Tula Ellice Finklea in Amarillo, Texas, 8 March 1921 (some sources list
Married 1) the dancer Nico Charisse, 1939 (divorced 1947); 2) the singer
Tony Martin, 1948.
1934—joined Ballet Russe; late 1930s-early 1940s—European
tour with Ballet Russe interrupted by World War II; 1943—began
working in films as bit player under the name Lily Norwood;
1946—contract with MGM as Cyd Charisse; 1960s—begins
appearing in European films; appeared in nightclub revue with husband Tony
Martin; 1972—in Australian stage production of
No, No Nanette
; 1992—Broadway debut in
10390 Wilshire Boulevard #1507, Los Angeles, CA 90024, U.S.A.
Films as Actress:
Something to Shout About (Ratoff) (as Lily, credited as Lily Norwood); Mission to Moscow (Curtiz) (as specialty dancer); Thousands Cheer (Sidney)
The Harvey Girls (Sidney) (as Deborah); "Meet the Ladies" ep. of Ziegfeld Follies (Minnelli or Sidney) (as ballet dancer); Three Wise Fools (Buzzell) (as Rena Fairchild); Till the Clouds Roll By (Whorf)
Fiesta (Thorpe) (as Conchita); The Unfinished Dance (Koster) (as Mlle. Ariane Bouchet)
On an Island with You (Thorpe) (as Yvonne Torro); The Kissing Bandit (Benedek) (as fiesta dancer); Words and Music (Taurog) (as Margo Grant)
Tension (Berry) (as Mary Chanler); East Side, West Side (LeRoy) (as Rosa Senta)
Mark of the Renegade (Fregonese) (as Manuella)
Singin' in the Rain (Kelly and Donen) (as dancer); The Wild North (Marton) (as Indian girl)
Sombrero (Norman Foster) (as Lola de Torrano); The Band Wagon (Minnelli) (as Gaby Gerard); Easy to Love (Walters)
Deep in My Heart (Donen); Brigadoon (Minnelli) (as Fiona Campbell)
It's Always Fair Weather (Kelly and Donen) (as Jackie Leighton)
Meet Me in Las Vegas ( Viva Las Vegas ) (Rowland) (as Maria Corvier)
Silk Stockings (Mamoulian) (as Ninotchka); Invitation to the Dance (Kelly)
Twilight for the Gods (Pevney) (as Charlotte King); Party Girl (Nicholas Ray) (as Vicki Gaye)
"Deuil en 24 heures" ("A Merry Mourning") ep. of Les Collants noirs ( Un, deux, trois, quatre? ; Black Tights ) (Terence Young)
Five Golden Hours (Zampi) (as Baronessa Sandra)
Two Weeks in Another Town (Minnelli) (as Carlotta)
Il segreto del vestito rosso ( Assassinio Made in Italy ; Murderer Made in Italy ) (Amadio)
The Silencers (Karlson) (as Sarita)
Maroc 7 (O'Hara) (as Louise Henderson)
Call Her Mom (Paris—for TV)
Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (Winner)
Warlords of Atlantis (Connor) (as Atsil)
Portrait of an Escort (Stern—for TV)
That's Dancing (Haley Jr.—doc)
Swimsuit (Thomson—for TV) (as Mrs. Allison)
Visioni Privati ( Private Screening )
Frasier (Ackerman, Beren—for TV) (voice)
That's Entertainment! III (Friedgen and Sheridan) (as host); Burke's Law (Chalmers, Conway—for TV) (as Amanda Richardson)
By CHARISSE: book—
The Two of Us , with Tony Martin, New York, 1976.
On CHARISSE: books—
Kobal, John, Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance , New York, 1970.
Thomas, Lawrence B., The MGM Years , New Rochelle, New York, 1972.
Stern, Lee Edward, The Movie Musical , New York, 1974.
Missiaen, Jean Claude, Cyd Charisse: du ballet classique a la comedie musicale , Paris, 1978.
Thomas, Tony, That's Dancing! , New York, 1985.
Altman, Rick, The American Film Musical , Bloomington, Indiana, 1989.
Stars (Mariembourg), Winter 1993.
On CHARISSE: articles—
Current Biography 1954 , New York, 1954.
Ecran (Paris), March 1978.
Wolf, W. R., "Making Singin' in the Rain ," in Film en Televisie (Brussels), March 1979.
Leahy, N., "Cyd Charisse," in Films and Filming (London), April 1987.
Briggs, C., "Cyd Charisse—at Last on Broadway!," in Hollywood: Then and Now , vol. 25, no. 5, 1992.
Kisselgoff, A., "Cyd Charisse's Dance Card Is Full Once More," in New York Times , 5 April 1992.
* * *
A dancer of formidable talent, Cyd Charisse was a major presence in several important musicals of the 1950s. At MGM she worked within the Arthur Freed unit where her special abilities were successfully exploited. Classically trained, Charisse always played characters tailored to her natural elegance and sophistication. Since her background was in ballet rather than in the dance forms of musical comedy, her roles often drew on the conventional associations of ballet in film, such as high art, dreaminess, and aloofness. Her work in five films— Singin' in the Rain , The Band Wagon , Brigadoon , It's Always Fair Weather , and Silk Stockings —epitomized her contribution to the genre.
As Gene Kelly's unapproachable femme fatale in the "Broadway Melody" sequence in Singin' in the Rain , Charisse establishes an image continued through the other four films, although in the course of each her character is modified—and she usually becomes a less balletic performer as well. In Singin' in the Rain she does not play a character, but rather is a torrid stage image who dances with Kelly.
In the other films she plays characters who are part of the plots; in each, she must lose her distance and stiffness before becoming an impassioned dancer and suitable romantic partner. Playing a ballet star in The Band Wagon , she cannot fall in love with Fred Astaire until she abandons her high art pretensions. In Brigadoon she is the woman Kelly loves, but she lives (and dances) in a town that comes to life only once every hundred years. She has an encyclopedic memory in It's Always Fair Weather and uses it at first to intimidate Kelly. And in Silk Stockings she is the remote Russian Ninotchka, the anticapitalist who ultimately capitulates to Fred Astaire's dancing. Charisse could not sing and her vocals were always dubbed, but this does not diminish her performances since their emphasis is on dancing—and she participated in the richest period of musical production in film history.
After her screen career waned in the early 1960s, Charisse and her second husband, Tony Martin, appeared together on the nightclub circuit. She also has starred in musical stage productions that draw on nostalgia for the era with which she was such an integral part.
—Jerome Delamater, updated by Audrey E. Kupferberg