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Cyd Charisse, 1921-2008

Filed under: In Memoriam   Tagged: , , , ,

She had more famous roles, of course, but I love to think of her in the 1946 movie The Harvey Girls, starring a fiesty Judy Garland and a particularly fetching Ray Bolger. Charisse is one of the trainful (that’s the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe, to be exact) of gals who’ve come to civilize the west with starched shirtfronts and tender cuisine.

Charisse, in her first speaking role on film (according to a few web sources, anyway—feel free to correct me), plays Deborah, who back home was a dancer (of course), and here in rowdy Sandrock is a tall, dreamy, exceptionally graceful waitress who falls for the piano player at the local bordello (madam in chief: the proud, resplendently decked out, and lovelorn Angela Lansbury).

Anyway, there’s quite a bit of silliness involving steaks, snakes, horseshoes, and yokels unaccustomed to the pleasures of the waltz, but just try to resist Charisse singing (in the voice of Marion Doenges) “It’s a Great Big World” and dancing in the saloon for her sweetie. This one’s not about The Legs—they’re tucked under yards of fabric in the tidy Harvey uniforms (“Black shirtwaist, cuffs neat and trim/The apron must be spotless from the collar to the hem”)—but about her gentle voice, shy smile, and searching, wistful eyes. R.I.P., dancing lady.


I only knew her from Singin’ in the Rain, but that was plenty. Tula Ellice Finklea, you will be missed.

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2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree