Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cyd Charisse: 1922-2008

From the New York Times:

Published: June 18, 2008

Filed at 8:14 a.m. ET

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Cyd Charisse, the long-legged Texas beauty who danced with the Ballet Russe as a teenager and starred in MGM musicals with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, has died. She was 86.

Charisse was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Monday after suffering an apparent heart attack, said her publicist, Gene Schwam. She died Tuesday.

Charisse appeared in dramatic films, but her fame came from the Technicolor musicals of the 1940s and 1950s.

Classically trained, she could dance anything, from a pas de deux in 1946's ''Ziegfeld Follies'' to the lowdown Mickey Spillane satire of 1956's ''The Band Wagon'' (with Astaire).

She also forged a popular song-and-dance partnership on television and in nightclub appearances with her husband, singer Tony Martin.

Her height was 5 feet, 6 inches, but in high heels and full-length stockings, she seemed serenely tall, and she moved with extraordinary grace. Her flawless beauty and jet-black hair contributed to an aura of perfection that Astaire described in his 1959 memoir, ''Steps in Time,'' as ''beautiful dynamite.''

Her name was Tula Ellice Finklea when she was born in Amarillo, Texas, on March 8, 1922. From her earliest years she was called Sid, because her older brother couldn't say ''sister.'' She was a sickly girl who started dancing lessons to build up her strength after a bout with polio.

Oh, sweet, sweet Cyd Charisse. Arguably the greatest dance in the history of the movie musical, and one of the sexiest women to ever grace the silver screen. Green dress. Singin' in the Rain. "Broadway melody." Yowza.

Charisse kind of fills the same category as Marni Nixon for me: just under a household name in movie musical history, but a singular talent that defined the genre, beloved by aficionados and performers alike. She didn't just sparkle, she somehow managed to draw focus and make the others on screen with her look better at the same time.

There is dancing in Heaven today.

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