Debbie Reynolds was an American actress, singer, businesswoman, film historian, and humanitarian. Her breakout role was the portrayal of Helen Kane in the 1950 film Three Little Words, for which she was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer. However, it was her first leading role in 1952 at age 19, as Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain, that set her on the path to fame.
By the mid-1950s, she was a major star. Other notable successes include The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953), Susan Slept Here (1954), Bundle of Joy (1956 Golden Globe nomination), The Catered Affair (1956 National Board of Review Best Supporting Actress Winner), and Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), in which her performance of the song “Tammy” reached number one on the music charts.
Let’s see some facts about her!
1. Mary Frances Reynolds was born on April 1, 1932, in El Paso, Texas, the daughter of Maxine and Raymond Francis Reynolds, a carpenter for the Southern Pacific Railroad.
2. She was of Scottish-Irish and English ancestry, and was raised in a strict Nazarene church. She had a brother two years her senior, and Reynolds was a Girl Scout, once saying that she wanted to die as the world’s oldest living Girl Scout.
3. Her father dug ditches and her mother took in laundry for income, while they lived in a “shack” on Magnolia Street, in El Paso. “We may have been poor,” she said, “but we always had something to eat, even if Dad had to go out on the desert and shoot jack rabbits.”
4. One of the advantages of having been poor is that you learn to appreciate good fortune and the value of a dollar, and poverty holds no fear for you because you know you’ve gone through it and you can do it again…But we were always a happy family and a religious one. And I’m trying to inculcate in my children the same sense of values, the same tone that my mother gave to me.
5. Her family moved to Burbank, California, in 1939.
6. At age sixteen, in 1948, while a student at Burbank High School, she won the Miss Burbank beauty contest.
7. Soon after, she had a contract with Warner Bros and acquired a new first name via Jack Warner.
8. During her teenage years in Burbank, she rarely dated, said one of her closest high school friends. “They never found her attractive in school. She was cute, but sort of tomboyish, and her family never had any money to speak of. She never dressed well or drove a car. And, I think, during all the years in school, she was invited to only one dance.” Reynolds agreed, saying that “when I started, I didn’t even know how to dress. I wore dungarees and a shirt. I had no money, no taste and no training.”
9. Reynolds regularly appeared in movie musicals during the 1950s and had several hit records during the period. Her song “Aba Daba Honeymoon” (featured in the film Two Weeks with Love (1950) as a duet with Carleton Carpenter) was a top-three hit in 1951.
10. Her most high-profile film role was in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), a satire on movie making in Hollywood during the transition from silent to sound pictures.
11. It costarred Gene Kelly, whom she called a “great dancer and cinematic genius,” adding, “He made me a star. I was 18 and he taught me how to dance and how to work hard and be dedicated.”
12. In 1956 she appeared in Bundle of Joy with her then-husband, Eddie Fisher.
13. Her recording of the song “Tammy” (1957; from Tammy and the Bachelor), earned her a gold record, and was the best-selling single by a female vocalist in 1957. It was number one for five weeks on the Billboard pop charts. In the movie (the first of the Tammy film series), she co-starred with Leslie Nielsen.
14. Reynolds also scored two other top-25 Billboard hits with “A Very Special Love” (#20 in January 1958) and “Am I That Easy to Forget” (#25 in March 1960)—a pop-music version of a country-music hit made famous by Carl Belew (in 1959), Skeeter Davis (in 1960), and several years later by singer Engelbert Humperdinck.
15. During these years, she also headlined in major Las Vegas showrooms. Reynolds’ last album was a Christmas record with Donald O’Connor entitled Chrissy the Christmas Mouse.
16. Her starring role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) led to a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
17. She then portrayed Jeanine Deckers in The Singing Nun (1966).
18. In what Reynolds once called the “stupidest mistake of my entire career”, she made headlines in 1970 after instigating a fight with the NBC television network over cigarette advertising on her weekly television show.
19. With limited film and television opportunities coming her way, Reynolds accepted an opportunity to make her Broadway debut.
20. She starred in the 1973 revival of Irene, a musical first produced 60 years before.
21. In 1979, Reynolds opened her own dance studio in North Hollywood. In 1983 she released an exercise video titled Do It Debbie’s Way!.
22. Reynolds was married three times.
23. Her first marriage was to singer Eddie Fisher in 1955.
24. They were the parents of Carrie and Todd Fisher.
25. The couple divorced in 1959 when Fisher had an affair with Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds’ good friend at the time, shortly after the death of Taylor’s husband Mike Todd.
26. The Eddie Fisher-Elizabeth Taylor affair caused a serious public scandal, even leading to the cancellation of Eddie Fisher’s television show at the time.
27. In 2011, on The Oprah Winfrey Show, just weeks before Elizabeth Taylor’s death, Reynolds explained that she and Taylor happened to be traveling at the same time on the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s when they made up.
28. Reynolds sent a note to Taylor’s room, and Taylor sent a note in reply asking to have dinner with Reynolds and end their feud. The two reconciled, and, as Reynolds put it, “we had a wonderful evening with a lot of laughs”.
29. Reynolds’ second marriage, to millionaire businessman Harry Karl, lasted from 1960 to 1973.
30. Reynolds later found herself in financial difficulty because of Karl’s gambling and bad investments.
31. Unusual for a film star, she insisted during her career in the 1960s, on taking Friday afternoons off from the studio to attend Girl Scout meetings, since she was the leader of the Girl Scout Troop in which 13-year-old Carrie, and her step-daughter, Tina Karl, also 13, were members.
32. Reynolds’ third marriage was to real estate developer Richard Hamlett from 1984 to 1996.
33. In 2010, she appeared in her own West End show Debbie Reynolds: Alive and Fabulous.
34. In 2011 Reynolds stepped down after 56 years of involvement in The Thalians, a charitable organization devoted to children and adults with mental health issues.
35. Reynolds was hospitalized in October 2012 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, due to an adverse reaction to medication. She canceled appearances and concert engagements for the next three months.
36. On December 23, 2016, Reynolds’ daughter, actress and writer Carrie Fisher, suffered a heart attack on a transatlantic flight from London to Los Angeles, and died at the age of 60 on December
37. On December 28 Reynolds was hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, in fair-to-serious condition after a stroke at her son’s home. Later that afternoon, Reynolds died in the hospital.
38. Reynolds is survived by her son Todd Fisher and her granddaughter Billie Lourd. Her son said that his mother’s stress from the death of her daughter was partly responsible for her stroke. “Reynolds told him she missed her daughter and wanted to be with her,” according to news reports.