As a child, she contracted polio, a viral disease which, up until 1955 when Dr. Jonas Salk discovered a vaccine, often left it’s victims crippled, paralyzed, and in a few cases, dead. The early 20th century answer was the Iron Lung to help regulate breathing, or body casts and braces to prevent the afflicted limbs from twisting.
She was one of the fortunate ones, and after her recovery, Cyd (her stage name; she was born Tula Ellice Finklea) took up dancing as a way to strengthen her muscles. And what a recovery!
Cyd Charisse went on to co-star with Astaire and Kelly, and with other such notables as Sammy Davis Jr. and Ricardo Montalban.
She reported that in 1952 her legs were insured for $5 million – more than Greta Garbo’s! And as she performed, the censors were ever-present to make sure she remained properly covered and within the limits of the 1950s sense of modesty and decorum.
Of Kelly and Astaire she said, “It’s like comparing apples and oranges. They’re both delicious!”
Of Cyd Charisse, Fred Astaire wrote, “That Cyd! When you’ve danced with her, you stay danced with!”
Cyd stayed active throughout her life. In 1990 she produced an exercise video targeted for active senior citizens. But to her credit, she never stooped to the obligatory guest appearance on “Love Boat” or “Fantasy Island” that denigrated the legacy of so many of her peers.
To borrow from an old advertisement, “Nothing beats a great pair of legs!” Cyd, thanks for sharing!