Debbie Reynolds had her share of ups and downs, but through it all she showed a resilient streak worthy of one of her on-screen characters — the unsinkable Molly Brown.
When Reynolds was young, she moved to Burbank with her family and quickly started performing in school plays and even with the town symphony. She won the Miss Burbank beauty contest at 16 and captured the attention of Warner Bros. and MGM. Reynolds signed with Warner Bros. but only managed to make 1950’s “The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady.”
She had better luck at MGM after she signed with the studio in 1950, causing a sensation in her short but memorable scene as the boop-oop-a-doop singer Helen Kane in the 1950 musical biopic “Three Little Words.” That same year she and Carleton Carpenter hit the charts with the song “Aba Daba Honeymoon” from their film “Two Weeks With Love.”
Her stock in Hollywood rose when Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen cast her as the female lead in their 1952 musical classic “Singin’ in the Rain.” Reynolds made several other musicals at the studio, including 1953’s “I Love Melvin” and “Give a Girl a Break.” She got a chance at more dramatic fare with 1956’s “The Catered Affair” with Bette Davis. Reynolds started to freelance in 1957 and found success at Universal with the comedy “Tammy and the Bachelor” and had a No. 1 hit tune with “Tammy.”
She earned her only lead actress Oscar nomination for 1964’s “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” She also starred in the 1967 hit comedy “Divorce American Style.”
On TV, Reynolds headlined her first sitcom, “The Debbie Reynolds Show,” in 1969, but it only lasted one season.
Later, Reynolds turned to Broadway, where she starred in the 1973 revival of “Irene” and began performing in nightclubs. She also guest-starred on countless TV series including “Alice” and TV movies such as 1987’s “Sadie and Son.” In the 1990s, Reynolds returned to feature films, receiving rave reviews in Albert Brooks’ 1996 comedy “Mother,” as well as playing Kevin Kline’s mother in 1997’s “In & Out.” She also appeared as Grace’s mother in several episodes of the NBC comedy “Will & Grace.”
Reynolds' personal life was rockier. She married and divorced singer Eddie Fisher (with whom she had two children, Carrie and Todd Fisher), after he fell for Elizabeth Taylor. In 1960, she married shoe magnate Harry Karl, and after divorcing Karl wed real estate developer Richard Hamlett in 1985. Her second and third marriages were personal and financial disasters.
“I have poor taste in men,” she told The Times in 1997. “Most of my problems have come from the men I've married.... Still, I think you should follow your heart. I'm not a bitter person. I'd never sink to that.”
Reynolds died Dec. 28, 2016, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She was 84. Her death came just a day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, died at the age of 60.
|1964||Best Actress||The Unsinkable Molly Brown||Nomination|