In the late 1960s, one of our high-school classes was semi-regularly packed off to see classic films at the old Garden Theater, and one of the films I saw was Brigadoon, an Alan Jay Lerner musical put together by MGM’s famed Arthur Freed unit.
The trick about the town of Brigadoon, you may remember, is that it’s not always there: the enchantment that preserves it does so by bringing it to life only once every hundred years, thereby making sure it’s not influenced by contemporary evils. Which means that when Tommy Albright (Gene Kelly) falls hard for one of the town girls, he’s faced with the sort of choice you wouldn’t give Hobson: either he stays with her, thereby giving up his life in this world, or he returns to New York and never gets another shot. I remember yelling at the screen: “You fool! Go back to her!” (I saw the greatest minds of my generation garner detentions for just such breaches of conduct.)
This was my first exposure to Tula Ellice Finklea, known to the rest of the world as Cyd Charisse. At the time, I didn’t know that she’d been primarily a dancer; once I got a chance to see more of her work, I discovered that she’d been one of the all-time greats. As an actress, she was respectable if not noteworthy, and I’d noticed early on that her Russian accent in Silk Stockings was largely indistinguishable from her Scottish burr in Brigadoon. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
(Aside: Allow me to recommend the scene in Silk Stockings where she replaces her coarse Communist unmentionables with Parisian finery: the ratio of sheer eroticism to volume of actual exposed flesh is among the highest in motion-picture history.)
I was, admittedly, a serious skirtwatcher before I saw Cyd doing her stuff, but if I hadn’t been, she’d have surely converted me. And she had plenty of time to do it, too: right up until today, when her heart finally gave out. She was eighty-six.