b. Tulla Ellice Finklea, 8 March 1923, Amarillo, Texas, USA. An elegant, long-legged dancer who appeared in several outstanding film musicals of the 40s and 50s, Finklea took ballet classes from an early age, and was enrolled in the renowned Fanchon and Marco Dance Studio in Hollywood at the age of 12. One of the teachers there was Frenchman Nico Charisse, and four years later, during which time she performed at intervals with the famed Ballet Russes, they were married. Her connections with the Ballet Russes gained Charisse a part in the Columbia film Something To Shout About (1943), which led to a contract with MGM. One of the studio’s top producers, Arthur Freed, is said to have been responsible for changing her name to Cyd (she had been known as Sid by her friends since childhood). During the late 40s and early 50s she made effective contributions to several straight films, and a number of musicals, which included Ziegfeld Follies, The Harvey Girls, Till The Clouds Roll By, Fiesta (in which Ricardo Montalban made his debut), The Unfinished Dance, On An Island With You, Words And Music, The Kissing Bandit, Singin’ In The Rain (with Gene Kelly) andEasy To Love (1953). Also in 1953 she had what was probably her best role in The Band Wagon with Fred Astaire and Jack Buchanan.
By this time she was at her peak both as an actress and a dancer (although her singing was invariably dubbed in films), and her excellent work during the remaining years of the 50s included Brigadoon, It’s Always Fair Weather and Invitation To The Dance (all with Kelly), Meet Me In Las Vegas (with Dan Dailey), and Silk Stockings (with Astaire). The latter was her last musical, although she did appear in the occasional dance sequence in films such as Black Tights (1960) and The Silencers (1966). Her subsequent screen work has been confined to guest appearances and television features. After the break-up of her first marriage in the early 40s, she married the popular singer Tony Martin in 1948, and he travelled with her to London in 1986 when she played the role of Lady Hadwell in a new production of David Heneker’s musical Charlie Girl. Even then, when she was in her sixties, those famous legs were still the main subject of discussion. Impresario Harold Fielding said: ‘They are her trademark, so we’re going to insure them for a million, maybe two.’ A substantial sum of money must also have changed hands in 1988 when Cyd Charisse agreed to appear in a video to promote a pop single by the two-man group the Blue Mercedes. Their record of ‘I Want To Be Your Property’ reached the top of the US dance charts. In a rather different vein, four years later Charisse made her Broadway debut when she took over the role of fading ballerina Grushinskaya in the hit musical Grand Hotel. Asked about her age, which has always been a subject of some dispute (born 1921 or 1923), she would only say: ‘Oh, I feel young!’