Just two days after the death of Stan Winston, another major figure of motion pictures passed away on the 17th, dancing star Cyd Charisse. I found her death especially eerie, as I had just written about her a week or so previous, when I mentioned how Cyd and her Marx Bros starring husband Tony Martin were still alive and going strong. Martin is now a widower at 95 years old, after 60 years of marriage.
Cyd Charisse was a bonafide star of the classic studio age. Known across the world for her brunette beauty, her amazing dancing skills and her incredibly long legs, famously (though probably not factually) insured for millions of dollars. I love those kinds of things like the insured angle that Hollywood used to dream up all the time back in the day to promote their artists. Not that Cyd needed any extra promotion or gimmicky angle. She came from the time when movie stars could be specialists, world class talents in a field, as she was with dance. Her powerful but graceful ability led to appearances and starring roles in a string of successful musicals, movies such as Singin’ In The Rain and Brigadoon with Gene Kelly, or Silk Stockings and The Band Wagon, where she out-dances Fred Astaire, and does it all in a pair of heels.
My own best memory of Cyd Charisse will probably be shared by very many, that is her introduction in Singin’ In The Rain. Although she appears near the beginning of the film, that appearance is only a tease, a remember that Charisse is in the picture, so we’ll get a dance scene with her. Her real entrance later, during the Broadway Melody, is one of my all time favourites. Kelly slides toward camera on his knees and ends up facing his discarded hat, perched on the tip of a ladies shoe. His eyes, and the camera, pan across a very long set of legs (I wonder who it could be!) and finally reveal Cyd, who lets a burst of smoke escape her nose as she shots Kelly a look. The dance sequence which follows is fascinating to watch, sexy and elegant, words which I feel always describe Cyd Charisse in general.
In 2006, Cyd received great recognition when the United States awarded her the National Medal of the Arts and Humanities, an honour she shares with people like Gregory Peck, Arthur Miller, Frank Capra, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Hope and her collaborator Gene Kelly. But perhaps the most important fact is that she‘ll always be remembered by film fans throughout the world. The move away from the classic musical style and genre doesn’t mean that those movies will be forgotten, rather they’ll be enshrined since there is nothing else that comes close to them. And Cyd Charrise will always be regarded as one of the great dancers of Hollywood.
My sympathies go out to her husband Tony Martin, her sons and the whole family.