Legendary actress, Cyd Charisse, was born Tula Ellice Finklea on Mar 8, 1922 in Amarillo, TX. Charisse died at the age of 86 on Jun 17, 2008 in Los Angeles, CA and was laid to rest in Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, Los Angeles County, CA.
Cyd Charisse was born Tula Ellice Finklea on March 8th, 1922 in Amarillo, Texas. Her father, Ernest, worked as jeweler while her mother, Lela, was a stay at home parent and worked with charitable organizations in her spare time. She would gain her nickname, Sid, when one of her siblings was unable to properly pronounce "sis." Despite her future kinesthetic ability, Charisse was quite sickly as a child and suffered a bout of polio at a very young age. She began taking dance lessons at six years old as a means of regaining the strength she had lost to polio. Although her lessons were for entirely pragmatic reason Charisse took to dance very naturally, much to the delight of her ballet-loving father. Ernest encouraged his daughter to explore her natural talents and eventually enrolled Charisse in a professional dancing school in Los Angeles, where she could get the training a level that was not available in her hometown of Amarillo. She was instructed by a handsome young dancer, Nico Charisse, who would later become her husband.
Charisse continued to excel in her new environment and soon after was accepted into the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo Company at the age of only. She began touring with the group under the false name Felia Sidorova. After dancing with company for sometime, Charisse received word of her father's failing health and return to Texas. She stayed with him until the time of his passing, then returned Los Angeles and resumed her training with the company.
For the next few years, Charisse traveled and toured with the company across Europe. It was during on of those tours Charisse would become reacquainted with Nico Charisse and pair soon became romantically involved. With the outbreak of World War II in Europe the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo Company was forced to break-up. Before returning to the West, Cyd and Nico traveled together to Paris, where they decided to get married. Upon their return to the United States, Cyd's very conservative family insisted that the pair be "properly married" with a traditional ceremony. After fulfilling their familial duties, the newlyweds returned to Hollywood and began instructing at Nico's dance school. Although Charisse's aspirations were to become a great prima ballerina, her personal life would make that very difficult. She had already married much younger than she had originally planned and by 1942 she had a baby. Understanding that touring with child was not easy, she decided to pursue a different route: film.
In 1943 Charisse got her start in Hollywood thanks to when her former Ballet Russe comrade, David Lichineo. When he was commissioned by Columbia Studios to choreograph a ballet number in the Gregory Ratoff musical Something to Shout About, asked Charisse to dance in the sequence. With her long, graceful legs and great natural beauty, Hollywood took notice of the young dancer. Before long Charisse began receiving more and more offers from Hollywood. She appeared as an uncredited dancer in films like Mission to Moscow, Thousands Cheer and In Our Time. In 1945 she was cast simply as "The Beauty" dancing opposite Fred Astaire in the musical revue Ziegfeld Follies. The next year, Charisse signed a seven-year contract with MGM.
After signing with MGM, the studio immediately enrolled the dancer in vocal lessons in hopes of ridding the Texan of her southern accent. Charisse's first role for the studio was the 1946 George Sidney musical The Harvey Girls starring Judy Garland. The film also provided Charisse with her first speaking role. She then followed that up with the forgettable comedy Three Wise Fools. She once gain appeared in musical revue, this time for the semi-biography picture Till The Clouds Roll By. The next year she co-starred with Margaret O'Brien in The Unfinished Dance as the shallow and ambitious dancer Ariane Bouchet. On the home front, her marriage to Nico was deteriorating fast and by the end of the 1947 the pair would divorce. She would rebound quickly, getting to do all the dating she missed out on as a teenager. By the end of 1948 she would marry again, this time to singer Tony Martin. Although her home life was looking up, she faced a great professional disappointment that year when she lost a role opposite Fred Astaire and Judy Garland in Easter Parade thanks to knee injury. She was replaced with another dancing brunette from Texas, Ann Miller. Instead she appeared with Frank Sinatra in The Kissing Bandit. Although her dance numbers were praised, the rest of the film didn't fair so well and was an all-around flop both commercially and critically. Two years later, she would lose another choice role as the female lead opposite Gene Kelly in An American in Paris but was forced to back when she became pregnant once again.
In the early 1950's Charisse starred in forgettable films such as The Mark of the Renegade and The Wild North. In 1952, however, she made her breakthrough performance in the Stanley Donan/Gene Kelly musical Singin' in the Rain. Because the Debbie Reynolds was not a trained or professional dancer, Gene Kelly was wanted Charisse to partner with him in the films biggest music number Broadway Melody. In the dance she not only showed her great skill as a dancer but had some fun with acting as well, playing both an innocent bride and vampy seductress. The film was a huge it with much praise going to Kelly and Charisse's big dance number. The success of Singin' in the Rain would lead to a starring role opposite Fred Astaire in the The Bang Wagon. In the films most memorable dance, the film-noir parody Girl Hunt, Charisse once again vamps it up as the femme fatale to Astaire stoic private eye. Despite mixed reviews about her acting skills, critics seemed to forgive her dramatic shortcomings once they saw dance.
In 1954 she starred opposite Gene Kelly in the big budget lavish Vincente Minnelli musical Brigadoon. Although the film was once of MGM biggest productions of the year, critics and audiences found the film to be lackluster, losing over half a million dollars at the box office. The next year she and Kelly would find more success with the lower-key It's Always Fair Weather. She starred with Fred Astaire one last time in the musical remake of Ninotchka titled Silk Stockings, playing the role immortalized by Greta Garbo. For her efforts Charisse was nominated for A Best Leading Actress Golden Globe Award.
Because Charisse was a dancer first and actress second, her career was thoroughly connected to the musical. By the late 1950s the movie musical as a genre began losing its appeal with mainstream audiences. She made the venture into serious acting opposite Robert Taylor in Party Girl as a dancer who gets mixed up with gangsters and thugs. Although the film was of a serious tone, Charisse still had two dance numbers. Upon its release, the film was not very successful but has since gained a considerable cult following. As the new decade reigned in, Charisse's film career continued to decline, appearing in forgettable films such as Black Tights, Two Weeks in Another Town and Assassination in Rome. She managed to score a hit with the 1966 James Bond Parody The Silencer but after that slipped into the world of television.
Later Career and Life
For the rest of her career, Charisse stayed busy mostly on the small screen making appearance on TV shows such as Hawaii Five-O, The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island. She also toured the nightclub circuit with her Husband, Tony Martin. In the 1980s, still fit and trim as ever, she made a work-out video aimed at active seniors and in 1990 she made an appearance in the Janet Jackson music video Airtight, which acted a throwback to old movie musicals of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. In 1992, at the age of 70, Charisse made her Broadway debut as the aging ballerina in The Grand Hotel. Like many greats of the Classic Hollywood era, she began to receive many accolades in her old age. In 2002 she was inducted to the Texas Film Hall of Fame and in 2006 she was presented by President George W. Bush the a National Medal of Arts. The next she year she retired from the public life, enjoying her final year in relative calm. Cyd Charisse died on June 17th, 2008 of heart attack. She was 86 years old.(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).
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