Jun 17, 2008

Cyd Charisse, 1921-2008

Actress, dancer and MGM Golden Girl Cyd Charisse, 86, died of an apparent heart attack today in Los Angeles, California. She is survived by her husband of 59 years, singer Tony Martin, and sons Nicky and Tony, Jr.


Cyd Charisse. Just the sound of it evokes all of the most brilliant, the most intriguing, the most aesthetically awing elements of the Golden Age of the Hollywood musical. As MGM's foremost female dancer both during her career and throughout the studio's history, ballet-trained Cyd's contributions to cinema were not only technically superlative, but her performances, thankfully preserved on celluloid, are fused with all of the grace, color, and inherent expressiveness that was so artfully related through the lush orchestrations, vivid Technicolor, and engaging storylines for which classic movie musicals are known. Her dance was unrivaled, it's true. But in a strictly aesthetic sense, Cyd was the corporeal embodiment of the vivacity her films sought to evoke - elegantly costumed, sheathed in sequins or unencumbered by voluminous skirts atop radiantly-colored tulle, she expressed with her exactly disciplined body what neither Comden nor Green, Minelli nor Freed could convey in word or music.

Her status as dancer and, decidedly, a non-actress gave her license to channel such magnificence without inhibition, to infuse it with passion and sensuality and lithe, lovely newness, without her actions being misinterpreted as grandiose or excessive (dance as a means of expression was still a relatively novel and unregulated phenomena at the time). And Cyd Charisse did just that.

So long, it seems, have we been without her contemporaries - Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, glamour girls like Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner, that this additional loss compounds the chasm between what currently constitutes entertainment and the inimitable movie musicals of the past; this loss, however unsurprising, still further dims the potent presence of Old Hollywood in our midst. "The redwoods are falling," director Larry Gelbart once said of the mounting number of imminent passings of Tinseltown's once-brightest stars. The now-late Cyd is indeed of the breed of which Gelbart speaks, but true to her intrinsic gracefulness, this one didn't fall. She bowed out most humbly, Miss Cyd Charisse. And we already miss her so.

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