In the summer of 1974, when I was thirteen, I saw That’s Entertainment! thirteen times. One of the film’s most entrancing clips is the “Dancing in the Dark” routine from The Band Wagon (1953). Danced exquisitely by Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, it begins as a nighttime stroll through Central Park, then effortlessly becomes one of the more romantic dance duets in screen history. We lost Ms. Charisse this week, and I can’t let her passing go by without paying tribute to her and her dazzling talent. Of all Hollywood’s great female dancing stars, Charisse is my favorite. Sexy, powerful, beautiful, long-legged, and the greatest dancing vamp of all time (see Singin’ in the Rain and the “Girl Hunt” ballet in Band Wagon).
Here are some lesser-known Charisse highlights to watch for: her sensational “Frankie and Johnny” number in Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956); a highly charged “Dance of Fury” with Ann Miller and Ricardo Montalban in the otherwise lousy Kissing Bandit (1948); and the rapturously sensual and exciting “One Alone” with James Mitchell in Deep in My Heart (1954), a case of a magnificent dance trapped in a terrible movie.
I met Ms. Charisse briefly in 1976 at the NYC premiere of That’s Entertainment Part 2. She looked gorgeous in a green gown, and her hair was by now much lighter than it had been in her MGM days. I got her autograph and took a photo and she was warm and gracious. There she was, the woman who had brilliantly partnered both Astaire and Kelly. Yet she didn’t need to be anybody’s partner. One of her most glorious moments is the sequence in Silk Stockings (1957) in which she, through dance, makes the transition from severe comrade to silk-stockings-wearing goddess. It’s a term thrown about too casually, but Charisse indeed was a screen goddess.