancer, both were "delicious" in their own way.

"Silk Stockings" also signaled the end of Charisse's career in film musicals. The impact of television and rising production costs brought an end to the genre by the late fifties, but Charisse's acting ability allowed her to segue into straight dramatic roles for much of the next decade. Unfortunately, there seemed to be little for her to do onscreen - she was largely wasted as Rock Hudson's object of desire in the turgid "Twilight for the Gods" (1958), though Nicholas Ray gave her a sizzling showcase as a dancer in his cult favorite "Party Girl" (1958). She was also featured in a supporting role in the unreleased "Something's Got to Give" (1962), which was Marilyn Monroe's final screen appearance.

By the mid-1960s, Charisse was making features largely in Europe, where her poise and looks earned her regular employment in exotic, regal roles, such as a baroness opposite Ernie Kovacs' Italian con man in "Five Golden Hours" (1961). Television, which had become the refuge of the musical in the 1960s, offered more opportunities for audiences to enjoy her abilities. She was front and center in a 1959 episode of the variety series "Startime" (NBC, 1959-1960) called "Meet Cyd Charisse," and she gave an excellent reminder of her talents at both the 33rd and 38th Academy Awards ceremonies in 1961 and 1966, respectively. Visitors to Las Vegas could also see her perform with Martin as part of a successful nightclub act during these years.

Charisse was an infrequent guest star on television dramas during the 1970s and '80s, and penned a tandem autobiography with Martin in 1976 titled The Two of Us. More often than not, she was featured in retrospective specials and documentaries about the Golden Age of Hollywood or in tributes to Astaire and Kelly. The 1990s proved to be a more fruitful time for her - not only did she achieve her long-standing goal of appearing on Broadway by starring as a fading Russian ballerina in the 1990 production of the musical "Grand Hotel," but she gained exposure to a whole new audience with a cameo in Janet Jackson's music video for "Alright" in 1990. She also followed in the footsteps of her former co-star Debbie Reynolds by releasing her own senior-oriented exercise video, "Easy Energy Shape Up," in 1990.

Charisse made her final on-camera appearance in "Satin and Silk," a 2003 documentary about the making of "Silk Stockings" that appeared on its DVD release. Three years later, she was given the National Medal of the Arts and Humanities by President George W. Bush in a private ceremony at the White House. On June 16 2008, Charisse was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Hospital after suffering from a reported heart attack; she died the following day at the age of 86, one of the last surviving of the MGM musical stars during that genre's heyday.

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Empire State Building Murders (2008)
Musicals Great Musicals (1996)
That's Entertainment! III (1994)
MGM: When the Lion Roars (1992)
Visioni Privati (1990)
Swimsuit (1989)
The Portrait of An Escort (1980)
Warlords Of Atlantis (1978)
Maroc 7 (1968)
Louise Henderson
The Silencers (1966)
Sarita
Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)
Carlotta
Black Tights (1962)
The widow
Five Golden Hours (1961)
Baronessa Sandra
Black Tights (1960)
Party Girl (1958)
Vicki Gaye
Twilight for the Gods (1958)
Charlotte King, also known as Inez Leidstrom
Silk Stockings (1957)
Ninotchka Yoschenko
Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956)
Maria Corvier
It's Always Fair Weather (1955)
Jackie Leighton
Brigadoon (1954)
Fiona Campbell
Deep in My Heart (1954)
[performer in] "The Desert Song"
Sombrero (1953)
Lola de Torrano
The Band Wagon (1953)
Gabrielle Gerard
Easy to Love (1953)
Nightclub dancer
Singin' in the Rain (1952)
Dancer
The Wild North (1952)
Indian girl
The Mark of the Renegade (1951)
Manuella de Vasquez
East Side, West Side (1950)
Rosa Senta
Tension (1949)
Mary Chanler
The Kissing Bandit (1949)
Fiesta specialty dance
Words and Music (1948)
Herself/Margo Grant
On an Island with You (1948)
Yvonne Torro
Till the Clouds Roll By (1947)
Dance specialty
The Unfinished Dance (1947)
Mlle. Ariane Bouchet
Fiesta (1947)
Conchita
Ziegfeld Follies (1946)
Ballerina in "Beauty"
The Harvey Girls (1946)
Deborah
Three Wise Fools (1946)
Rena Fairchild
Something to Shout About (1943)
Lily
Mission to Moscow (1943)
Specialty dancer

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Film Portrait (1972)
Other

Cast (Special)

Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days (2001)
Skitch Henderson at 80 (1998)
Musicals Great Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit at MGM (1996)
Intimate Portrait: Marilyn Monroe (1996)
Inside The Dream Factory (1995)
Cyd Charisse (1994)
The Golden Globe's 50th Anniversary Celebration (1994)
The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts (1992)
Performer
You're the Top: The Cole Porter Story (1990)
America's Dance Honors (1990)
The 61st Annual Academy Awards Presentation (1989)
Performer
America's All-Star Tribute to Elizabeth Taylor (1989)
Performer
Lerner & Loewe: Broadway's Last Romantics (1988)
Happy Birthday, Hollywood! (1987)
The American Film Institute Salute to Gene Kelly (1985)
Performer
The American Film Institute Salute to Fred Astaire (1981)
Performer
Gene Kelly... An American in Pasadena (1978)
Fol-De-Rol (1972)
Hollywood: The Dream Factory (1972)
The Cyd Charisse Special (1967)
Host
Center Stage: Cyd Charisse (1967)
Host
Meet Cyd Charisse (1959)
Host
Spring Holiday (1956)
Guest

Cast (Short)

1955 Motion Picture Theatre Celebration (International) (1955)
Herself
Love is Nothing But a Racket (1955)
Motion Picture Theatre Celebration (1955) (1955)
Herself
Two-Faced Woman (1953)
Performer
The Gay Parisian (1941)

Life Events

1935

Toured the U.S. with Ballet Russe's corp de ballet

1943

Offered dancing roles in Gregory Ratoff's "Something to Shout About" and "Mission to Moscow"

1944

Signed to MGM contract

1945

Danced (unbilled) in a ballet around Fred Astaire in "Ziegfeld Follies"

1946

Film acting debut in "The Harvey Girls"

1948

Offered second lead role in "Easter Parade"; broke leg and role went to Ann Miller

1949

First dramatic film role in "East Side, West Side"

1951

Lost lead role opposite Gene Kelly in "An American in Paris" because of pregnancy

1951

Played first romantic lead opposite Ricardo Montalban in "Mark of the Renegade"

1952

Achieved star status as Gene Kelly's dance partner in the climactic 'Broadway Melody' number of "Singin' in the Rain"

1953

First female lead, opposite Fred Astaire, in the musical "The Band Wagon"

1957

Played last starring role, opposite Fred Astaire, in the musical "Silk Stockings"

1959

Hosted the TV variety special, "Meet Cyd Charisse"

1963

Made her nightclub debut with husband Tony Martin

1967

Starred in two TV concert performance specials, "The Cyd Charisse Special" and "Center Stage: Cyd Charisse"

1976

Published dual autobiography with Tony Martin, <i>The Two of Us</i>

1991

Made Broadway debut as a replacement for Liliane Montevecchi in the musical, "Grand Hotel"

1994

Co-hosted the documentary, "That's Entertainment III," a salute to MGM musicals from the late 1920s through the 50s

Photo Collections

The Band Wagon - Cyd Charisse Publicity Series
Here is a series of publicity stills taken of Cyd Charisse to help publicize MGM's The Band Wagon (1953).
It's Always Fair Weather - Group Publicity Stills
Here are a few cast Publicity Stills taken for It's Always Fair Weather (1955), starring Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Dan Dailey, Dolores Gray, and Michael Kidd. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Brigadoon - Publicity Dancing Stills
Here are some Publicity Stills from Brigadoon (1954), featuring the dancing of Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
4th of July MGM Pin-Up Publicity Stills
Here are a few patriotic-themed 4th of July Pin-Up Stills taken in the late 1940s to promote MGM starlets Ann Miller, Cyd Charisse, Elizabeth Taylor, and Vera-Ellen.
Meet Me in Las Vegas - Costume Sketches
Here are a few original costume design sketches by Helen Rose for MGM's Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956), starring Cyd Charisse. Note the approvals by producer Joe Pasternak and director Roy Rowland.
The Band Wagon - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's The Band Wagon (1953), directed by Vincente Minnelli, and starring Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Oscar Levant, and Nanette Fabray.
Two Weeks in Another Town - Movie Poster
Here is the American One-Sheet Movie Poster from Two Weeks in Another Town (1962). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Silk Stockings - Cyd Charisse Publicity Stills
Here are several photos of Cyd Charisse taken to help publicize MGM's Silk Stockings (1957). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Tension - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from MGM's Tension (1949), starring Audrey Totter, Richard Basehart, and Cyd Charisse. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
East Side, West Side - Movie Poster
Here is an original half-sheet movie poster for MGM's East Side, West Side (1949), starring Barbara Stanwyck, James Mason, Ava Gardner, and Van Heflin.

Videos

Movie Clip

On An Island With You (1948) — (Movie Clip) Nightingale (Dance) Smitten Navy movie technical adviser Kingsley (Peter Lawford) gets turned down by the star Roz (Esther Williams, backed by her director, Dick Simmons), slipping into a dance number for her fiancè and co-star (Ricardo Montalban) and the second lead (Cyd Charisse), Xaiver Cugat’s group backing with his own composition, in MGM’s On An Island With You, 1948.
Party Girl (1958) - He's Out There Again Mob lawyer Farrell (Robert Taylor) gets an eye-full of Vicki (Cyd Charisse) in hot pink for her first dance number in Nicholas Ray's Party Girl, 1958, choreography by Robert Sidney.
Party Girl (1958) - Would You Like To Take Me Home? Paid with girlfriends from the night club to attend a party thrown by Chicago gang boss Rico (Lee J. Cobb), who’s distraught over the marriage of movie star Jean Harlow, savvy dancer Vicki (Cyd Charisse) meets thug Louis (John Ireland) and lawyer Farrell (Robert Taylor, his first scene), in director Nicholas Ray’s crime-musical hybrid Party Girl, 1958.
Party Girl (1958) - Happy New Year Gangster Canetto (John Ireland) is transfixed by Vicki (Cyd Charisse) and her New Year's night club dance and can't resist a visit backstage, in Nicholas Ray's Party Girl, 1958.
Silk Stockings (1957) - Siberia Ninotchka (Cyd Charisse) delivers bad news to the commissars (Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin and Joseph Buloff) who launch into Cole Porter's "Siberia," in Silk Stockings, Rouben Mamoulian's 1957 musical remake of Ninotchka, 1939.
Silk Stockings (1957) - Red Blues Put forward as a deliberately "decadent composition" (a Cole Porter original), and supposedly taking place in the apartment of Ninotchka (Cyd Charisse) back in Moscow, the whole neighborhood takes notice, Eugene Loring choreography, in the MGM musical re-make Silk Stockings, 1957.
Party Girl (1958) - Those Guys Are Dead! Gang boss Rico (Lee J. Cobb) explains to lawyer Farrell (Robert Taylor) how he's gotta defend ambitious thug Cookie (Corey Allen) or else, in Nicholas Ray's Party Girl, 1958.
Silk Stockings (1957) - Ritz Roll Rock Returned to Paris, Ninotchka (Cyd Charisse) is hustled into a nightclub where she is surprised to see Steve (Fred Astaire) performing Cole Porter's "Ritz Roll Rock," choreography by Hermes Pan, in Rouben Mamoulian's remake of the Lubitsch comedy, Silk Stockings, 1957.
Band Wagon, The (1953) - Dem Bones Cafe Michael Kidd choreography, setting designed by Oliver Smith, in the "Dem Bones Cafe" section of the "Girl Hunt" ballet, Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse generating gangster heat, in Vincente Minnelli's The Band Wagon, 1953.
Band Wagon, The (1953) - Dancing In The Dark Ballerina Gaby (Cyd Charisse) and comeback-track movie star Tony (Fred Astaire) have suddenly warmed to each other, strolling in Central Park into "Dancing In The Dark," by Arthur Schwartz, choreographed by Michael Kidd, in The Band Wagon, 1953.
It's Always Fair Weather (1955) - Baby You Knock Me Out Lou Lubin and Harry Wilson leading the thuggy chorus wrapping one Andre Previn, Betty Comden and Adolph Green tune (basically a fight song for fictional "Stillman's Gym"), Cyd Charisse (as sports-savvy TV producer "Jackie") crushing the next, a famous bit from the Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen-directed It's Always Fair Weather, 1955.
Two Weeks In Another Town (1962) - Under The Flag Of Liberia Now working in Rome on the picture directed by his old friend Kruger (Edward G. Robinson), recovering alcoholic actor-producer Jack (Kirk Douglas) is having trouble with his ex-wife (Cyd Charisse) before Mrs. Kruger (Claire Trevor) snaps during a toast, in Vincente Minnelli’s Two Weeks In Another Town, 1962.

Trailer

Singin' in the Rain - (Original Trailer) A silent screen swashbuckler (Gene Kelly) finds love while trying to adjust to the coming of sound in Singin' in the Rain (1952), directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen.
Three Wise Fools - (Original Trailer) An orphan girl (Margaret O'Brien) melts the hearts of three crusty old men (Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone, Edward Arnold).
East Side, West Side - (Original Trailer) Chic New York couple Barbara Stanwyck and James Mason are torn apart by a seductive model in East Side, West Side (1950).
Deep in My Heart -- (Original Trailer) Jose Ferrer stars in Deep in My Heart (1954), MGM's all-star biography of Broadway songsmith Sigmund Romberg.
Words And Music - (Original Trailer) Judy Garland, Lena Horne and Perry Como perform the songs of Rodgers and Hart in Words And Music (1948).
Two Weeks in Another Town - (Original Trailer) A recovering alcoholic film director tries for a comeback in Rome in Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) starring Kirk Douglas & Edward G. Robinson.
Ziegfeld Follies - (Original Trailer) Legendary showman Flo Ziegfeld imagines the kind of Follies he could produce with MGM's musical stars in Ziegfeld Follies (1946) starring Judy Garland.
Wild North, The - (Original Trailer) Mountie Wendell Corey tracks accused killer Stewart Granger through the Canadian wilderness in the color adventure The Wild North (1952).
Band Wagon, The - (Original Trailer) A Broadway artiste turns a faded film star's comeback vehicle into an artsy flop in The Band Wagon (1953), starring Fred Astaire.
Silk Stockings - (Original Trailer) A straitlaced Soviet agent is seduced by the romantic allure of Paris in Silk Stockings (1957), starring Fred Astaire & Cyd Charisse.
Meet Me in Las Vegas - (Original Trailer) A ballerina (Cyd Charisse) becomes a lucky charm for a gambler in Meet Me In Las Vegas (1956).
On an Island with You - (Original Trailer) A movie star (Esther Williams) falls for a handsome naval officer during location shooting in Hawaii in the Technicolor musical On an Island with You (1948).

Hosted Intro

Family

Ernest Finklea
Father
Jewelry store owner. Died c. 1934.
Lela Finklea
Mother
Nicky Charisse
Son
Born 1940; father Nico Charisse.
Tony Martin Jr
Son
Born 1950; father Tony Martin.

Companions

Nico Charisse
Husband
Ballet instructor. Married on August 12, 1939 in France; divorced in 1947; began studying dance with him from the age of 13.
Tony Martin
Husband
Singer. Married on May 15, 1948; born on December 25, 1912 in San Francisco; formerly married to singer and actor Alice Faye from 1937 to 1940.

Bibliography

Notes

Credited as Lily Norwood in first film, though in credits of second film, "Mission to Moscow," both Cyd Charisse and Lili Norwood appear.

The name Cyd evolved because her brother couldn't pronounce "Sis".