Saturday, December 31, 2016

R.I.P. Debbie Reynolds (1932-2016)

Debbie Reynolds
On December 28, 2016, actress and singer Debbie Reynolds died at the age of 84 in Los Angeles, California after suffering from a stroke. Over the course of her lengthy career, she has entertained audiences both on the silver screen as well as on TV. Best known for her role in Singin' in the Rain, she is known for performing complicated song and dance numbers effortlessly. However, she was a charismatic woman whose talents ranged into theater, film preservation, and even running an organization for mental health issues. No matter what the cause, she dedicated herself to making the world a better place. She leaves behind an impressive body of work that transcends media that will entertain audiences for generations to come.

Debbie Reynolds was born Mary Frances Reynolds in El Paso, Texas on April 1, 1932. Her parents were considered to be simple folk, with her parents having odd jobs such as being a carpenter for the Southern Pacific Railroad, ditch digging, and taking in laundry. She was raised in a strict Nazarine church. Her family worked hard for everything they owned. Little Mary was a Girl Scout and passionately suggested that one day she hoped to be the oldest living Girl Scout. They moved to Burbank, California in 1939 and Reynolds was entering beauty pageants after - winning Miss Burbank at the age of 16 in 1948. Even then, she was considered to be tomboyish and rarely dated during her high school years.

It wasn't long until she had a contract. The story goes that following the beauty contest, she was sought after by MGM and Warner Bros., of whom did a coin toss for the contract deal. The first two years of Reynolds career was spent at Warner Bros. where she received the nickname of "Debbie" from head producer Jack L. Warner. When they stopped producing musicals, she went off to MGM. Her first big film came shortly after with director Stanley Donen's Hollywood satire musical Singin' in the Rain. She claims that her co-star Gene Kelly inspired her to form a tough work ethic. Not considered a professional dancer, Reynolds had three months of training before the film started. She was only 19.

She would go on to meet her husband, singer Eddie Fisher in 1956 on the film Bundle of Joy. Together they had a daughter named Carrie Fisher in 1956. She would have a career of her own as an actress, coming to prominence most notably with the Star Wars films as Princess Leia. Meanwhile, Reynolds' career continued to have burgeoning projects that included a music career that included the Oscar-nominated song "Tammy" from Tammy and the Bachelor co-starring Leslie Nielsen. The song would earn her a gold record and made her the best selling female vocalist of 1957. 

In 1964, she received a Best Actress nomination for the lead role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. There was controversy behind the scenes that suggested that director Charles Walters wanted Shirley MacLaine for the part, of whom was unavailable. He eventually changed his mind when seeing the work. Around this time, there was also a notorious scandal in which her husband had an affair with Elizabeth Taylor. It made gossip headlines and created controversy that changed Fisher's career. Ironically, Carrie Fisher would write a film called These Old Broads in 2001 starring Reynolds, Fisher, and Taylor; further proving that they could each bury the hatchet.

In 1973, Reynolds decided to have her debut on Broadway in the revamped Irene, co-starring her daughter Carrie. When asked why she waited until she was in her 40's to do this, she claimed that it was largely due to having two children. She wanted to spend time with them without sacrificing career, which film, music, and TV allowed her to commute to and from. She ended up receiving acclaim and would continue to do theater throughout the rest of her career. She even reprised the role of Molly Brown in the stage version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown. She would claim that live performances are some of the most rewarding things that she could ever do.

Behind the scenes, Reynolds also participated in film preservation where she would collect and sometimes auction off Hollywood memorabilia. While it would occasionally lead to bankruptcy, she was proud of her work. She was also a leader of a Girl Scout troop in the 1960's when her daughter Carrie was involved. She also had 56 years of involvement (ending in 2011) with The Thalians, which was dedicated to studying adults and children with mental health issues. This was in part inspired by her daughter Carrie's public struggles with mental health issues. In 2015, she would receive the Honorary Jean Herscholt Humanitarian Oscar for her impressive career, again being introduced by Carrie.

On December 27, Carrie died in Los Angeles, CA following an incident on a plane where a passenger claimed that she wasn't breathing. Reynolds passed away the following day from a stroke, though many are contesting that it was partially influenced by a broken heart syndrome. This would make sense, as the mother-daughter duo had a contentious relationship that had become stronger following Carrie's daughter Billie Lourd's birth. Still, their bond over performing together made them stronger, even living next door to each other at the time of deaths. With each having phenomenal careers to their credit, it's sad to have lost them both within a day of each other. They are survived by Reynold's son Todd Fisher, and Carrie's daughter Billie Lourd. Still, their contribution to entertainment will never go away and continue to inspire generations for decades to come.

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