Dancer, Actress Cyd Charisse Dies
MGM musical star struck with apparant heart attack
See Cyd Charisse (pictured above in 2004) in clip below of her smoldering dance match-up with Fred Astaire in 1953 MGM classic The Band Wagon. Press arrow to play video.
From The Band Wagon, distributed by
Los Angeles, CA - Cyd Charisse, the long-legged dancer who performed with the Ballet Russe in her teens and was a fixture in several classic MGM musicals, died Tuesday at age 86.
Charisse was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Monday after suffering an apparent heart attack.
Born Tula Ellice Finklea on March 8, 1922, in Amarillo, Texas, on March 8, 1922, she earned the nickname “Sid” because her older brother couldn’t say “sister.” She began dancing in an effort to regain strength following a bout with polio.
At 14 she joined the renowned Ballet Russe, the nearly all-Russian company with whom she toured the U.S. and Europe. During the European tour, she encountered Nico Charisse, a dancer with whom she had studied in Los Angeles. They married in Paris in 1939.
When the Ballet Russe disbanded after the outbreak of World War II, the young couple returned to Hollywood.
She broke into movies in 1943 when, billed as Lily Norwood, she was cast in a ballet sequence in the 1943 Columbia Pictures musical Something to Shout About, starring Don Ameche and Janet Blair.
Although she had always regarded herself as a dancer, and did not have ambitions to become a film actress, the ballet sequence led to other movie offers.
She signed a seven-year contract with MGM, where she adopted the name Cyd Charisse. A breakthrough came in the 1952 classic Singin’ in the Rain, in which she danced the climactic “Broadway Melody'” number with Gene Kelly.
Other musicals included Ziegfeld Follies, Brigadoon, It’s Always Fair Weather, Invitation to the Dance, The Band Wagon and Silk Stockings. She also appeared in the occasional dramatic film, including East Side, West Side, Tension and Mark of the Renegade.
As the Hollywood musical declined in popularity Charisse turned to more dramatic films. She also performed in a live musical act with her second husband, singer-actor Tony Martin, whom she married in 1948, a year after her divorce from Nico Charisse.
She also began performing on television, including numerous appearances on variety shows and her own NBC special, Meet Cyd Charisse. She also made guest appearances on series ranging from Hawaii Five-O and The Love Boat to Murder, She Wrote and Frasier.
She is survived by Martin and two sons—Nicky, from her marriage to Chairsse, and Tony Jr., from her marriage to Martin.
Cyd Charisse talks with the Archive of American Television
Cyd Charisse granted the Archive of American Television an exclusive, in-depth interview, which may be viewed at the Television Archive office, located on the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences plaza in North Hollywood. Footage of this conversation will be viewable online soon via Google Video as well.
Charisse spoke with the Archive about her start as a dancer for the Ballet Russe and her her 14-year tenure under contract at MGM studios. In great detail, she described the fertile training ground MGM offered for nurturing its contract talent.
She discussed her many television appearances, including the specials Meet Cyd Charisse, Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall and the Bob Hope specials, as well as her multiple appearances with her husband Tony Martin on The Hollywood Palace.
To screen Cyc Charisse's inerview in its entirety, contact the Television Archive at (818) 754-2800 for more information.
To learn more about this life and works of this American Archive of Television personality online, please visit the Archive of American Television Update blog.