MARIA CARTER wrote for CountryLiving on AUG 23, 2017:
“…The fact that Reynolds could keep pace with her co-stars at all is remarkable. Kelly was 20 years her senior and classically trained in ballet; O’Connor, 27 at the time, was another “triple threat” (actor, singer, and dancer) who had been performing in movies since the age of 12. Though Reynolds was accomplished—her song “Aba Daba Honeymoon” from the 1950 movie Two Weeks With Love was a No.3 hit—she had no training in dance.
“I had three months to learn what Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor had been doing for years,” Reynolds wrote in her 2013 memoir Unsinkable.”
“Reynolds was born on April 1, 1932, in El Paso, Texas, to Maxene N. “Minnie” Harman and Raymond Francis “Ray” Reynolds, a carpenter who worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad. She was of Scottish-Irish and English ancestry and was raised in a strict Nazarene church of her domineering mother. She had a brother two years her senior. Reynolds was a Girl Scout, once saying that she wanted to die as the world’s oldest living Girl Scout. Reynolds was also a member of The International Order of Job’s Daughters.
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 in a 1963 interview, “but we always had something to eat, even if Dad had to go out in the desert and shoot jackrabbits.”
Her family moved to Burbank, California, in 1939. When Reynolds was a 16-year-old student at Burbank High School in 1948, she won the Miss Burbank beauty contest. Soon after, she had a contract with Warner Brothers and acquired the nickname “Debbie” via Jack L. Warner.
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. Although she was television’s highest-paid female performer at the time, she quit the show for breaking its contract:
When NBC explained to Reynolds that banning cigarette commercials from her show would be impossible, she kept her resolve. She said later she was especially concerned about the commercials because of the number of children watching the show. She did quit doing the show after about a year, which she said had cost her about $2 million of lost income. The dispute would have been rendered moot and in Reynolds’ favor anyway had she not resigned; by 1971, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act (which had been passed into law before she left the show) would ban all radio and television advertising for tobacco products.
Reynolds was married three times. Her first marriage was to singer Eddie Fisher in 1955. They became the parents of Carrie and Todd Fisher. The couple divorced in 1959 when it was revealed shortly after the death of Elizabeth Taylor’s husband Mike Todd that Fisher had been having an affair with her; Taylor and Reynolds were good friends at the time. The Eddie Fisher – Elizabeth Taylor affair was a great public scandal, which led to the cancellation of Eddie Fisher’s television show.
In 2011, Reynolds was on The Oprah Winfrey Show just weeks before Elizabeth Taylor’s death. She explained that Taylor and she happened to be traveling at the same time on the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth some time in the late 1960s or early 1970s, when they reconciled. 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. As Reynolds described it, “we had a wonderful evening with a lot of laughs.” In 1972, she noted the bright side of the divorce and her remarriage:
Now in retrospect, though it was not my will, I think it probably was the best thing that ever happened to me. He did give me two great children and for that I will ever be grateful. Our door is always open to him. I believe in peaceful coexistence and being friends with the father of your children.
Reynolds’ second marriage, to millionaire businessman Harry Karl, lasted from 1960 to 1973. For a period during the 1960s, she stopped working at the studio on Friday afternoons to attend Girl Scout meetings, since she was the leader of the Girl Scout Troop of which her 13-year-old daughter Carrie and her stepdaughter Tina Karl, also 13, were members. Reynolds later found herself in financial difficulty because of Karl’s gambling and bad investments.
On December 23, 2016, Reynolds’s daughter—actress and writer Carrie Fisher—suffered a medical emergency on a transatlantic flight from London to Los Angeles, and died on December 27 at the age of 60 at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
The following day, December 28, Reynolds was taken by ambulance to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, after suffering a “severe stroke,” according to her son. Later that afternoon, Reynolds was pronounced dead in the hospital; she was 84 years old. On January 9, 2017, her cause of death was determined to be intracerebral hemorrhage, with hypertension a contributing factor.
Todd Fisher later said that Reynolds had been seriously affected by her daughter’s death, and that her grief was partially responsible for her stroke, noting that his mother had stated, “I want to be with Carrie”, shortly before she died.”