CYD CHARISSE, the long-legged beauty who danced with the Ballet Russe as a teenager and starred in MGM musicals with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, died on Tuesday in Los Angeles aged 86.
Charisse was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre after suffering an apparent heart attack, said her publicist, Gene Schwam.
She 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 the 1946 Ziegfeld Follies to the lowdown Mickey Spillane satire of 1953’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 beauty was breathtaking,” Debbie Reynolds, who starred with Charisse in the 1952 classic Singin’ in the Rain, said in a statement. “The world will miss her dancing.”
Charisse arrived at MGM as the studio was establishing itself as the king of musicals. She first gained notice as a member of the Ballet Russe and got her start in Hollywood when David Lichine was hired by Columbia Pictures for a ballet sequence in a 1943 Don Ameche-Janet Blair musical, Something to Shout About.
Although that film failed to live up to its title, its ballet sequence attracted wide notice, and Charisse (then billed as Lily Norwood) began receiving movie offers.
Singin’ in the Rain marked a breakthrough. Charisse danced with Kelly in the Broadway Melody number that climaxed the movie. She stunned critics and audiences with her 25-foot Chinese silk scarf that floated in the air with the aid of a wind machine.
Charisse also danced with Kelly in Brigadoon, It’s Always Fair Weather and Invitation to the Dance.
She missed what might have been her greatest opportunity: to appear with Kelly in the 1951 Academy Award winner, An American in Paris. She was pregnant, and Leslie Caron was cast in the role.
Charisse was Tula Ellice Finklea when she was born in Amarillo, Texas, on March 8, 1922.
In 1942, a son, Nicky, was born to her and then husband, Nico Charisse.
In 1948, the year after she and Nico divorced, Charisse married Martin. Her second son, Tony, was born in 1950.
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