She’s 5’ 2” with eyes of green and she’s America’s Sweetheart. You’ll never forget her as Tammy Tyree or Molly Brown or Kathy Selden. She introduces herself as Princess Leia’s mother from when her daughter Carrie Fisher was in “Star Wars.” Over five decades, she has amassed the largest private collection of Hollywood memorabilia and is putting it up for auction on June 18 at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills, California. Her marriage to Eddie Fisher ended in scandal when he strayed into Elizabeth Taylor’s arms as he consoled her over the death of her husband Mike Todd.
Of course, she’s no other than Debbie Reynolds, who appeared recently in a stunning royal blue sequined suit, looking vivacious at a mere age 79, at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield as part of their American Legends series. Discovered at age 16 when she won a beauty contest, she fell into show business and was never formally trained. Always a “talker,” she worked hard to be a dancer, with five teachers, eight hours a day, for her big break as Kathy Selden in “Singin’ in the Rain” opposite Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor.
Of her fifty movies, her favorite is “the Unsinkable Molly Brown” and unsinkable has been her motto, especially in her marriages which have never ended well, with wealthy husbands leaving her in debt. She quipped “if there’s a bad guy around, I find him.” Her song “Tammy” from “Tammy and the Bachelor” earned her a gold record and won the hearts of all who heard her when she sang it a cappella for the Sacred Heart audience.
Charming and full of vinegar, she advised the audience “if you have 2 bucks, you can rent me for the weekend,” referring to her long and rich film career. Imitating such stars as Bette David, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ethel Merman, Katherine Hepburn and even Barry Fitzgerald, she delighted her fans with her versatility with voices.
A beautiful, funny movie star with boundless energy, she is also impish and mischievous, finding it within herself to forgive Liz in later years. She reconnected with Ms. Taylor a decade ago when she did a television film written in 2001 by her daughter Carrie Fisher and Elaine Pope, “These Old Broads,” that also starred Shirley MacLaine and Joan Collins. She feels Liz and Eddie are together again in heaven and deserve each other.
Debbie Reynolds devotes her time raising millions for mental health causes for children and adults through an actors group called The Thalian Club, which will have a ball later this month. Her own daughter’s manic-depressive, bi-polar condition inspired this work. This year the money being raised will go to veterans groups.
She finds live performances “wonderful, challenging and exciting, with the hum of the audience and immediate love.” Film is “not nearly as rewarding until it’s over and you see it done.” Yet she claims to “love them both…it’s the ham in me. I love to entertain.”
And entertain she does for the last 65 years. As for her next goal, after her auction of 4000 Hollywood costumes and props that she has been collecting since 1970, to tell the history of the stars, it’s a simple one: “I want to die being the oldest Girl Scout,” Hopefully that won’t be for another 65 years at least.