April 1, 1932– Debbie Reynolds:
“I’ll just stay in show business till they stuff me like Trigger, when I drop dead.”
Mary Frances Reynolds’ career in show business was an accident. She had planned to become a gym teacher. She was a tomboy from a Burbank family with no ties to the industry. At 16 years old, she made an arbitrary choice to enter a local beauty contest. Afterwards, she was shocked to find herself crowned Miss Burbank. She was then offered a contract with Warner Bros, and they changed her name to the youthful, young sounding Debbie. As Debbie Reynolds, she has had a 65 year career in films, stage, television, and nightclubs.
With zero experience when she joined the studio, and still just a teenager, Reynolds worked 12 hour days taking classes and learning to sing, dance and act. I suppose Warner Bros didn’t see Reynolds’ potential because she was traded to MGM with the good fortune of soon finding herself playing opposite the great Fred Astaire in the musical Three Little Words (1950).
I just love Debbie Reynolds to pieces, but she is especially important to me because she played aspiring actor Kathy Selden opposite Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in Singin’ In The Rain (1952), one of the best films about moviemaking ever, and the perfect film musical. Singin’ In The Rain is a Top 10 Favorite for The Husband and for me. Amazingly, Reynolds claims that she could just barely dance when she met Kelly on set for the first time.
She made a bunch of films during this era: Tammy And The Bachelor (1957), How The West Was Won (1962), plus an Academy Award nomination for The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), a film I can only just tolerate, made watchable only because of Reynolds’ moxie. She also had a number one hit record with The Theme From Tammy, plus three more Top 10 hits in the late 1950s.
Reynolds also received all sorts of attention from the press about her personal life. She was character number three in one of the most noted of Hollywood scandals. After seeing Reynolds picture on the cover of Life Magazine with the headline: “Eddie’s Scorned Woman”, my mother had to sit me down at the kitchen table when I was five years old to explain the whole equation of Debbie Reynolds – Eddie Fisher + Elizabeth Taylor= trouble thing. Reynolds was the wholesome America’s Sweetheart, Fisher was a cad and a Jew, and Taylor was the sex bomb of all-time. I had a lot of questions for my mother that day. Today, a show biz infatuated kid could just check their Twitter feed for this sort of fodder.
“I stood no chance against her. What chance did I have against Elizabeth, a woman of great womanly experience, when I had no experience at all?”
Reynolds has received nominations for an Academy Award, an Emmy, a Tony and a couple of Golden Globes without ever winning. She received a Lifetime Achievement at the 2014 Oscars where she gave a funny, nutty, rambling speech. Reynolds’ has made over 50 films, appeared in Vegas and on Broadway, and had her own series or two on television. I especially admire her work in A Catered Affair (1956), which I caught for the first time while I was luxuriating in cancer treatment, as Kevin Kline’s mother in In & Out (1997), nearly unrecognizable as Frances Liberace in Behind The Candelabra (2013), and as Grace’s show biz mother on several seasons of Will & Grace. I have seen Reynolds live twice in my lifetime in her stage act in 1975 and on Broadway in a Broadway revival of the musical Irene in 1974. She was fabulous and hard working in person. The audience could tell she loves performing and she gave off lots of love to her fans.
Reynolds is a noted film historian. She was forced to auction her world-class collection of movie memorabilia when she was made to go into bankruptcy by the financial shenanigans of her unscrupulous husbands and managers. She was devastated to lose the important collection and I was personally sad when I lost my bid on Charlton Heston’s loincloth from Planet Of The Apes (1968). I just knew Reyolds wanted me to have it.
I am not certain that you know this, but Debbie Reynolds has a famous daughter. Maybe they are celebrating her birthday together today. My sources tell me that mother and daughter are both attached to a film project, The Big Finish, about a showbiz retirement facility, along with Bob Newhart, Mary Tyler Moore and Jerry Lewis, set to shoot later this year (for realz, no April Fooling).
Reynolds as Gay Icon? Abba-Dabba-Solutley.