Cyd Charisse unveils `Silk Stockings'

Screening: The legendary dancer visits the Senator to introduce one of her favorite films


October 08, 1999|By Ann Hornaday and Chris Kaltenbach | Ann Hornaday and Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Cyd Charisse as Greta Garbo?

Not that Charisse was ever actually asked to play the legendary Swedish actress who so craved to be alone. But she did get to play one of Garbo's most famous roles in 1957, when the musical version of "Ninotchka" was filmed as "Silk Stockings."

The result, which Charisse says is one of her favorite films -- since she got to dance opposite Fred Astaire, accompanied by Cole Porter's music, it's no wonder -- is being screened at the Senator Thursday.

And in a real treat for local film buffs (as if seeing Astaire and Charisse on the big screen isn't treat enough), she'll even be in town to introduce it.

"Rouben Mamoulian was the director, and we had Fred Astaire as my partner, and the story was Cole Porter's, and Porter was on the set with us much of the time," Charisse says over the phone from her home in Los Angeles. "It probably is the best acting role I ever had the chance to play. I was very happy about the whole set-up.

"Fred Astaire was special, and such a marvelous human being," she adds. "It was the thrill of my life. He was a wonderful gentleman, elegant, with great humility. All the wonderful things you can say about a person, you have to say about Fred Astaire."

Seeing "Silk Stockings" on the big screen is a special pleasure for Charisse. For it means that her favorite number, "The Red Blues," won't be cut -- as it frequently used to be when shown on television.

Hard to believe anyone would willingly cut a Cyd Charisse dance from any film.

In a career that began with 1943's "Something to Shout About," Charisse (who was born Tulla Ellice Finklea in 1923 in Amarillo, Texas) appeared in more than 25 films, including some of the best-loved MGM musicals of the 1940s and 1950s. Ironically, she's perhaps best-remembered for one of her smaller roles, in 1952's "Singin' In the Rain." As the impossibly long-legged siren opposite Gene Kelly in a Broadway dance sequence, she moves from a sultry encounter in a bar to a lovely dance where Charisse is really dancing with two partners: Kelly and an enormous white veil that flutters enticingly in the breeze.

"What brought me to the attention of everyone was that one number with Gene Kelly," Charisse acknowledges. "That long veil, they had to tie that thing on my shoulders, and use this enormous wind machine. We had to rehearse it, because we had to figure out where that veil was going to go. Those rehearsals almost killed me. Thank goodness the audience doesn't have to sit through that."

But what about Greta Garbo? What did the legendarily reclusive actress, who originated the role of the dour Communist who ultimately finds capitalism -- and capitalists -- ever-so entrancing, say about putting the story to music?

Sadly, we'll never know. The two Ninotchkas never met. "I heard she didn't want anything to do with it," Charisse says.

The "Silk Stockings" screening, scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday (with a champagne reception beginning at 7), benefits the Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation. Tickets are $35 and may be purchased Thursday evening at the Senator or by telephoning 410-433-2442. For die-hards, $150 will buy, in addition to the movie and reception, a 6 p.m. dinner at the Govans Presbyterian Church, 5828 York Road, which Charisse will also attend.

Ms. Jones, your answer

Last week's trivia question was answered with uncommon alacrity by none other than Richard Prince, the unit production manager of "The Replacements," the Warner Bros. football comedy that's currently filming in Baltimore.

Reader Carol Jones had asked about a movie made in the 1950s about a group of women interned in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. Prince said the name of the movie is "Three Came Home," by Jean Negulesco. The film, which was made in 1950, starred Sessue Hayakawa and Claudette Colbert, who played the wife of a British administrator whose family is interned.

Several other readers called and wrote in with the answer, and many included some titles of other movies dealing with the same period in history. A few mentioned the BBC series "Tenko," which was broadcast on PBS some years ago. (K.A. Peter van Berkum wrote, "If anyone can get hold of a copy, my wife and I would love to get a chance to see it again since both of us were in Japanese concentration camps in Java.") Rae Rossen guessed another Colbert movie, "So Proudly We Hail" (1943), "about nine Red Cross nurses who were imprisoned in the Pacific along with their children." And many wrote about "A Town Called Alice," the 1985 adaptation of Nevil Shute's novel about women imprisoned in Malaya.

Thanks to everyone for reading, calling and writing!

Kids get in for free

Loews Cineplex kicks off its free kids' film festival today with "Muppets in Space." The classic Muppet comedy will be shown today through Thursday free of charge for children 12 and younger ($1 for accompanying adults) at the Rotunda, White Marsh, Valley Centre, Columbia and Glen Burnie theaters. Call individual theaters for show times.

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