“If I had to give up either acting or dancing, I’d choose to keep dancing.” –Cyd Charisse
Cyd Charisse was born Tula Ellice Finklea on March 8, 1922, to Ernest and Lela Finklea in Amarillo, Texas. Her father worked as a jeweler. Charisse would soon take on the nickname of “Sid,” as the result of her older brother’s mispronunciation of “Sis.”
Charisse studied dance after facing many illnesses, including a severe bout of polio. She began her dance lessons at age six to rebuild her strength, eventually studying ballet at age 12 in Los Angeles, California. Two years later, she auditioned for the Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo and secured a spot in their company, dancing under a variety of stage names, including Felia Siderova, Maria Istomina, Natacha Tulaeilis, and Celia Siderova. She also studied at the Hollywood Professional School.
During this time, she married fellow dancer Nico Charisse in 1939, with whom she had a son named Nicky. They would divorce in 1947.
Charisse entered films in uncredited roles before World War II caused the ballet company to disband. Upon her return to Los Angeles, she was offered a dancing role in Columbia’s Something to Shout About (1943), joining MGM’s Freed Unit and becoming the studio’s resident ballet dancer.
While at MGM, her nickname, “Sid,” was changed to Cyd, and her new stage name became Cyd Charisse. After working in additional uncredited roles, Charisse’s appearance in Ziegfeld Follies (1946) garnered positive reviews. She followed this performance with roles in The Harvey Girls (1946), Three Wise Fools (1946), Till the Clouds Roll By (1946), and Fiesta (1947).
In 1948, Charisse would marry singer Tony Martin, with whom she would have a son named Tony Martin, Jr. The couple remained married until her passing.
Following a series of box office disappointments, Charisse worked in hit films including The Wild North (1951) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952). In the following years, Charisse would appear in films that would be pivotal in her career but would ultimately lose money at the box office. These films included The Band Wagon (1953), Brigadoon (1954), It’s Always Fair Weather (1955), and Silk Stockings (1957).
As the popularity of musicals declined, Charisse retired from dancing but continued to make film and television appearances. She wrote a joint memoir with her husband called The Two of Us in 1976, and went on to produce exercise videos for seniors. She also appeared on Broadway in Grand Hotel and made her last film appearance in That’s Entertainment! III (1994) as one of the narrators. Additionally, Charisse received the National Medal of the Arts and Humanities from President George W. Bush in 2006, in a private White House ceremony.
Charisse passed away from a heart attack on June 16, 2008, in Los Angeles, California, at age 86. She was interred at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.
Today, there are some tributes and locations of relevance to Charisse that remain.
Charisse’s childhood home stands at 1616 Tyler St., Amarillo, Texas. Her father’s jewelry store was located at 608 Polk St., though its original building no longer remains.
Charisse’s home with Nico also remains at 1210 (#6) N. Orange Grove Ave., Los Angeles.
The home she shared with Tony Martin stands at 1197 N. Via Monte Vista, Palm Springs, California.
Charisse has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1601 Vine St., Los Angeles, California.