Cyd Charisse

Tamara Warta
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Cyd Charisse has been heralded as a great American dancer and actress, who worked with some of Hollywood's greatest. Read on to learn more about this leading lady legend.

The Early Years of Cyd Charisse

Cyd Charisse didn't start out with quite a perfect name for the screen, as she was born Tula Ellice Finklea in 1922. Growing up in Texas, she began dancing at the age of six to regain strength and health after a childhood contraction of polio. When she was around 12, she started to study ballet in Los Angeles, and at the age of 14, she joined the Ballet Ruse de Monte Carlo. There she reconnected with a young male dancer named Nico Charisse whom she had danced with in L.A. The two married and had one child, named Nicky, in 1942.

The Beginning of a Great Career

After World War II broke up the ballet company she was dancing in, Cyd Charisse lived in Los Angeles full time and was given a dancing role in her first movie. She was then discovered by a prominent choreographer, who had already recruited Gene Kelly, and she quickly progressed to MGM's principal ballet dancer. She went on to dance with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, most famously known for her routines in "Ziegfeld Follies." She also starred alongside Judy Garland in a film during the late 1940s. Fred Astaire had a tremendous amount of respect for his co-star, and heralded her as one of the greatest dancers of her day.

The End of an Era

As the popularity of the Hollywood musical tanked in the 1950s, Charisse quit dancing, but worked continuously as an actress. She even appeared in a Janet Jackson video in the 1990s, showing her continued spunk and ability to evolve as an in-demand entertainer. She also produced an exercise video, called "Easy Energy Shape Up" aimed at senior citizens looking for a fun and easy workout. She also received a National Medal of the Arts and Humanities in 2006, which is the most prestigious award given to artists in the United States. Charisse continued to celebrate the golden age of her career by appearing in various documentaries about MGM's heyday. Lastly, she performed as an aging ballerina on Broadway in 1992, dancing in the musical version of "Grand Hotel." She died on June 17, 2008 from a heart attack.

Humbleness in Hollywood

Charisse was known as not only being a great talent, but also being above the whole Hollywood scene. She never thought of herself as a great star, and actually considered herself to be an introvert. She has been quoted on her official website as saying, "Perhaps that's because I am basically an introvert. I knew that I loved working, performing. What the public made of it was their business. I hoped that they liked me and admired my work, of course, but that pedestal they stuck me up on was insignificant in my view."

That humble attitude led her to be a highly functional and happy individual, which included a happy marriage to her second husband that lasted over 50 years. Today, Cyd Charisse is continuously cherished as one of America's greats during the musical era of Hollywood, and young performers often emulate themselves after her grace and ability to steal a scene with the simplest of steps.

For more about Cyd Charisse, you can read her biography, or listen to the stories of Hollywood's golden era via countless documentaries and Internet sites devoted to that time of greatness.

Cyd Charisse