Page last updated at 08:18 GMT, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 09:18 UK

Obituary: Cyd Charisse

Cyd Charisse
Cyd Charisse danced with Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain
Cyd Charisse danced with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in some of Hollywood's finest musicals - The Band Wagon and Silk Stockings with Astaire, and Singin' in the Rain and Brigadoon with Gene Kelly.

She was one of the most brilliant and beautiful female dancers ever to appear on the big screen.

With the decline of big musicals she took straight roles, but not with the same success.

Cyd Charisse was born Tula Finklea in Amarillo, Texas, in 1921, she was six when she began dance lessons to strengthen her muscles after a bout of polio.

She went on to study ballet and, at the age of 18, married Nico Charisse, her instructor.

She became known as Sid when she was a child - the nearest her brother could get in his attempt to say Sis. Later, when she signed for MGM, she changed the spelling to Cyd.

Erotically charged

Cyd Charisse made several films in the early 1940s, using the name Lily Norwood, but became a star of film musicals as Cyd Charisse after joining MGM, who were reputed to have insured her undeniably lovely legs for a million dollars each.

But Cyd Charisse later revealed that that had been an invention of the MGM publicity machine.

Cyd Charisse dancing with Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire

She was married to her second husband, the singer Tony Martin, and a new mother, when she starred with Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain.

She worked with the sometimes rough and always demanding Kelly again in Brigadoon and partnered Fred Astaire in The Band Wagon and her favourite film, Silk Stockings.

Like Kelly, Astaire was a perfectionist, but Cyd Charisse's time with Diaghilev's ballet company had equipped her for the challenge:

"Coming from a Russian ballet company and a lot of hard training," she said later.

"I was a strong dancer and I loved to dance and I loved to work and he found someone who liked to work just as much as he did and we got along fabulously well together."

She also appeared in The Unfinished Dance, Words and Music, It's Always Fair Weather and Invitation to the Dance.

Later she was in Two Weeks in Another Town, and made some films in Europe, including Warlords of Atlantis.

Cyd Charisse did play some straight roles, but her dancing was more eloquent than any spoken word.

While the censors were always on the set, training their eagle eyes on her costumes, the erotic nature of her dance escaped them.

And though the golden age of Hollywood musicals came to an end, admirers still remember Cyd Charisse's vital role.

Musical star Charisse dies in LA
17 Jun 08 |  Americas
In pictures: Cyd Charisse
18 Jun 08 |  In Pictures

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