Sunday, April 01, 2007


Today is the 75th birthday of a true show business legend: the one and only "Unsinkable Molly Brown" herself Miss Debbie Reynolds. Her real name is Mary Frances Reynolds. I got to meet her just once many years ago in the 1980's when I was walking down Hollywood Blvd with a friend. I didn't know what her real name was, but my friend who was a Hollywood fanatic knew. She was eating lunch at an outdoor bistro of some kind with another woman and my friend who was always obnoxious in his star sightings and meetings walked up to her table and exclaimed "Sister Mary Frances, it's Debbie Reynolds!" And she laughed and my friend got her autograph. My John absolutely loves Debbie-- one of his favorite stars! Oh yes indeed Debbie Reynolds was born Mary Frances Reynolds on April 1, 1932, in El Paso Texas, and there's a lot of Texas left in her. After her family moved to California, she entered the Miss Burbank beauty contest in 1948, reportedly just to get the free blouse, silk scarf, and lunch given to contestants. Her Betty Hutton impersonation won the day, and she also won a contract with Warner Brothers. The studio missed its chance, however, giving her only two small roles in the next couple of years, and failing to renew her contract. MGM then grabbed her up, gave her dancing and singing lessons, and cast her in Three Little Words and then Two Weeks with Love (both 1950). Her success in those parts led to her biggest break, a starring role opposite Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor in what has come to be thought of as the greatest of the MGM musicals-- maybe the best musical of all time: "Singin' in the Rain" (1952). Debbie was only 19 at the time and she says it was one of the two hardest things she's ever done (childbirth being the other). But it was worth it. For the next decade she was one of the most popular and highest-paid stars at MGM. Notable films during this period included The Tender Trap (1955), The Catered Affair (1956), Tammy and the Bachelor (1957) (which also resulted in a Top 10 hit title song, Tammy) This Happy Feeling (1958), The Mating Game (1959), The Gazebo (1959), The Rat Race (1960), The Second Time Around (1961), How the West Was Won (1962), and My Six Loves (1963). The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) gave her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Debbie had married Eddie Fisher in 1955. Their two children, Carrie and Todd, went on to achieve success in Hollywood themselves, but the marriage ended in 1959, in a well-publicized break-up involving Elizabeth Taylor. The publicity didn't hurt her career, but the death of the Hollywood musical did. She shifted gears in the late 60s, turning to stage musicals, television, and later night clubs, voice over work, and even an exercise video (1984). But she never really retired from films, and in 1996 starred in Albert Brooks' comedy Mother, giving one of her greatest performances to date. More recently she teamed up (believe it or not) with her old nemesis Elizabeth Taylor plus Shirley Maclaine and Joan Collins on a TV movie written by her daughter Carrie Fisher, entitled These Old Broads. Perhaps her greatest enthusiasm in recent years has been her collection of Hollywood memorabilia, consisting of more than 3000 costumes and 46,000 square feet of props and equipment, now housed in her Las Vegas Hollywood Motion Picture Collection. I was surprised to learn that she had to declare bankruptcy back in 1996. It just shows you that even being a great Hollywood star can mean an earth crashing or two. Debbie has seen a lot of those including the break up of two high profiole marriages! So Happy Birthday dear Debbie Reynolds. Today also is a birthday of another Hollywood legend: Jane Powell-- (remember her/) She turns 79 today. Today is also Palm Sunday and I will go to church later today!

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