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Cyd Charisse, 1921-2008

6.17.2008

Today we lost one more treasured icon of the golden age. Cyd Charisse passed away at 87 years old. She was one of MGM's best and most successful stock-dancers-turned-movie-stars, playing the female lead in many of Gene Kelly's and Fred Astaire's films.

I will now go on to celebrate my favorite roles of hers. She wasn't much of a singer and she was only a decent actress, but man, could she dance.

She co-starred with Judy Garland in The Harvey Girls (1946), performing (but not with her real voice) "It's A Great Big World" and "Wait and See."

(Cyd's on the right)

She performed a bsllet sequence in The Ziegfeld Follies (1946)


As well as Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) in a number with Angela Lansbury called 'How'd Ya Like to Spoon With Me.' Not kidding:


And The Kissing Bandit (1948) in the 'Dance of Fury' with Ann Miller:


She's probably best known for her dances as the vixen/angel (often the only two roles women are allowed) of Gene Kelly's desire in the 'Dancing Cavalier.' You know, from Singin' in the Rain (1952)? She dances with him during the 'Broadway Melody Ballet' (so hot!) and in the 'Veil Dance' that apparently took days to get just right with the wind power. Originally Carol Haney, Gene's longtime choreography assistant, was going to have this part, but I believe Louis B. Mayer said that she didn't look right for cameras. So they brought in Cyd and Carol had to teach her all the choreography. Carol would later go on to be in The Pajama Game (1957), as she and Bob Fosse became better friends and colleagues (he choreographed The Pajama Game). Her best dance sequence in that was 'Steam Heat' and it's classic Fosse. Here's Cyd in Singin' in the Rain, choreographed of course by Gene himself:




She finally got her first role as the female lead with Fred Astaire in Vincente Minnelli's The Band Wagon (1953). The film was choreographed by Michael Kidd and her best dance scenes are the 'Girl Hunt Ballet', 'Dancing in the Dark' (as kids we used to try to count how many times her 'underwear' showed). This is a fantastic scene because it's about these two dancers--one a hoofer (tap/broadway style dance) and the other a Ballerina, and they're trying to learn how to adapt to each other's styles so they can dance together seamlessly. And they do! She's also in 'I See A New Sun.'



And then she co-starred with Gene Kelly in the always-preposterous, slightly scary, if-only-it-had-been-shot-on-location Brigadoon (1954) with a rather horrendous Scottish accent. Ye git ova' it tho', dinna ya know. Her best scenes (choreographed by Gene) are 'The Heather On the Hill' and 'Waitin' for My Dearie.'




And then she made Kelly like himself in It's Always Fair Weather (1955). Not one of my favorites, but that's OK. Her best scenes (Gene again, I think...Michael Kidd also starred in this movie) are 'Baby You Knock Me Out', and 'Love is Nothing But a Racket.'




But then she went back to Fred for Silk Stockings (1957) which was choreographed by Fred's favorite, Hermes Pan. Her best scenes are her negligee dance (I'm not sure of the title), 'All of You' and 'The Red Blues.' And just for kicks, 'Paris is For Lovers.'


She went on to star in more films and television shows over the years, but never another major musical. She may not have been the most dynamic actress, but who knows if the dance sequences she performed on film would have been half as good without her.

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