For all the glitz and glamour of Golden Age Hollywood, there is a definite sadness as the players from that time are leaving us. The sadness is compounded when we realize that even after a full life many of these celebrities will not be allowed to rest in peace because of the interest their lives generated by the tabloid press.
Few have generated as much interest in the tabloids as Debbie Reynolds. When her death was announced the day after her daughter Carrie Fisher passed away, the tabloids theorized that Ms. Reynolds died of a broken heart. She became a Star in through the studio system while the studio system itself was dying, but it was her personal life and relations to fame that truly caught attention. She was the heartbroken victim in an infamous infidelity scandal, helped breathe life into the Hollywood nostalgia craze both in film and by preserving artifacts of the Golden Era, stood bravely against network TV and sponsors who did not fit her principles, was blasted for her dysfunctional relationship with her daughter after Carrie had become a Star for her role in the cultural phenomenon Star Wars, and publicly reconciled when Carrie Fisher presented her mother with a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2015.
Reynolds was born in El Paso, Texas, 1932, to a ditch-digger trying to get his family through the Great Depression. Her mother took in laundry to help make ends meet, and the family moved to Southern California seeking greater opportunities. Debbie was active in the Girl Scouts. On a whim, she entered the 1948 Miss Burbank beauty contest and was as surprised as anyone when she won. Two of the judges in the contest were film scouts, both of whom wanted the newly discovered beauty for their studio. The Warner Bros scout won the toss and she stayed with the studio for two years. When Warner’s stopped making musicals, she moved to MGM. In 1952, she starred in Singing in the Rain with Gene Kelly, who she credited with making her a Star.
One of the biggest marriages in Hollywood was between Debbie and singer/heartthrob Eddie Fisher. In addition to Carrie, the couple had a son Todd Fisher, named for Eddie’s good friend producer Michael Todd. Michael was married to Debbie’s best friend, actress Elizabeth Taylor. When Liz was widowed after Michael died in a private airplane accident, Debbie and Eddie immediately went to console her, but Eddie’s consolation took a more intimate and physical form. Reynold’s and Fisher’s 1959 divorce was very public and painful, although Debbie admitted understanding being thrown over “for the most beautiful woman in the world”, she and Liz eventually reconciled. Liz dumped Eddie in 1964 after carrying on an affair with Richard Burton since 1962.
Debbie was nominated for Best Actress for starring in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964). The Debbie Reynolds Show was a hit for NBC-TV during the 1969-70 season, but she left the show because the network would not promise to disallow cigarette advertising for her show. Debbie’s second husband, shoe retailer Harry Karl, along with daughter Carrie that year in a revival of Irene, and Debbie went on to have a successful revue in Las Vegas.
Carrie Fisher starred as Princess Leia in Star Wars (1977) as well as The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983). Her semi-autobiographical novel, Postcards from the Edge, was published in 1987 and adapted to the big screen starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine in 1990. The story dealt with drug addiction and rehab, as well as relations with her self-absorbed mother. In 2001, Ms. Fisher wrote a television film, These Old Broads, which starred Shirley MacLaine, Joan Collins, Elizabeth Taylor, and Debbie Reynolds (the story includes scenes of Debbie and Liz’s characters taking shots at a common ex-husband). Fisher appeared in The Force Awakens (2015), the first installment in a new Star Wars trilogy, and had completed shooting her role in the second installment which is due for release in 2017. While returning from a European book tour on December 23, 2016, Carrie Fisher suffered a heart attack fifteen minutes before landing in Los Angeles. She died four days later, on December 27 at UCLA Medical Center at the age of 60.
Debbie Reynolds was at the home of son Todd Fisher discussing funeral arrangements for Carrie on December 28 when she suffered a severe stroke. She died that afternoon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center at the age of 84. According to her son, her last words were “I want to be with Carrie”. A Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6654 Hollywood Blvd honors Debbie Reynolds’ work in Motion Pictures.