Remembering Cyd Charisse

Cydcharisserain_lCyd Charisse stood only 5’6", but it was all leg. It took just a slow camera pan up her soon-to-be-famous gams during her brief, silent performance in Singin’ in the Rain (pictured, with Gene Kelly) to make her a star. Charisse, who died yesterday at 86, seemed to shine for only a short period in a handful of films, but that was enough. Her presence as a dancer and female lead in a handful of classic MGM musicals from the ’50s (most notably, opposite Gene Kelly in Brigadoon and It’s Always Fair Weather and opposite Fred Astaire in The Band Wagon and Silk Stockings) is indelible. Unlike many of the other MGM leading ladies, she wasn’t a hoofer or a tap dancer; she was classically trained (having joined the Ballet Russe at 14) and displayed an elegance and an eroticism that were rare in 1950s musicals (and thereafter, for that matter).

Her big-screen dance career was short, though she remained a graceful, regal presence for decades in TV guest spots and finally on Broadway (where she made her debut in 1992 as the aging ballerina in Grand Hotel). Still, she’ll probably be best remembered for dancing the role of the femme fatale who distracts Gene Kelly in Singin‘s "Broadway Melody" sequence, or for the parodic twist on that type in the Mickey Spillane-inspired "Girl Hunt" number in The Band Wagon, where she’s pursued by Astaire. In his memoir, Astaire called Charisse "beautiful dynamite" and wrote, "When you’ve danced with her, you stay danced with." That seems as fitting an epitaph as she could have asked for.

addCredit(“Cyd Charisse; Everett Collection”)

Comments (10 total) Add your comment
  • MCM

    I’ve always said that if I could dance like anyone in the world, it would be Cyd Charisse. Her combination of strength, grace and sexy made her absolutely mesmerizing. She was, as you say, unique in her time and today, and likely far into the future as well. Ah – the passing of another great.

  • jcarla

    For you younger MTViewers, she made a cameo in Janet Jackson’s video ‘Alright’ (the Cab Calloway inspired video)

  • Winona

    Holy cow, she was only 5’6″?!?! She seemed like a giant, with her poise and grace… what an incredible dancer. She will be missed – thankfully we can all view some of her performances on film. I did watch the “Broadway Melody” segment of Singin’ in the Rain last night in tribute.

  • Sarag

    Technically, she was 5′ 7 1/2″ (according to IMDB). But she was every inch a fantastic woman!!

  • wg

    Classy, sexy and a tremendous talent. RIP, Ms. Charisse – you are remembered with gratitude and respect.

  • Stephanie T.

    Cyd was a master of dance illusion. She was short but when she used her legs, she managed to make herself appear a lot taller (plus she was wearing high heels, so that was another thing).Usually when you are short like Prince (5’1) the cameraman will shoot you from the waist up. With Cyd and the way she used her legs, the camera tricks were not necessary. A pioneer of modern dance will be missed.

  • Anna

    That makes me question exactly how tall Astaire and Kelly were because I thought she was taller than both of them.
    Anyway she was my favorite of the women dancers from that era. I used to watch her scenes from “Singin'” and “Band Wagon” over and over again.
    We seem to be having a whole lot of these tributes lately.

  • wildecat

    She was unbelievable. She was so riveting in Singing in the Rain without saying a single word. God Bless and dance with the angels.

  • Pamela

    Farewell Miss Charisse. I think I’ll just pay my respects this evening by watching the greatest musical of all time – with a nice glass of wine, a full sing-along voice on, my toes a tapping at the joyous experience that is “Singing in the Rain”.

  • Eric

    Thank you for the memories, god bless and godspeed.

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