Debbie Reynolds, 1932 - 2016
The star of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN was 84.
"When Debbie Reynolds, wearing a skimpy pink flapper’s dress, burst out of an enormous cake at a Hollywood party in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), she simultaneously burst into screen stardom," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "The casting of the inexperienced 19-year-old was a risk taken by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, the co-directors of the classic MGM musical about the early days of talkies. The gamble paid off, but not without some sweat and strain. 'There were times when Debbie was more interested in playing the French horn somewhere in the San Fernando Valley or attending a Girl Scout meeting,' Kelly recalled. 'She didn’t realize she was a movie star all of a sudden.'"
"She has an impregnable, unchallengeable status in the history of cinema simply for her part in that movie," writes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw. "Just watching her in it, alive with fun, with dance, with comedy and romance, is enough to cure any bad mood…. Reynolds’s face is irradiated with an extraordinary kind of pure joy—and with that innocent happiness and pertness which bespoke a type of femininity which Hollywood and the music industry promoted in those days, but which was never so persuasive, or so beguiling, as Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ in the Rain."
"Her greatest fame, however, may have come not from any movie role but from the Hollywood scandal involving her husband and a glamorous young widow," writes Anita Gates in the New York Times. "In 1955, Ms. Reynolds married Eddie Fisher, the boyish music idol whose hits included 'Oh! My Pa-Pa' and 'I’m Walking Behind You,' and the young couple were embraced by fan magazines as America’s sweethearts. Their best friends were the producer Mike Todd and his new wife, the femme-fatale film star Elizabeth Taylor. When Mr. Todd died in a private-plane crash in 1958, Ms. Reynolds and Mr. Fisher rushed to comfort Ms. Taylor. Mr. Fisher’s comforting, however, turned into a very public extramarital affair. He and Ms. Reynolds were divorced early the next year, and he and Ms. Taylor were married weeks later. That marriage lasted five years. Ms. Taylor left Mr. Fisher for Richard Burton, whom she had met in Rome on the set of Cleopatra (1963)."
"From 1950 to 1967, she appeared in more than 30 movie musicals and light comedies, receiving her lone Oscar nomination for playing the title character in 1964’s The Unsinkable Molly Brown," writes Valerie J. Nelson in the Los Angeles Times. "Many critics considered it her most memorable early role, and it was a favorite—Reynolds related to a woman with tremendous zest for life…. In 1996, she returned to the big screen for her first major part in years, playing the title role in the well-reviewed Albert Brooks comedy Mother. The role allowed her 'to bare a steely edge beneath her famously perky exterior,' People magazine said in 1997. It also earned her some of the best reviews of her career."
Debbie Reynolds, a legend and my movie mom. I can't believe this happened one day after Carrie. My heart goes out to Billie.
— Albert Brooks (@AlbertBrooks) December 29, 2016
Joe Leydon recalls heading to a television interview with Reynolds in 1996 and finding her chatting up the production crew, "discussing how she had maintained her figure despite the passing of years—she was 64 at the time, the same age I am now—and the laws of gravity. And she wanted everyone within earshot to know: 'I’m very proud of my tits.' When she realized a newcomer had entered the interview zone, she turned her gaze to me, and bluntly asked: 'Don’t you think I still have great tits?' For a second, I thought: 'Just how does one respond to a question like that?' And then I figured, what the hell, say what you think. So I answered: 'They look terrific, ma’am. And your ass looks pretty good, too.' She laughed, but demurred. 'Oh, no, that’s gone to hell. But my tits…'"
"She continued to work well into her 80s, via film and TV work, guesting on The Golden Girls and Roseanne and drawing an Emmy nomination in 2000 for her recurring role on Will and Grace as the latter’s entertainer mother," writes Variety's Carmel Dagan. "For movie fans, she was always the pert star of movies, TV, nightclubs and Broadway. But to industry people, she was known for her philanthropy, including more than 60 years of working with the organization the Thalians on mental-health care. She was also known for her energetic battles to preserve Hollywood heritage. She bought thousands of pieces when MGM auctioned off its costumes and props, including Marilyn Monroe’s 'subway dress' from The Seven Year Itch, a Charlie Chaplin bowler hat and a copy of the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Reynolds spent decades trying to get these items showcased in a museum."
Earlier this year, Interview posted a conversation "between Reynolds and one of Andy Warhol's superstars, Tinkerbelle. Originally printed in September 1976, the two discuss everything from the great Impressionists to face lifts and being mugged—all during drunch."
Updates: "There was a vitality in Reynolds that sometimes seemed super-human, and off-screen she was an American success story and go-getter who knew the value of publicity," writes Dan Callahan for RogerEbert.com. "Her talent was real: take a look at some of the casually earthy dances she does with Bob Fosse in Give a Girl a Break (1953), which shows what a flexible performer she was. Reynolds could rise to any occasion when it came to dancing, and as a singer she had hit records in this period, none more popular than 'Tammy,' which she sang for the rest of her life. The sound of Reynolds singing 'Tammy' was lyrically used during a poetic montage in Terence Davies’s film on childhood, The Long Day Closes (1992), because the sweet sound of her voice summed up a whole point of view for his generation."
At Slate, David Canfield notes that Mother "marked Reynolds’s first leading role in more than 25 years, and it can reasonably be construed as her final great performance. Further, Mother posed a unique acting challenge for Reynolds: to mine both comedy and pathos out of her character’s disarming passive-aggressiveness, to realize Beatrice’s attempted undermining of her son as at once unsettling, endearing, pained, and occasionally cruel. With intuition and incisive wit, Reynolds made this extraordinarily delicate balance look easy."
"The deaths of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher over the past 48 hours have left the team behind the upcoming HBO documentary on the mother and daughter reeling from shock," reports Cynthia Littleton for Variety. "Bright Lights: Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher is a chronicle of the extraordinary bond that mother and daughter forged over six decades in the unrelenting glare of showbiz’s spotlight…. 'It’s a love story,' said HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins… 'Carrie wanted to make Bright Lights for Debbie and Debbie wanted to make it for Carrie,' Nevins said."
Updates, 1/1: "Nobody like Debbie Reynolds is ever happening at the movies again," writes Wesley Morris in the New York Times. "Who’ll be as plucky? Who’ll work as hard to stay as morally pure? Who the hell is gonna be named Debbie? These days, when we talk about 'showbiz,' we have to adjust for deflation, because it just doesn’t mean as much as it did when Ms. Reynolds was a star."
Tristram Fane Saunders for the Telegraph on the nearly unbearable strain of making Singin' in the Rain: "Its success propelled her to stardom, but the real drama took place behind the scenes. Bullied by her fellow cast members, and pushed to terrible extremes by a grueling rehearsal schedule, Reynolds was left so weak that her doctor demanded she be given a break from filming, fearing for her health. But MGM studio chief Arthur Freed had other plans…. One shoot—for the song 'Good Morning'—went on from 8am to 11pm, and left her as a physical wreck: 'My feet were bleeding from hours of abuse,' she wrote. 'I couldn't move.'"
And at the Ringer, K. Austin Collins adds that "she was sharing the screen with two of Hollywood’s great dancers—the smooth, jazz-inflected [Gene] Kelly, and the manically athletic Donald O’Connor—tumbling over couches, skipping up and down flights of stairs, hopping over bar stools onto a bar. If Reynolds couldn’t quite match the veterans in outright technique, she gave them a run for their money at making it look easy."
"Reynolds had the chops to stay on top even after musicals faded from prominence," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Farber. "She proved adept in comedy and matched up well with co-stars Dick Powell (Susan Slept Here), Frank Sinatra (The Tender Trap), Tony Randall (The Mating Game), Tony Curtis (The Rat Race) and Glenn Ford (It Started With a Kiss). She snagged the leading roles in film versions of hit Broadway comedies The Pleasure of His Company, Mary Mary and Goodbye Charlie. Although she didn't make many dramatic films, Reynolds gave deeply sympathetic performances in a few of them, beginning with 1956's The Catered Affair in which she played the sensible daughter of Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine."
Also in THR, Andy Lewis: "'Hollywood owes Debbie Reynolds a huge debt for elevating its costumes and props to high art,' says James Comisar, whose Comisar Collection is the most comprehensive collection of TV costumes and memorabilia. 'She believed they were nearly religious in their cultural significance, and with Hollywood artifacts now selling along the top tier for millions of dollars a piece, we have proof of sorts that she was right about the artistic and historic merits of items worn or wielded by screen gods.'"
From Patrick Pacheco at Artinfo: "When I first arrived in New York in the early 70s and got a job at an entertainment magazine called After Dark, one of my first assignments was to serve as a go-fer on a fashion shoot planned around Reynolds, who was then making her Broadway debut in a revival of a 1920s musical frolic Irene. Despite her carefully cultivated America’s-sweetheart image (she was one of the last of the MGM musical stars), Reynolds was all business. No, she said, she would not be in the fashion shoot. She would sit for an interview, but only if the shoot was recast to feature her daughter, Carrie—then 16 and in the chorus of the show—and if her son, Todd, who had just turned 15, could be the photographer. Reynolds got what she wanted."
Todd Fisher has announced that his sister and mother will share a funeral, reports Karen Brill for Vulture.