Friday, June 20, 2008

A Eulogy for Cyd Charisse (1921-2008)

What is wrong with me? I am still crushed by the death of Cyd Charisse (I'm not the only one). I had totally planned on meeting her in person. There goes that dream.

Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly from 1952's Singin' in the Rain

Cyd Charisse is one star I thought would never die. The list of living studio stars has gotten very short for me: Olivia de Havilland (Melanie!), Angela Lansbury, Sidney Poitier, Kirk Douglas, Elizabeth Taylor, Esther Williams, Debbie Reynolds, and two-time academy award winning actress, Luise Rainer.

Luise Rainer is little known today because Louis B. Mayer famously destroyed her acting career after she demanded more of a say in the roles she was given. Can you blame her? You would definitely want more control of your acting career if you were a white woman forced to play a Chinese woman in 1937's The Good Earth (even if she did win a second best-actress academy award for the role!)

But there's no revenge quite like life, is there?

Luise Rainer is 98 today. Louis B. Mayer? Dead since 1957.

But back to Cyd Charisse. I've been watching every last clip of her on Youtube, commenting on them, and thinking what else can I do to memorialize her? Yesterday, I decided to head up to Broadway and catch the revival of "A Chorus Line" because there's a character in the show who mentions Cyd Charisse as an inspiration.

When I got up to 45th street to beg for a $35 student ticket without student ID, guess who was in front of me picking up tickets at the box office? None other than...Meryl Streep! I recognized her because she looks a lot like (get this) my mother!

An hour later when I went into the theatre, I waited for Meryl to arrive. For sure, I thought she'd slip in as the lights dimmed, but no. She entered a full ten minutes before curtain, and alone. No bodyguard. No attitude. Like a normal person!

I watched her wander anonymously through the crowd of theatregoers. Nobody recognized her. She could've been my mother. Meryl Streep! She had her hair pulled back in a pony tail and wore comfy clothes, definitely not dressed up. Miranda Priestly would NOT approve of Meryl, but I was impressed -- so easy going and chill.

She approached an usher who did actually recognize her, and they shared an easy conversation. Then Meryl found her seat and read the playbill, holding it a full two feet from her face like women her age do. Again, nobody noticed her. Later she was joined by a young girl, who I presume is her daughter. Then I headed upstsairs to my balcony seat.

The revival of A Chorus Line is tepid. In fact, I wasn't sure it wasn't dinner theatre in La Jolla. There was a fabulous black actress (Deidre Goodwin) playing Shiela, but most major roles were filled with an understudy. Then there was top-billed Mario Lopez, as the director.

The first line of Mario's playbill biography reads: "Mario Lopez (Zach) is internationally known as A.C. Slater from "Saved by the Bell." OK, any self-respecting actor would've hidden that far away, but Mario hails it as an international selling point. Saved by the Bell was huge in Guam. To be fair, he does bring the same layered acting he used with A.C. Slater to a Broadway show.

The guy's ego is huge, and maybe that's why I didn't like him. Or maybe it was because his role (Zach) is a smug director, who reminds me way too much of acting teachers I've dealt with who wouldn't give you an "A" unless you wailed on about your horrible childhood and then cried.

Anyway, Mario's ego has led to a fabulous Broadway feud happening right now. I hope you're following this one. It's great. You see, Mario Lopez is in love with his body. He's got a workout book out just now, and if you've seen his People Magazine nude spread, you might well wonder if he writes about how to inject human growth hormone, he's so ripped. That ain't nature! So imagine when mister worked-out arrives to join A Chorus Line and sees the guy playing the dance captain (Nick Adams) has an even more worked-out body. Eat that!

Mario couldn't. He threw a hissy fit and forced the producers to put a hoody sweatshirt on Nick Adams during their scenes together, so as to cover up his big muscles. Hysterical. Two *purportedly* straight guys feuding over who's got the better biceps. Sorry, is this A Chorus Line, or Showgirls? I half expected Crystal Connors to toss a handful of marbles onstage during the big "One" finale.

The great thing about Mario's ego is that it's turned into gold for Adams. He's got tons of press, won a 2xist underwear campaign, and is June's most beautiful man:
Nick Adams from

Thing is, I'm not interested in who has the better body. What about talent? Nick Adams is a kick ass dancer. You can just tell, in every step he takes. In the tight agility. It reminded me, yes, of Cyd Charisse.

*Pause for solemn reflection*

Then the character Paul comes on stage to give his poor-me-I'm-gay-and-maligned speech (the actor was great. Really. But I'm sorry, the monologue doesn't have the same resonance 30 years later), and in the middle of it he mentions his inspiration "Cyd Charisse" and suddenly I'm moved to scream out, from way up in the cheap seats, "WOOO-HOOOOO!" I just had to.

The actor onstage is unphased, but audience members look back wondering who is that crazy queen singin' out for Cyd Charisse? I smile back, melancholy. It was a eulogy from the rafters.

Even Meryl Streep heard.


Benjamin Adgate said...

I heart you

Benjamin Adgate said...

I heart you.

God rest her soul.

Anonymous said...

I would've joined you in the rafters!

Long live CYD CHARISSE (on celluloid)


You said...

RIP CC. Meanwhile, how could you see Meryl and all those abs from the rafters? Did you steal her glasses? But what I really wanna know is, did they sell you the student tickets??

Anonymous said...

So that was you screaming out? How obnoxious.

Anonymous said...

As crazy as it sounds,,, what great closer!.... and I am sure Cyd was smiling where ever she is!

stephen m.

bufordog said...

Jesse, glad you shouted out! I still can't believe Cyd Cherisse was raised in Texas.

Made me think about when my partner and I went to see a stage presentation of "Sordid Lives". He couldn't contain himself when Bitsy Mae sang the title song and had to shout back "Bitch" just like in the movie end titles. That poor little actress must have never seen the movie -- she was just startled and disoriented for a second.

I always preferred Zach in SBTB myself. And he has grown up with nicely,

Anonymous said...

Jesse, In a previous blog, I mentioned the movie SOMBRERO. If you can ever find it, it is a corny, Cyd Charisse, technicolor, fun movie from long ago. I am still trying to find it, just for a memory review..... Count down to flight to Bangkok/Pattaya in six days; excited. movienut.

Anonymous said...

addendum: Mark of the Renegade. Another Cyd Charisse film from the 50's. Lousy story line, but there are definite homoerotic undertones between Ricardo Montalban and Gilbert Roland. Ricardo, with any excuse not to wear his shirt, pays more attention to Gilbert than he does to Cyd. Very interesting scenes for the 50's? movienut

mich lyon said...

this too shall pass . . .

Anonymous said...

Nick isn't sraight... that's for sure.. but is extemerely talented and sexy.. he is also the man of the month of

landis smithers said...

for that one phrase alone i'm going to start reading your blog:

a eulogy from the rafters

lovely, jesse.

george said...

Nick is gay, I am not sure how open he is but within the broadway community he is quite open about it. Interesting the publicity he is getting because of Mario's homoerotic jealousy. :)