If you are a fan of Hollywood’s golden years, you treasure memories of watching glorious MGM musicals like “An American in Paris,” “Singing in the Rain,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and “Showboat.”
Chances are you will also remember the memorable dance sequences executed by the long-legged dancing goddess named Cyd Charisse.
Charisse is considered the cinema’s dancing queen, because she was not only graceful, but like Ava Gardner, she was also beautiful, tall and sexy. She followed in the glorious steps of tap dance queens like Eleanor Powell.
She started at the same time as Ann Miller, the best tap dancer on the MGM lot. However, where ballet was concerned, no one was as effective as Cyd, even when other superior dancers like Moira Shearer and Maria Tallchief were around.
Cyd is one of the few actresses who danced with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, Hollywood’s dancing masters. When forced to compare the two, she confessed that, while Fred seemed to have an uncanny sense of rhythm, Kelly was the stronger dancer and was more inventive as a choreographer. Astaire returned the compliment by saying that, once you’ve danced with Charisse, “You stay danced!”
Ironically, Cyd took up ballet lessons to forestall the ill effects of polio, which she contracted at age 6. Because of her innate talent and perseverance, she was invited to dance with the Ballet Russe of Monte Carlo at the tender age of 14 and, later, married handsome ballet dancer, Niko Charisse.
Mentored by choreographer Robert Alton, who discovered Gene Kelly, Cyd soon became MGM’s resident ballet dancer. It was in the late ’40s, after she danced in Margaret O’Brien starrer, “The Unfinished Dance,” that her cinematic appeal as a dancer was recognized. The only worry of Hollywood’s top male dancers was Cyd’s height. Thus, in her films with them, she often wore flats!
Kelly chose Charisse for the complex ballet number in “Singing in the Rain,” because costar Debbie Reynolds had no training as a dancer. Cyd quickly rose in the esteem of Hollywood. But, when MGM’s Louis Meyer offered her the lead in “An American in Paris,” she wept, refused the offer, and confessed that she was pregnant by her singer-husband, Tony Martin. (The role went to Leslie Caron.)
She continued to appear in MGM musicals, performed with Astaire in “Ziegfield Follies,” “Band Wagon” and “Silk Stockings,” and had spectacular dance numbers with Kelly in “Brigadoon.” When the popularity of musicals waned, she turned to dramas—but, her fans wanted to see her more in musicals.