She was the most exciting and elegant dancer of 1950s Hollywood musicals. According to legend, MGM had insured her legs for five million dollars. She often played the main role for the most important directors of the genre - Vincente Minelli and Stanley Donen - and she was the preferred partner of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire who called her "Beautiful Dynamite", aptly describing her singular dancing style, which combined elegance and dynamism, femininity and force.
She was not only different from other performers in musicals because of her outstanding talent, her virtuosity and her fluid style of moving; Cyd Charisse was neither a well-behaved girl-next-door who aroused the male protective instinct nor a potential partner in crime. Her sex appeal, presence, self-confidence and size – she was sometimes taller than her dance partners – sometimes had a very intimidating effect on men. In prudish 1950s Hollywood, Cyd Charisse's dance scenes were as erotic as it got on screen. The censors were always on set.
Cyd Charisse was born Tula Ellice Finklea in Amarillo, Texas in 1921. Apart from Leslie Caron, she was the only musical star who was trained in classical dance. She started taking ballet lessons with a former member of the Bolshoi Theater at the age of six. By 14, she was dancing for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (using a Russian pseudonym). She made it to the screen at the beginning of the 1940s and soon became the prima ballerina of musical films. She signed a seven-year contract with MGM after Ziegfeld Follies (1945) and was also given speaking roles. Pregnancy prevented her from playing the main role in An American in Paris (1951), postponing her international breakthrough by a year. Then, the staged revelation of her attractive legs in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) led to the legendary million-dollar insurance coup. She was given her first lead role alongside Fred Astaire in Vincente Minnelli's THE BAND WAGON (1953). Half a dozen main roles in big Hollywood productions followed over the next five years. However, the end of the golden era of musicals also brought a close to her greatest period. She was reunited with Fred Astaire in her last film musical SILK STOCKINGS (1957). At the end of a dance number that hints at the impending rock 'n' roll era, he throws away his trademark hat symbolically announcing his departure from musicals. After Nicholas Ray's PARTY GIRL (1958), Minnelli's "Two Weeks in Another Town" (1962) and "Something's Got to Give" by George Cukor (1962) that was not finished because of Marilyn Monroe's death, Cyd Charisse gradually turned away from Hollywood. In the 1960s, she started appearing In nightclub and television shows alongside her husband, the crooner Tony Martin. She died in June 2008.