The life story of Debbie Reynolds

After three divorces and three bankruptcies, her daughter’s mental problems and career stagnation, Reynolds did not give up her desire and energy to work even in her advanced years. Although she began her career after World War II, made more than sixty films, appeared in about twenty television series, appeared on Broadway and London’s West End, is best known for her role in one of the most popular film musicals of all time, “Let’s Sing in the Rain”, 1952, in which she sang and danced alongside Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, and the film “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” (1964), which earned her the only Oscar nomination.

Although she never won a gold statue, she received a number of other prestigious accolades, most notably the American Comedy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1996 and the Emmy for her role as Bobby Adler in the sitcom Will and Grace (2000).

– Today I can’t believe how stupid I was. Imagine, as a little girl, I dreamed that one day I would become a physical education teacher! Maybe I would avoid some difficult situations, such as, for example, three bankruptcies in which my ex-husbands pushed me, but I would be deprived of many beautiful and exciting things – she once admitted in the Oprah Winfrey show.

I will present you the life story of Debbie Reynolds, from which you can learn a lot!

Earlier years

Debbie Reynolds’ life story is largely due to her parents: father Raymond Francis Reynolds, who worked as a carpenter at Southern Pacific Railroad, stood firm from day one with his younger daughter, who was born Mary Frances Reynolds, 1. april 1932 in the Texas city of El Paso, and mother Maxine, devoutly listened to her husband and never opposed him. Little Mary was a favorite in the family, and already as a preschool child she loved to imitate neighbors and knew how to imitate various dialects.

When she turned sixteen, her father applied for the Miss Berbenko pageant, a small town about twenty kilometers from Los Angeles, where the family moved before World War II. The motive was low: the first prize was a silk scarf and blouse, clothing rarities of the 1944 war, and when she won such an irresistibly attractive award, Mary had the feeling that the whole world was under her feet. And as it usually happens, the competition was followed by a talent hunter from the film company “Warner Brothers”, who immediately offered the young winner an engagement in Hollywood.

A turning point in life

Mary accepted the offer, immediately changed her “too ordinary” name to “Debbie”, her father signed a contract on her behalf because she was still a minor, and her mother prayed to God for forgiveness with endless patience, because she is in their religious community, the call of the actress was just a nicer expression for a cheap girl.

After several episodic roles in musicals, in 1952 she got the role of Kathy Selden in “Let’s Sing in the Rain”, which – as it turned out – was crucial for her career. The film opened all the doors of Hollywood for her, although it did not achieve great success in the beginning. However, as time went on, the musical gained more and more fans, so at the end of the last century, it was included among the hundred greatest achievements of Hollywood.

Debbie made a dozen roles in just a few years, so when she got the lead role in the film “Tammy and the Bachelor” in 1957, viewers already had the impression that she had always been on the big screen. The title song from that film, “Tammy”, was such a great success that she recorded it as a single that reached gold circulation and the status of the best-selling record of the year in a few months.

Record companies flooded her with tempting offers, and she did not hesitate and until 1960 she recorded several albums that brought her, at that time, astronomical earnings. Along with such popularity, engagements began in a medium that was becoming more and more powerful – television, to which Debbie Reynolds remained attached for the rest of her life.

Private life

In addition to such an intense professional life, Debbie Reynolds also experienced turbulent private periods. In the mid-fifties, she fell in love with the four-year-old singer Eddie Fisher, convinced that she would spend the rest of her life with him.

– From this perspective, I could almost die laughing, but then I thought that marriage is sacred and that divorce happens to people who are not normal. When I married Eddie in 1955, I thought we would stay together until death. Remember, my mother raised me according to church canons and, although I am an actress, in some respects in life, I did not deviate from her views – she explained later.

The young couple had a daughter, Carrie, on October 21, 1956, and a son, Todd, in 1957. Fisher was earning millions of dollars at a time when the annual salary in the United States was only 2,000 dollars, and Debbie Reynolds received 200,000 dollars per film, so they soon bought a magnificent villa on the slopes of Los Angeles. However, the family idyll did not last long.

Debbie Reynolds was a longtime close friend of actress Elizabeth Taylor, and Eddie Fisher was the best friend of Elizabeth’s then-husband, producer Michael Todd, whose 1956 “Around the World in Eighty Days” won the Oscar for Best Picture. Moreover, Fischer was the wedding godfather of Michael Todd when he married for the third time on February 2, 1957, after two unsuccessful marriages. Elizabeth Taylor was 34 at the time and, just like Todd, she had two failed marriages behind her. The two couples visited and maintained close and very cordial relations, especially since Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter, Lisa, on August 6, 1957.

But soon an evil fate befell the four of them, and in a very bizarre way. On June 22, 1958, Todd took a private plane from Los Angeles to New Mexico, a little unhappy that his beautiful wife could not go with him.

Namely, Elizabeth had a fever, so at the last moment, she gave up the trip. As it turned out, the disease saved her life. Less than an hour after takeoff, Todd informed the flight control that one of his plane’s engines had failed and the aircraft disappeared from the radar in the next few minutes.

In the late afternoon, the wreckage of the plane was found scattered within a radius of several hundred meters, and all three passengers and the pilot were killed.

The search for their bodies lasted for days. But they identified him by the remains of his jaw, a wedding ring and a pair of cuff links that Eddie Fisher gave him for Christmas. In addition, after he was buried in Forest Park in Illinois, in the Jewish cemetery “Beth Aaron”, a rumor spread that he was laid in the grave with a diamond ring worth 100,000 dollars, which Liz gave him for his first wedding anniversary. Shortly afterwards, the grave was desecrated and the few of his remains were found scattered by the police.

Elizabeth Taylor had to say goodbye to her dead husband once again, but this time he was buried in secret, in a place that was never made public. Broken by all these tragedies, Elizabeth Taylor fell into a difficult mental state in which she was most comforted by Eddie Fisher, the best friend of her late husband. However, the desperate wife and friend quickly crossed the line between consolation and a relationship of a completely different nature.

– At first I had no idea. In a way, I was happy that Eddie could help Elizabeth because I realized how hard it was for her. However, when one evening, almost in the dead of night, I called Elizabeth, and on the other side of the wire I heard my husband’s voice, everything suddenly became clear to me. I also heard her whisper when she asked him who was calling, and then his panicked voice. I told him, “Eddie, get away and give the phone to Elizabeth,” to which he replied vigorously, “Debbie, Liz and I love each other, and I want a divorce.” I froze in horror. Those words resonated in my head for years – Debbie Reynolds admitted in an interview for “CBS 2009”.

The shock must have been great, but Fisher did not waver. Despite widespread public condemnation, he divorced Debbie and a week after the divorce became final, on May 12, 1959, he became the fourth husband of the beautiful Elizabeth Taylor. At that time, he could not have guessed that their marriage would last less than five years and that the greedy Liz would marry four more times after him. He did not lag behind either: he married three more times, and his marriages lasted shorter and shorter. He described his turbulent life in two autobiographies: “My Life, My Loves” (1981), and “Been There, Done That” (1999), in which he explicitly and without any restrictions described all the connections and scandals he did not shy away from. Nor at a more mature age.

After the second book was published, his daughter Carrie, who at the time admitted that she had many problems growing up with famous parents and that she had spent a long time in psychiatric treatment due to drugs and a more severe form of bipolar disorder, said:

– Now it is clear to me where my mental illness comes from. When I was little, I hardly saw my father. He was obsessed with himself, his greatness and importance, and we didn’t seem to exist. I underwent electric shocks, with which the doctors “broke the concrete” in my brain. With the experience I have today, it is clear to me that my father was an even more difficult patient than me.

Alone against everyone

Debbie Reynolds, however, was not entitled to leave. With her two small children and her ex-husband, who, more or less, didn’t care if they were alive at all, she continued to work at full speed. She found solace, at least to some extent, in the affection of the audience and the even greater popularity she gained by avoiding conflicts through the media. In the early 1960s, right after the divorce, she released the album “Am I That Easy to Forget” and achieved great success.

As she approached her forties, she expected, as is usual in Hollywood, that she would gradually fall into oblivion, but she got involved in television productions in time, which brought her a new wave of popularity.

After an emotional crash, she managed to recover, and in 1960 she married a wealthy industrialist, nine years older, Harry Karl, who had multimillion-dollar income from his shoe empire – but was also an incorrigible gambler.

– My second husband was rich, I checked that well before I got married – she explained. – However, I wasn’t exactly a church mouse either, although I haven’t seen a cent out of Eddie’s millions. But there is no money that a chronic gambler cannot spend! Karl was addicted to roulette and cards. He was losing frightening sums of money and he forever thought that in the next roll of the dice he would regain everything and win twice as much. Sure, it happened once or twice, but the passion for gambling lasted 365 days a year.

Gambling debts and bad investments ate up Karl’s fortune and ruined his marriage to Debbie, but the trouble didn’t end there either. The actress paid off his debts for some time, until the divorce ended in 1973, which destroyed her business venture – creating a fashion line.

– It was really very stressful, if the fall to the bottom can be formulated like that – the actress admitted during a visit to Oprah Winfrey in 2009. – I lived in a car for several months, literally. And it is not true that in such cases you do not think of the worst! From the abundance and easy life in a Hollywood villa, it is not easy to save on a parking lot in a remote part of the city, but a man is sometimes stronger than a stone and endures even what seems impossible to him.

In addition, the mental state of her daughter Kerry deteriorated significantly, so the actress accepted all the film roles they offered her. But there were fewer and fewer of them. Only when Kerry, who became famous in the late seventies for her role as Princess Leia in “Star Wars”, reached relative mental stability in the early eighties, and began to receive adequate therapy, her mother was able to dedicate herself to work as before.

In addition to the renaissance in professional terms, she gathered strength for a new beginning in her private life and on May 25, 1984, she married for the third time. Her chosen one was the construction entrepreneur Richard Hamlet, with whom she entered into several risky investments. One of them, the purchase of the hotel and casino “Greek Isles” in Las Vegas, proved to be a bottomless well, swallowing millions of dollars that they never managed to return. The bad investment quickly created such great tensions between the spouses that they buried their marriage, so in 1996, Debbie Reynolds filed for a third divorce petition, and a year later she had to declare personal bankruptcy again.

– You know, the British have a great proverb: when someone tells you that you are a horse, don’t pay attention to a fool, when others tell you that you are a horse, think well of yourself, and when they tell you a third time that you are a horse, buy a saddle and shut up. For your information, my saddle is at home and I no longer intend to let anyone load it on my back.

However, Debbie Reynolds proved that she was not as angry as she could be. For decades, she was tormented by the breakup of her relationship with Elizabeth Taylor, and then she realized that she simply had to get rid of that strong negative energy. The opportunity appeared almost as a gift from heaven. When she boarded the ship she was traveling from in New York to the UK in 1983, she saw a pile of “Louis Vuitton” suitcases being carried on board and asked one of the staff who owned the luxury luggage. “Elizabeth,” they replied, to which she thought they belonged to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. It turned out, however, that they belonged to Elizabeth Taylor. Then it dawned on her that the two of them, after almost three decades, could bury the hatchet.

– I sent her a message at the same time as she sent it to me, and it all ended with dinner where we had great fun and laughed like crazy.

I was sincerely sad when she died, much more than when, peace be upon him, our common husband died – said Debbie 2012.

Despite her respectable age, Debbie did not intend to stop. As a chronic “film addict”, as she called herself, she decided to open a film museum with more than 40,000 memorabilia from various shootings: from a John Wayne rifle from the movie “Rio Bravo”, to costumes and props from hundreds of movies, posters and photographs. She has been passionately collecting for decades and which she wanted to leave as her contribution to the preservation of the Hollywood tradition, of which she herself is an important part.

At the premiere of one of the last films, the comedy “One for the Money”, held on January 27, 2012, in which she starred with Catherine Heigl, she appeared smiling, in a purple dress and with large earrings and said:

– I’m still here and I don’t intend to leave so soon.

But, despite all the ups and downs she survived, the death of the child was too strong for the indestructible Debbie Reynolds.

Reynolds died at Cedar-Sinai Hospital on December 28, 2016, where she was placed after suffering a severe stroke, less than 24 hours after the death of her daughter, actress and writer Carrie Fisher.

– She wanted to be with Carrie – her son Todd Fisher said briefly for “Variety”.


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