Cyd and I shared a birthday, March 8. She was born in 1922 (dates vary in books and reports, but according to the 1930 U.S. Federal Census it is 1922) as Tula Ellice Finklea. She gained the nickname “Sid” when her brother couldn’t pronounce “Sis”, and gained the more glamorous “Cyd” after moving to Hollywood. She studied ballet as a young girl, and married her dance teacher, Nico Charisse, in 1948. They had a son, Nicky, in 1942, but the couple later divorced. Cyd married singer Tony Martin in 1949 and had another son, Tony, Jr., in 1950.
After performing in minor dancing roles in the movies, including some uncredited parts, Cyd’s “big break” came with her appearance in Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain. Her role was strictly a dancing part as the “vamp” in a dream-ballet sequence, but her sultry performance stole the show. Never before had a dancer exuded such eroticism on screen!
Audiences were hooked! In 1953 she gained the starring role in The Band Wagon opposite Fred Astaire. Although another actress was dubbed for the singing, Cyd’s performance was fantastic. “The Girl Hunt” ballet, slightly reminiscent of the SITR “Broadway Ballet” number, is still considered to be one of the best screen performances in a musical.
Cyd went on to star in a few other movies, including Brigadoon and It’s Always Fair Weather with Gene, and Silk Stockings with Fred. Because of her vast experience working and dancing with both men, I have always appreciated her much-quoted comment when asked which one was the better dancer. Her response: “It’s like comparing apples and oranges; they’re both delicious.”
Cyd’s career didn’t end with her last musical screen performance in Silk Stockings! She appeared in many television and movies specials over the years, as well as a nightclub act with her husband, Tony Martin. Cyd even made her Broadway debut in 1992 at the age of 70 in Grand Hotel.
Her beauty was stunning even as she aged; her dancing, timeless. She will be greatly missed. Fortunately, her art will live forever. Future generations will surely remember her as one of the greats.
For more information on Cyd Charisse: