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- Beautiful Dynamite
- Tula Ellice Finklea
- Amarillo Texas USA
- United States
- Actress Dancer
- Amazing Legs
Cyd Charisse Early life
Charisse was born as Tula Elice Finklea in Amarillo, Texas, the daughter of Lela (née Norwood) and Ernest Enos Finklea, Sr., who was a jeweler. Her nickname "Sid" was taken from a sibling trying to say "Sis". (It was later spelled "Cyd" at MGM to give her an air of mystery.) She was a sickly girl who started dancing lessons at six to build up her strength after a bout with polio. At 12, she studied ballet in Los Angeles with Adolph Bolm and Bronislawa Nijinska, and at 14, she auditioned for and subsequently danced in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as "Felia Siderova" and, later, "Maria Istomina".
During a European tour, she met up again with Nico Charisse, a handsome young dancer she had studied with for a time in Los Angeles. They married in Paris in 1939. They had a son, Nicky, born in 1942.
Cyd Charisse Career
The outbreak of World War II led to the break-up of the company, and when Charisse returned to Los Angeles, David Lichine offered her a dancing role in Gregory Ratoff's Something to Shout About. This brought her to the attention of choreographer Robert Alton, who had also discovered Gene Kelly, and soon she joined the Freed Unit at MGM, where she became the resident MGM ballet dancer.
Charisse was principally celebrated for her on-screen pairings with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. She first appeared with Astaire in a brief routine in Ziegfeld Follies (produced in 1944 and released in 1946). Her next appearance with him was as lead female role in The Band Wagon (1953), where she danced with Astaire in the acclaimed "Dancing in the Dark" and "Girl Hunt Ballet" routines. Another early role cast her opposite Judy Garland in the 1946 film The Harvey Girls.
As Debbie Reynolds was not a trained dancer, Gene Kelly chose Charisse to partner him in the celebrated "Broadway Melody" ballet finale from Singin' in the Rain (1952), and she co-starred with Kelly in 1954's Scottish-themed musical film Brigadoon. She again took the lead female role alongside Kelly in his penultimate MGM musical It's Always Fair Weather (1956).
In 1957, she rejoined Astaire in the film version of Silk Stockings, a musical remake of 1939's Ninotchka, with Charisse taking over Greta Garbo's role. In his autobiography, Astaire paid tribute to Charisse, calling her "beautiful dynamite" and writing: "That Cyd! When you've danced with her you stay danced with."
In her autobiography, Charisse reflected on her experience with Astaire and Kelly: "As one of the handful of girls who worked with both of those dance geniuses, I think I can give an honest comparison. In my opinion, Kelly is the more inventive choreographer of the two. Astaire, with Hermes Pan's help, creates fabulous numbers — for himself and his partner. But Kelly can create an entire number for somebody else ... I think, however, that Astaire's coordination is better than Kelly's ... his sense of rhythm is uncanny. Kelly, on the other hand, is the stronger of the two. When he lifts you, he lifts you! ... To sum it up, I'd say they were the two greatest dancing personalities who were ever on screen. But it's like comparing apples and oranges. They're both delicious."
After the decline of the Hollywood musical in the late 1950s, Charisse retired from dancing but continued to appear in film and TV productions from the 1960s through the 1990s. She had a supporting role in "Something's Got To Give", the last, unfinished film of Marilyn Monroe. She made cameo appearances in Blue Mercedes's "I Want To Be Your Property" (1987) and Janet Jackson's "Alright" (1990) music videos.
Cyd Charisse Personal life
Charisse was married to singer Tony Martin from 1948 until her death. The marriage lasted almost 60 years, a notable length among Hollywood marriages, matched in 2008 amongst living American actors by only Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson (also married in 1948). Her first husband, whose surname she kept, was Nico Charisse; they were married from 1939 to 1947.
She had two sons, Nico "Nicky" Charisse from her first marriage, and Tony Martin, Jr., born 1950, from her second. One of her daughters-in-law is Liv Lindeland, who was Playboy magazine's Playmate of the Year for 1972. A niece of hers by marriage is actress Nana Visitor.
Charisse wrote a joint biography with Martin (and Dick Kleiner) entitled The Two of Us (1976). She was featured in the 2001 Guinness Book of World Records under "Most Valuable Legs", since a $5 million insurance policy was reportedly accepted on her legs in 1952. MGM was reputed to have insured her legs for a million dollars each, but Charisse later revealed that that had been an invention of the MGM publicity machine.
In 1990, following similar moves by MGM colleagues Debbie Reynolds and Angela Lansbury, Charisse produced the exercise video Easy Energy Shape Up, targeted for active senior citizens.
Cyd Charisse Later years and death
In her eighties, Charisse made occasional public appearances and appeared frequently in documentaries spotlighting the golden age of Hollywood. She made her Broadway debut in 1992 in the musical version of Grand Hotel as the aging ballerina, Elizaveta Grushinskaya.
Publicist Gene Schwam said Charisse was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, on June 16, 2008 after suffering an apparent heart attack. She died the following day, aged 86. She was buried at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City on June 22, 2008.
Cyd Charisse Trivia
She danced with the Ballet Russe using the names Maria Istomina and Felia Sidorova.
Took her name Cyd from a nickname originated from her brother. Initially he could not say sister and called her Sid. She took the nickname and convinced her agent to keep the name with the present spelling. He feared that Sid was too masculine.
Although one of the greatest female dancers in the history of the movie musical, her singing in films was almost always dubbed, most notably by Carol Richards in Brigadoon (1954) and a young Vikki Carr in The Silencers (1966).
Aunt, by marriage, of actress Nana Visitor, Ian Tucker and Zan Charisse.
Measurements: 34 1/2B-22-37 (in 1953), (Source: Celebrity Sleuth magazine)
Was "the other woman" in Marilyn Monroe's last and unfinished film, Something's Got to Give (1962).
In 1952 she had a $5-million insurance policy accepted on her legs.
In Call Her Mom (1972) (TV), she was originally to have done the part played by Gloria DeHaven, but was replaced by Ann Miller before DeHaven finally took over the role.
When casting the film Damn Yankees! (1958), the studio was initially interested in pursuing Cyd as Lola and Cary Grant as Applegate. In the end, Gwen Verdon won the right to recreate her stage role with Ray Walston the devilish Applegate. Cyd was supposedly unavailable but later played the role on the legit stage.
Lost out on two of MGM's biggest movie musical roles. She fell and injured her knee during a dance leap on a film which forced her out of the role of Nadina Hale in Easter Parade (1948). Ann Miller replaced her. She also had to relinquish the lead femme role in An American in Paris (1951) due to pregnancy. Leslie Caron took over the part and became a star.
Was offered the lead role of Jo Stockton in Funny Face (1957) but declined. The role was eventually played by Audrey Hepburn.
One son with her husband, Tony Martin: Tony Martin Jr.
Daughter-in-law, Sheila Charisse, killed in the May 25, 1979 crash of American Airlines flight 191 shortly after takeoff from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
She was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts in 2006 by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington D.C. for her services to dance.
Son Nicholas was born May 7, 1942.
Son Tony Martin Jr. was born August 28, 1950.
Unlike many top female dancers in the era of movie musicals, she was trained as a ballerina in the Russian tradition.
The director of the Ballet Russe dance company, Col. W. de Basil visited the school and saw her dance. He invited her to join his company, and she toured with it. In 1939, while she was in France on tour with the ballet company, she and Nico Charise eloped. They had one son, Nico, before their marriage ended in divorce in 1947.
During a family vacation in Los Angeles when she was 12, her parents enrolled her in ballet classes at a school in Hollywood. One of her teachers was Nico Charise.
Grew up in the Texas dust-bowl town of Amarillo. Her Baptist jeweler father, a closet balletomane, encouraged her to begin her ballet lessons for health reasons.
Her father, Ernest Enos Finklea, Jr., was a jeweler. Her mother was Lela Norwood Finklea.
Said her husband could tell who she had been dancing with that day on an MGM set. If she came home covered with bruises on her, it was the very physically-demanding Gene Kelly, if not it was the smooth and agile Fred Astaire.
Was 70 years old when she made her Broadway debut in "Grand Hotel".
Met first husband Nico Charise, as a very young dancer. She had studied with him for a time in Los Angeles. They married in Paris in 1939 when she was still a teenager. When the Ballet Russe disbanded after WWII broke out, the still newlyweds moved to Hollywood.
First started taking lessons at the encouragement of her father, Ernest. She was frail and sickly at the time and had a bout with polio. Dance lessons were encouraged to build up her strength and she took to it quickly.
Got her start in Hollywood when Ballet Russe star David Lichine was hired by Columbia for a ballet sequence in the musical film Something to Shout About (1943). Cyd, who was then billed as Lily Norwood, appeared in the scene and attracted attention. Movie offers, including a dancing role opposite Astaire in Ziegfeld Follies (1946), led to a seven-year contract offer by MGM.
First gained notice with the famed Ballet Russe, becoming a member of the corps de ballet at age 14 and touring the U.S. and Europe. The company requested that their members use Russian-sounding names so she was billed at different times Natacha Tulaelis, Celia Siderova and Maria Istromena.
Fred Astaire, in his 1959 memoir "Steps in Time," referred to Cyd as "beautiful dynamite".
She and husband Tony Martin became a popular song-and-dance couple on TV and in nightclubs/cabaret shows after their heyday in film.
Her dark looks initially had her cast as ethnic lovelies. She was cast as Ricardo Montalban's fiancée in the film Fiesta (1947), and as a Polynesian in the Esther Williams' starrer On an Island with You (1948).
Has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
She was inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame in March 2002 in Austin, Texas.