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Reynolds in 1975
|Born||Mary Frances Reynolds
April 1, 1932
El Paso, Texas, U.S.
|Died||December 28, 2016 (aged 84)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Actress, singer, dancer, humanitarian, entertainer, businesswoman|
(m. 1955; div. 1959)
(m. 1960; div. 1973)
(m. 1984; div. 1996)
Mary Frances “Debbie” Reynolds (April 1, 1932 – December 28, 2016) was an American actress, singer, businesswoman, film historian, and humanitarian. Her breakout role was the portrayal of Helen Kane in the 1950 film Three Little Words, for which she was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer. However, it was her first leading role in 1952 at age 19, as Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain, that set her on the path to fame. By the mid-1950s, she was a major star. Other notable successes include The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953), Susan Slept Here (1954), Bundle of Joy (1956 Golden Globe nomination), The Catered Affair (1956 National Board of Review Best Supporting Actress Winner), and Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), in which her rendering of the song “Tammy” reached number one on the music charts. In 1959, she released her first pop music album, entitled Debbie.
She starred in How the West Was Won (1963), and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), a biographical film about the famously boisterous Molly Brown. Her performance as Molly Brown earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Her other notable films include The Singing Nun (1966), Divorce American Style (1967), What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971), Mother (1996 Golden Globe nomination), and In & Out (1997). Reynolds was also a noted cabaret performer. In 1979 she founded the Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio in North Hollywood, which still operates today.
In 1973 Reynolds starred in a Broadway revival of the musical Irene and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Lead Actress in a Musical. In 1969 she starred in her own television show The Debbie Reynolds Show, for which she received a Golden Globe nomination. She was also nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for her performance in A Gift of Love (1999) and an Emmy Award for playing Grace’s mother Bobbi on Will & Grace. At the turn of the millennium, Reynolds reached a new younger generation with her role as Aggie Cromwell in Disney’s Halloweentown series. In 1988 she released her autobiography titled, Debbie: My Life. In 2013, she released an updated version titled Unsinkable: A Memoir.
Reynolds was a noted businesswoman, having operated her own hotel in Las Vegas. She was also a collector of film memorabilia, beginning with the landmark 1970 MGM auction. She was the former president of The Thalians, an organization dedicated to mental health causes. Reynolds continued to perform successfully on stage, television, and film into her eighties. In January 2015, Reynolds received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. In August 2015, it was announced Reynolds would be the recipient of the 2016 Academy Awards Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. In 2016, a documentary about her life was released titled Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.
Mary Frances Reynolds was born on April 1, 1932, in El Paso, Texas, the daughter of Maxine (née Harmon; 1913–1999) and Raymond Francis Reynolds (1903–1986), a carpenter for the Southern Pacific Railroad. She was of Scottish-Irish and English ancestry, and was raised in a strict Nazarene church. Reynolds was a Girl Scout, and remarked in an interview that she wanted to die as the world’s oldest living Girl Scout.
Her family moved to Burbank, California, in 1939. At age sixteen, in 1948, while a student at Burbank High School, she won the Miss Burbank beauty contest. Soon after, she had a contract with Warner Bros and acquired a new first name via Jack Warner.
Reynolds regularly appeared in movie musicals during the 1950s and had several hit records during the period. Her song “Aba Daba Honeymoon” (featured in the film Two Weeks with Love (1950) as a duet with Carleton Carpenter) was a top-three hit in 1951. Her most high-profile film role was in Singin’ in the Rain (1952) as Kathy Selden. In Bundle of Joy (1956), she appeared with her then-husband, Eddie Fisher.
Her recording of the song “Tammy” (1957; from Tammy and the Bachelor), earned her a gold record, and was the best-selling single by a female vocalist in 1957. It was number one for five weeks on the Billboard pop charts. In the movie (the first of the Tammy film series), she co-starred with Leslie Nielsen.
Reynolds also scored two other top-25 Billboard hits with “A Very Special Love” (#20 in January 1958) and “Am I That Easy to Forget” (#25 in March 1960)—a pop-music version of a country-music hit made famous by both songwriters Carl Belew (in 1959), Skeeter Davis (in 1960), and several years later by singer Engelbert Humperdinck.
Film and television
Her starring role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) led to a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She then portrayed Jeanine Deckers in The Singing Nun (1966). In what Reynolds once called the “stupidest mistake of my entire career”, she made headlines in 1970 after instigating a fight with the NBC television network over cigarette advertising on her eponymous television series; NBC canceled the show.
Reynolds continued to make appearances in film and television. She played Helen Chappel Hackett‘s mother, Deedee Chappel, on an episode of Wings titled, “If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother”, which originally aired on November 22, 1994. From 1999 to its 2006 series finale, she played Grace Adler‘s theatrical mother, Bobbi Adler, on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace, which earned her an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series in 2000. She plays a recurring role in the Disney Channel Original Movie Halloweentown film series as Aggie Cromwell. Reynolds made a guest appearance as a presenter at the 69th Academy Awards in 1997. She made a cameo role as herself in the 2004 film Connie and Carla. In 2013 she appeared in Behind the Candelabra, as the mother of Liberace.
With limited film and television opportunities coming her way, Reynolds accepted an opportunity to make her Broadway debut. She starred in the 1973 in a revival of Irene, a musical first produced 60 years before. The production broke records for the highest weekly gross of any musical. For that production, she received a Tony nomination. Reynolds also starred in a self-titled Broadway revue, Debbie, in 1976. She toured with Harve Presnell in Annie Get Your Gun, then wrapped up the Broadway run of Woman of the Year in 1983. In the late 1980s Reynolds repeated her role as Molly Brown in the stage version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, first opposite Presnell (repeating his original Broadway and movie role) and later with Ron Raines.
- Best Foot Forward (1953) (Dallas State Fair)
- Irene (1973) (Broadway and US national tour)
- Debbie (1976) (Broadway)
- Annie Get Your Gun (1977) (San Francisco and Los Angeles)
- Woman of the Year (1982) (Broadway) (replacement for Lauren Bacall)
- The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1989) (US national tour)
- Irene (2008) Perth Western Australia
Film history preservation
Reynolds amassed a large collection of movie memorabilia, beginning with the landmark 1970 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer auction, and displayed them, first in a museum at her Las Vegas hotel and casino during the 1990s and later in a museum close to the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles. On several occasions, she auctioned off items from the collection.
The museum was to relocate to be the centerpiece of the Belle Island Village tourist attraction in the resort city of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, but the developer went bankrupt. The museum itself filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2009.
Todd Fisher, Reynolds’ son, announced that his mother was “heartbroken” to have to auction off her collection. It was valued at $10.79 million in the bankruptcy filing. The Los Angeles auction firm Profiles in History was given the responsibility of conducting a series of auctions. Among the “more than 3500 costumes, 20,000 photographs, and thousands of movie posters, costume sketches, and props” included in the sales were Charlie Chaplin‘s bowler hat and Marilyn Monroe‘s white “subway dress”, whose skirt is lifted up by the breeze from a passing subway train in the film The Seven Year Itch (1955). The dress sold for $4.6 million; the final auction was held in May 2014.
In 1979, she opened her own dance studio in North Hollywood. In 1983 Reynolds released an exercise video titled Do It Debbie’s Way!.
She purchased the Clarion Hotel and Casino, a hotel and casino in Las Vegas, in 1992 and renamed it the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Hotel, but it was not a success. In 1997, Reynolds was forced to declare bankruptcy.
Marriages and later life
Reynolds was married three times. Her first marriage was to singer Eddie Fisher in 1955. They are the parents of Carrie and Todd Fisher. The couple divorced in 1959 when Fisher had an affair with Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds’ good friend at the time, shortly after the death of Taylor’s husband Mike Todd. The Eddie Fisher-Elizabeth Taylor affair caused a serious public scandal, even leading to the cancellation of Eddie Fisher’s television show at the time. In 2011, on The Oprah Winfrey Show, just weeks before Elizabeth Taylor’s death from congestive heart failure, Reynolds explained that she and Taylor happened to be traveling at the same time on the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s when they made up. Reynolds sent a note to Taylor’s room, and Taylor sent a note in reply asking to have dinner with Reynolds and end their feud. The two reconciled, and, as Reynolds put it, “…we had a wonderful evening with a lot of laughs”. The 1990 film Postcards from the Edge was written by Reynolds’ daughter Carrie Fisher and was semi-autobiographical, with the character of “Doris Mann” based on Reynolds.
Reynolds’ second marriage, to millionaire businessman Harry Karl, lasted from 1960 to 1973. He was previously married to Marie McDonald. Reynolds later found herself in financial difficulty because of Karl’s gambling and bad investments.
Reynolds was married to real estate developer Richard Hamlett from 1984 to 1996. In 2010, she appeared in her own West End show Debbie Reynolds: Alive and Fabulous. Beginning in 1955, Reynolds was active in The Thalians, a charitable organization devoted to children and adults with mental health issues; In 2011 she stepped down after 56 years of involvement and became an emerita member.
Reynolds was hospitalized in October 2012 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, due to an adverse reaction to medication. She canceled appearances and concert engagements for the next three months.
On December 23, 2016, Reynolds’ daughter, actress and writer Carrie Fisher, suffered a heart attack on a transatlantic flight from London to Los Angeles. On Christmas Day, Reynolds reported Fisher was in a stable condition. However, Fisher died at the age of 60 on December 27.
The next day (December 28), Reynolds was hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, in fair-to-serious condition after a stroke at her son’s home. Later that afternoon, Reynolds died in the hospital. Reynolds is survived by her son Todd Fisher and her granddaughter Billie Lourd. Her death was confirmed by Todd Fisher that she has suffered a stroke.
|1948||June Bride||Boo’s Girlfriend at Wedding||Uncredited|||
|1950||The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady||Maureen O’Grady|||
|Three Little Words||Helen Kane|||
|Two Weeks with Love||Melba Robinson|||
|1952||Singin’ in the Rain||Kathy Selden|||
|Skirts Ahoy!||Debbie Reynolds||Uncredited|||
|1953||I Love Melvin||Judy Schneider / Judy LeRoy|||
|The Affairs of Dobie Gillis||Pansy Hammer|||
|Give a Girl a Break||Suzy Doolittle|||
|1954||Susan Slept Here||Susan Beauregard Landis|||
|1955||Hit the Deck||Carol Pace|||
|The Tender Trap||Julie Gillis|||
|1956||Meet Me in Las Vegas||Debbie Reynolds||Uncredited|||
|The Catered Affair||Jane Hurley|||
|Bundle of Joy||Polly Parish|||
|1957||Tammy and the Bachelor||Tammy|||
|1958||This Happy Feeling||Janet Blake|||
|1959||The Mating Game||Mariette Larkin|||
|Say One for Me||Holly LeMaise aka Conroy|||
|It Started with a Kiss||Maggie Putnam|||
|The Gazebo||Nell Nash|||
|1960||The Rat Race||Peggy Brown|||
|1961||The Pleasure of His Company||Jessica Anne Poole|||
|The Second Time Around||Lucretia ‘Lu’ Rogers|||
|1962||How the West Was Won||Lilith Prescott|||
|1963||My Six Loves||Janice Courtney|||
|Mary, Mary||Mary McKellaway|||
|1964||The Unsinkable Molly Brown||Molly Brown|||
|Goodbye Charlie||Charlie Sorel / Virginia Mason|||
|1966||The Singing Nun||Sister Ann|||
|1967||Divorce American Style||Barbara Harmon|||
|1968||How Sweet It Is!||Jenny Henderson|||
|1971||What’s the Matter with Helen?||Adelle|||
|1973||Charlotte’s Web||Charlotte A. Cavatica||Voice|||
|That’s Entertainment!||Compilation film|||
|1987||Sadie and Son||Sadie||TV movie|||
|1989||Perry Mason: The Case of the Musical Murder||Amanda Cody|||
|1991||The Golden Girls||Truby||1 episode|
|1992||Battling for Baby||Helen||TV movie|||
|The Bodyguard||Debbie Reynolds||Cameo as herself|||
|1993||Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul||Documentary|
|Heaven & Earth||Eugenia|||
|1994||Wings||Dee Dee Chapel||TV|
|That’s Entertainment! III||Compilation film|||
|Wedding Bell Blues||Herself|||
|1997||In & Out||Berniece Brackett|||
|1998||Kiki’s Delivery Service||Madame||Voice
(Disney English dub)
|Zack and Reba||Beulah Blanton|||
|Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie||Mrs. Claus / Mitzi – Rudolph’s Mother / Mrs. Prancer – School Teacher||Voice|||
|Halloweentown||Splendora Agatha “Aggie” Cromwell|||
|The Christmas Wish||Ruth||TV movie|||
|Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas||Herself||Voice only|||
|1999||A Gift of Love: The Daniel Huffman Story||Shirlee Allison||TV Movie|||
|Will & Grace||Bobbi Adler||Some appearances (until the end (2006))|||
|Keepers of the Frame||Documentary|||
|2000||Rugrats in Paris: The Movie||Lulu Pickles||Voice|||
|Virtual Mom||Gwen||TV movie|
|Rugrats: Acorn Nuts & Diapey Butts||Lulu Johnson||Voice|
|2001||These Old Broads||Piper Grayson||TV movie|||
|Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge||Splendora Agatha “Aggie” Cromwell||TV movie|||
|2002||Cinerama Adventure||Herself (interviewee)||Documentary|
|Generation Gap||TV movie|
|2004||Connie and Carla||Herself|||
|Halloweentown High||Splendora Agatha “Aggie” Cromwell||TV movie|||
|2006||Return to Halloweentown||Splendora Agatha “Aggie” Cromwell||TV movie
|Lolo’s Cafe||Mrs. Atkins||Voice|
|2007||Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project||Herself (Interviewee)||Documentary|||
|2008||Light of Olympia||Queen||Voice|
|The Jill & Tony Curtis Story||Herself||Documentary|
|Blaze of Glory||Voice|
|The Brothers Warner||Documentary|
|Fay Wray: A Life||Documentary|
|2010||The Penguins of Madagascar||Granny Squirrel||Voice|
|RuPaul’s Drag Race||Self||Guest judge|
|2012||One for the Money||Grandma Mazur|||
|In the Picture||Aunt Lilith||Short|
|2013||Behind the Candelabra||Frances Liberace|||
|2016||Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds||Herself||Documentary|||
Awards and honors
Reynolds was the 1955 Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year. Her foot and handprints are preserved at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California. She also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6654 Hollywood Boulevard, for live performance and a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars dedicated to her. In keeping with the celebrity tradition of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival of Winchester, Virginia, Reynolds was honored as the Grand Marshal of the 2011 ABF that took place from April 26 to May 1, 2011.
In November 2006 Reynolds received the Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award from Chapman University (Orange, California). On May 17, 2007, she was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Nevada, Reno, where she had contributed for many years to the film studies program.