CYD CHARISSE


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Cyd Charisse was born Tula Ellice Finklea in Amarillo, Texas in 1921. When she was six she caught polio, and she was lucky enough to recover, and her parents started her dancing to regain her strength. She started ballet at 12 and a couple of years later she joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and went on a tour of Europe with them. While on tour, she met a dancer named Nico Charisse, and she married him when she turned 18, and they had a son. She also benefited by gaining her husband's last name, a big improvement over "Finklea" (the Cyd came from her childhood nickname, "Sid"). When World War II started, that ended the tours, and she moved to Los Angeles, where she was spotted by MGM and started appearing in their movies in 1943 (during that year, she would be billed under the stage name of "Lily Norwood"), in roles where she danced ballet. She appeared in around 25 MGM movies over the next 15 years. At first she solely danced, and then MGM cast her in some acting roles as "ethnic types" (like as a Polynesian girl in On an Island with You) but soon she was playing regular female leads in movies where she danced as well. Her best known appearance was in the "Broadway Melody" ballet finale from Singin' in the Rain, but she had many other great movies, and she co-starred with both Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. She was supposed to play the female lead in An American in Paris, but she was pregnant with her second child, and the role went to Leslie Caron. As the era of musicals came to an end in the late 1950s, Charisse switched over to straight dramatic roles. She had gotten divorced in 1947 and the following year she had married actor Tony Martin, who had previously been married to actress Alice Faye. They remained married for the next 60 years (until her passing in 2008 at the age of 86) and while it is rare for any Hollywood marriage to last a very long time as theirs did, this one was doubly rare, both because it was a second marriage for both of them, and because they were both active show business stars, which normally puts a great strain on any marriage. Charisse was a beautiful, talented, classy lady was a great dancer with incredible legs (in 1952 they were insured for 5 million dollars!). I highly recommend her movies, especially Brigadoon, Singin' in the Rain, The Band Wagon, and Silk Stockings (a musical remake of Ninotchka)!
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