The spunky song-and-dancer entertainer and actress Debbie Reynolds, now 81, looks back with humor and zestful spirits in her memoir "Unsinkable" at a personal life that might well have done a lesser lady in and at an enviable career that is still going strong. (She is featured as Liberace's mother in the 2013 Warner Brothers HBO movie "Behind the Candelabra" on tv this month).
Most film-goers really got to know the diminutive blond as the perky ingénue kicking up her heels with Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly in "Singing in the Rain," the 1952 MGM musical she made as a contract player at that studio. She was cast because studio head Louis B. Mayer wanted her to do the lead despite the fact that she didn't know how to dance and Kelly didn't want her in the role. She had three teachers and danced eight hours a day over three months learning O'Connor and Kelly's signature steps and enough else to put in a sparkling performance.
The book constantly delights with on-the-movie-lot stories, such as her experience doing the 1950 "Two Weeks With Love," (her first real role) earlier at MGM, choreographed by the brilliant Busby Berkeley, famed for his overhead shots featuring dozens of dancers in elaborate settings and patterns. Berkeley, notorious for his heavy drinking, was usually tipsy by the afternoon so the crew would strap him to the boom camera where he sat high above the action. Writes Reynolds, "when-ever there was a halt to filming, we used to sing. 'Somewhere there's Busby, how high the boom."
By contrast with her career, which she always manages to keep going, her marriages are atrocious, starting off with the singer Eddie Fisher, the father of her two children Carrie and Todd. Eddie leaves her for Elizabeth Taylor in a scandal that's remembered to this day. Believe it or not, matters get worse with her next husband, a very wealthy man who gambles away his money and hers, followed by a real estate mogul who is a cad in every respect and even tries to murder her. Reynolds's clear eyed account of these marital horror stories is as fascinating as her show business tales. She is a very funny lady, who is able to get across her wit with the wonderful assist of Dorian Hannaway. a long time friend and noted late night tv writer and producer.
To give you a quick example of the head shaking way things go for Miss Reynolds, when her daughter Carrie Fisher's memoir of recovery (from drugs) "Postcards from the Edge" is to be made into a film, Debbie Reynolds wants to play the mother. Now, doesn't that seem a natural? The director, however, feels otherwise and rejects her saying "you're not right for the part" (Shirley McLaine is cast instead).
"Unsinkable," the title comes from her favorite role, the title part in the 1964 MGM "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," turns out in the end to be a kind of gossipy confidences girl friends would share. On that note, interestingly, in later years Elizabeth Taylor apologizes to Reynolds and the two pick up as the fast friends they were at the start. Quite clearly, however, Reynolds never forgives Eddie Fisher and frankly he comes across to me too as a big jerk.
"Unsinkable" a memoir
By Debbie Reynolds and Dorian Hannaway