She is a survivor.
She started as a teenage beauty queen in the early Fifties, and she’s still with us. She’s been in musicals (perhaps the best musical ever made), comedies, dramas, westerns, and embodies the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim’s song, “I’m still here.”
She has survived at least one lousy husband, a famously rebellious daughter and several financial crises. Throughout it all, she has remained steadfastly true to her professional roots via her longtime attempts to establish a classic Hollywood museum, preserving irreplaceable memorabilia from the period she knew so well.
Reynolds recalls first viewing as “a normally innocent teenager” — she was born Mary Frances Reynolds in El Paso, Texas in 1932 — the huge Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer sign atop Stage 6 in 1950.
I used to spend days walking around the big, busy lot while they tried to figure out what to do with me. I’d hang out in the Makeup Department or the Music and Property Departments, of the Scoring Stages, or Rehearsal Halls, or out on the back lots, she wrote.
I never dreamt or cared that the composers and writers and performers I was mingling with, and not taking particularly seriously, were the finest and most famous in the world.
Reynolds soon learned to appreciate their efforts, however, especially in reference to four words — Singin’ In The Rain, a true international classic.
The 1952 movie is more even popular abroad than it is at home. American audiences tend to swoon over The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland, but less so about Singin’ In the Rain with Debbie Reynolds. The musical was written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden (with MGM producer Arthur Feed claiming credit for writing the song lyrics), and its inside showbizzy quality may have more appeal in Europe than in the U.S.
There’s no question that Singin’ In the Rain is a work of genius revealing the amazingly athletic dance performances of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and, yes, of Debbie Reynolds. Still all that was pretty much ignored by official Hollywood when the movie came out.
It was not among the five films nominated in the 1952 Academy Award sweepstakes. The nominees were Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show On Earth (which won), High Noon, Ivanhoe, Moulin Rouge and The Quiet Man.
Singin’ in the Rain had to content itself with a single principal Oscar nomination (for Jean Hagen in the best actress supporting category). It won nothing except, perhaps, Reynolds’ career longevity (she’s since logged more than 80 film and tv credits over 60 years).
Yes, she won sympathy as the injured party in one of the most celebrated marital scandals of the last century when first husband, singer Eddie Fisher, departed their four-year union for the seductive embrace of Elizabeth Taylor. A 13-year hitch to second husband, Harry Karl, left her strapped with gambling debts and bad investment losses. A bankruptcy blotted her third union to real estate developer Richard Hamlett, a marriage she later said left her with fears for her life.
Much like the the character she played in her 1964 hit musical, Reynolds remained and remains unsinkable.