When most people think of Hollywood’s greatest dancers, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly are the two names that come to mind. On March 8, 1922, an actress with beauty, charm and balletic grace was born who held her own with both gentlemen - Cyd Charisse.
3Cyd was born Tula Ellice Finklea on March 8, 1922 (or 1921), in Amarillo, Texas. She had suffered polio as a child but overcame her frailty with the help of dance lessons from the age of eight. She was nicknamed “Sid” when her brother had trouble pronouncing “sister.” and later Sid became Cyd. At 15 she joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. When WWII caused the break up of the company,
Charisse returned to Los Angeles where she joined the MGM film studio as a ballet dancer. In 1939, she eloped with one of her dance teachers, Nico Charisse. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1947, and the following year Charisse married Alice Faye’s former husband Tony Martin, a marriage that lasted until Cyd’s death in July, 2008..
Her first breakthrough role was 1952’s Singin’ In The Rain. The Broadway Melody Ballet shows off her ability to do things with her body we cannot define in a technical language; she is, as Fred Astaire once put it, “beautiful dynamite”. In the dream ballet she commands Gene Kelly with a 25-foot Chinese silk scarf that wafts over an ultra violet landscape at the provocation of an unseen wind machine.
Her popularity reached its apex in 1953 when she appeared on the cover of Life magazine for an article titled ‘A spectrum of stars’. In The Band Wagon she played ballerina Gabrielle Gerard opposite Fred Astaire. The choreography combines Astaire’s fast, rhythmic dancing with Charisse’s lyrical ballet to create scenes of true romance. By night they test out their off-stage chemistry in Central Park before being conveyed back to reality in a horse-drawn-carriage. The Girl Hunt Ballet is one of the most memorable finales in musical history and its influence can be seen in the setting of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal and Billie Jean film clips.
Charisse also danced opposite Gene Kelly in Brigadoon (1954) and It’s Always Fair Weather (1955); and opposite Fred Astaire in Rouben Mamoulian’s Silk Stockings (1957), a Ninotchka remake with Charisse in Greta Garbo’s original role of the Soviet envoy.
In Meet Me In Las Vegas (1956), Charisse dances to Tchaikovsky in an impromptu volleyball ballet, before the ball hits her in the head and she has to be carried off court by a charming knight in white satin, who kindly aids the recovery process by joining her in a poolside pas de deux.
And her title role in Nicholas Ray’s Party Girl (1958) lends itself to jazzy, sinuous dances that are jaw dropping, even by today’s standards.
Both her stardom and her MGM contract ended at that time. Apart from sporadic film appearances in the 1960s — e.g., Five Golden Hours (1961), playing a baroness; Vincente Minnelli’s Two Weeks in Another Town (1962); the Matt Helm flick The Silencers (1967), starring Dean Martin — Charisse’s show-business career was reduced to cabaret shows with Tony Martin.
In the following decades, she had guest spots in a number of TV series, including Hawaii Five-0, The Fall Guy, Frasier, and, inevitably, The Love Boat and Murder She Wrote. She also performed onstage, in Charlie’s Girls in London in the 1980s and in 1992 when she made her Broadway debut in the musical version of Grand Hotel as the ballerina Elizaveta Grushinskaya.
Dancing in the Dark with Fred Astaire - The Bandwagon, 1953
Broadway Melody production number with Gene Kelly - Singin’ in the Rain, 1952,
These photos of Parisian ballerinas in 1949 by Walter Sanders were posed with Degas paintings. Claude Bessy, on the right in the first images originally joined the Paris Opera Ballet when she was 13–the youngest dancer ever admitted at the time. She went on to be the director of the Paris Opera Ballet School from 1972–2004.
He was born Marcel LePlat in Pasadena, California on December 2, 1913, but was raised in Seattle, Washington. His training as a dancer began at age 11 at the local dance studio of Mary Ann Wells. In his early 20s, he auditioned and was selected for the chorus of the newly formed Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo by the company’s famed choreographer, Léonide Massine (The Red Shoes). His last name was changed to “Platoff” because so many of the group’s dancers (as well as the company’s roots) were Russian. Working his way up to become a soloist who premiered several roles as well as choreographing his own works, he remained with the the companyfor six years. His (uncredited) film debut came with the Jean Negulesco-directed short, The Gay Parisian(1941), a showcase for the Ballet Russe.
He left the troupe in 1942 and, as Marc Platt, alternated between the New York stage and the Hollywood soundstage for many years. On Broadway, he was part of the original 1943 cast of the Rogers & Hammerstein classic, Oklahoma!, creating the role of “Dream Curly.”
Marc Platt and Katharine Sergava in the original Broadway production of Oklahoma!
Tonight and Every Night (1945), starring Rita Hayworth
In 1945, he co-starred with Rita Hayworth and Janet Blair in the Technicolor musical,Tonight and Every Night, but the film role for which he is best known came nine years later with Stanley Donen’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). Platt portrayed the fourth of the brawny “seven brothers,” Daniel Pontipee. A year later, in 1955, he would appear in a speaking and dancing role in Fred Zinnemann’s film adaptation of Oklahoma! starring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae.
Marc Platt would enjoy a multifaceted career. He acted on series TV from the 1950s into the early 1990s, served as dance director for Radio City Music Hall and went on to open his own dance studio in Florida, with his wife, dancer Jane Goodall.
At 91, Platt appeared as himself in the enchanting 2005 documentary, Ballets Russes, a film that traces the beginnings of the original Ballets Russes under Serge Diaghelev through its transformation, following Diaghelev’s death in 1929, into the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo under Léonide Massine. Many of the company’s dancers - in their 70s, 80s and 90s in 2005 - including Platt, areinterviewed, and performance footage illustrates the company’s history.
As of this writing, Mr. Platt will have at least one more credit coming his way. He is set to appear in a documentary now in post-production, Broadway: Beyond the Golden Age, a sequel to Broadway: The Golden Age (2003).
Marc Platt at the party celebrating his 100th birthday in Mill Valley, California, on December 8 (photo by Sarah Rice)
Here’s a glimpse of Marc’s versatile talent in Tonight and Every Night