Best known to movie fans for her breakout role which was also her first leading role, as Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady
Three Little Words
Two Weeks with Love
The Affairs of Dobie Gillis
Give a Girl a Break
Hit the Deck
The Tender Trap
Meet Me in Las Vegas
The Catered Affair
Bundle of Joy
Tammy and the Bachelor
This Happy Feeling
The Mating Game
Say One for Me
It Started with a Kiss
The Rat Race
The Pleasure of His Company
The Second Time Around
My Six Loves
The Singing Nun
Divorce American Style
How Sweet It Is!
What’s the Matter with Helen?
Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul
Heaven & Earth
That’s Entertainment! III
Wedding Bell Blues
In & Out
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Zack and Reba
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Keepers of the Frame
Rugrats in Paris: The Movie
Rugrats: Acorn Nuts & Diapey Butts
Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project
Light of Olympia
The Jill & Tony Curtis Story
Blaze of Glory
The Brothers Warner
Fay Wray: A Life
One for the Money
In the Picture
I do 20 minutes every time the refrigerator door opens and the light comes on. ~ Debbie Reynolds
Debbie Reynolds was born Mary Frances Reynolds on April 1, 1932, in El Paso, Texas, to Maxene “Minnie” (née 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. She had a brother two years her senior.
Her family moved to Burbank, California in 1939. When Reynolds was a sixteen-year-old student at Burbank High School in 1948, she won the Miss Burbank beauty contest.
Reynolds was first discovered by talent scouts from Warner Bros. and MGM who were at the 1948 Miss Burbank contest. Both companies wanted her to sign up with their studio and had to flip a coin to see which one got her. Warner won the coin toss, and she was with the studio for two years and acquired the nickname “Debbie” via Jack L. Warner. When Warner Brothers stopped producing musicals, she moved to MGM.
With MGM, 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) and sung as a duet with co-star Carleton Carpenter) was the first soundtrack recording to become a top-of-the-chart gold record, reaching number three on the Billboard charts.
Her performance in the film greatly impressed the studio, which then gave her a co-starring role in what would become her highest-profile film, Singin’ in the Rain (1952), a satire on movie making in Hollywood during the transition from silent to sound pictures. It co-starred 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.” In 1956, she appeared in Bundle of Joy with her then-husband, Eddie Fisher.
Her starring role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) led to a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Reynolds noted, however, that she initially had issues with its director, Charles Walters. Reynolds also played in Goodbye Charlie, a 1964 comedy film about a callous womanizer who gets his just reward. It was adapted from George Axelrod’s play Goodbye, Charlie and also starred Tony Curtis and Pat Boone.
She next portrayed Jeanine Deckers in The Singing Nun (1966). 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. The show drew mixed reviews, but according to NBC, it captured about 42 percent of the nation’s viewing audience. 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.
Reynolds played the title role in the Hanna-Barbera animated musical, Charlotte’s Web in which she originated the song “Mother Earth and Father Time”. Reynolds continued to make other appearances in film and television. She played Helen Chappel Hackett’s mother, Deedee Chappel, on an episode of Wings titled, “If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother,” which originally aired on November 22, 1994.
From 1999 to 2006, she played Grace Adler’s theatrical mother, Bobbi Adler, on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace, which earned Reynolds her only Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series in 2000. She played a recurring role in the Disney Channel Original Movie Halloweentown film series as Aggie Cromwell. Reynolds made a guest appearance as a presenter at the 69th Academy Awards in 1997.
In 2000, Reynolds took up a recurring voice role on the children’s television program Rugrats, playing the grandmother of two of the characters. In 2001, she co-starred with Elizabeth Taylor and Shirley MacLaine in These Old Broads, a television movie written for her by her daughter, Carrie Fisher. She had a cameo role as herself in the 2004 film Connie and Carla. In 2013, she appeared in Behind the Candelabra, as the mother of Liberace.
The actress appears with her daughter in Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, a 2016 documentary about the very close relationship between the two. It premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. The television premiere was January 7, 2017, on HBO.
Reynolds amassed a large collection of movie memorabilia, beginning with items from the landmark 1970 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer auction, and she displayed them, first in a museum at her Las Vegas hotel and casino during the 1990s and later in a museum close to the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles. On several occasions, she auctioned off items from the collection.
The museum was to relocate to be the centerpiece of the Belle Island Village tourist attraction in the resort city of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, but the developer went bankrupt. The museum filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 2009. The most valuable asset of the museum was Reynolds’ collection. Todd Fisher, Reynolds’ son, announced that his mother was “heartbroken” to have to auction off the collection. It was valued at $10.79 million in the bankruptcy filing. The Los Angeles auction firm Profiles in History was given the responsibility of conducting a series of auctions. Among the “more than 3500 costumes, 20,000 photographs, and thousands of movie posters, costume sketches, and props” included in the sales were Charlie Chaplin’s bowler hat and Marilyn Monroe’s white “subway dress”, whose skirt is lifted up by the breeze from a passing subway train in the film The Seven Year Itch (1955). The dress sold for $4.6 million in 2011; the final auction was held in May 2014 .
Reynolds was married three times. Her first marriage was to singer Eddie Fisher in 1955. They became the parents of Carrie (1956–2016) and Todd Fisher (1958). The couple divorced in 1959 when Fisher had an affair with Elizabeth Taylor shortly after the death of Taylor’s husband Mike Todd; 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 she and Taylor 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.
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. Reynolds’ third marriage was to real estate developer Richard Hamlett from 1984 to 1996.
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.
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. 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, Todd Fisher. 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 later said Reynolds had been seriously impacted by her daughter’s death, and grief was partially responsible for her stroke, noting that his mother had stated “I want to be with Carrie” shortly before she died. During an interview for the December 30, 2016 airing of the ABC-TV program 20/20, Todd elaborated on this, saying that his mother had joined his sister in death because Reynolds “didn’t want to leave Carrie and did not want her to be alone.” He added, however, that “she didn’t die of a broken heart” as some news reports had implied, but rather “just left to be with Carrie.”
Reynolds was entombed while Carrie was cremated, however, a portion of Fisher’s ashes were laid to rest beside Reynolds’s crypt at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, during a larger joint memorial service held on March 25, while the remainder of Carrie’s ashes are held in a giant, novelty Prozac pill.