Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
Darling, Delightful Debbie Reynolds
Expanded Edition of 7-25-07 WCT Interview
by Richard Knight, Jr.
The Unsinkable Reynolds in a recent photo, with daughter Carrie Fisher in 2006, with Joan Cusack and Kevin Kline in 1997's In & Out
Debbie Reynolds truly does seem unsinkable. That oft used adjective, referring to her greatest film triumph, The Unsinkable Molly
Brown which brought her an Oscar nomination and great acclaim came over 40 years ago. But since then she’s had at least nine
more lives. There have been professional and personal triumphs and reverses, a movie memorabilia stuffed Las Vegas casino that
nearly did sink her (a museum with her world class collection is in the works), a resurgence in popularity due to notable movie and
TV appearances, speculation about the authenticity of the troubled mother-daughter relationship in daughter Carrie Fisher’s book
and film, Postcards from the Edge. But at the ripe young age of 75, Reynolds’ energy and enthusiasm for “the business” hasn’t
dimmed. Reynolds returns by popular demand to the Chicagoland area with one of her favorite venues, Oak Brook’s Drury Lane
theatre from Thursday, August 2 – Sunday, August 5. Ticket information at www.drurylaneoakbrook.com
She recently spoke with Windy City Times. Highlights:
WINDY CITY TIMES (WCT): From “Miss Burbank” to Living Legend – here you are some 50 years later still performing. What keeps
DEBBIE REYNOLDS (DR): Well good places and fun places to be. I’ve played the Drury Lane for as long as it’s been – 50 years
now? I’m sad this time because we won’t have Tony Desantis there. He owned and built the Drury Lane and he just passed away
last week. It’s just a sumptuous theatre and I hope nothing happens to make it go away.
WCT: I’ve been to the Drury Lane many times and have loved many performers there but I’ve never had the chance to see you
live. So I’m excited. Can you tell me about it?
DR: My show has Stephen Sondheim music, Gershwin music, I do a film clip section of four different films that the audience loves.
There’s The Unsinkable Molly Brown and I sing along with that and Singin’ in the Rain of course. Then I also have The Tender Trap with
Frank Sinatra and I also sing “Dominique” from The Singing Nun. So that’s one little section and I also do impressions. I’ve done
those through the years. I used to do Dietrich and Mae West and Phyllis Diller and Pearl Bailey, all those girls but the audiences
have changed a bit.
WCT: You’ve always done the best Zsa Zsa Gabor.
DR: Well I do Zsa Zsa still only this time I’ve added that Zsa Zsa was married to Conrad Hilton and she’s the great-aunt of Paris
Hilton. So I have Zsa Zsa advising Paris how to slap a cop.
WCT (laughs): That sounds like fun.
DR: That’s great fun. She’s advising Paris how to behave. I thought it would be funny to update Zsa Zsa. I also do a tribute to
Judy Garland because I loved her. Everybody is a fan of Judy’s and I’m one of the really big ones and I do a medley of her songs
from her films as a tribute. I also do a number with my pianist called “I Love a Piano” which is by Irving Berlin.
WCT: Right. I believe Judy sang that in Easter Parade.
DR: Did she do that one?
DR: Like this (sings): I love a piano and I love to hear somebody sing. That’s such a wonderful tune and he and I do that
together. I have really good musicians. I also do an outtake section of film clips from past movies – great 40s movies like The
Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Falcon and Cary Grant and all these great stars. Just clips of mistakes. The audience likes that a lot.
They like to laugh; they like to know when I’m reminiscing about stars they know.
WCT: What’s some great insider dish that you can share?
DR (laughs): You mean that’s happening now?
WCT: Oh, no, back then – who cares about now (laughs). I mean I’m a classic movie guy.
DR: A movie buff. Me, too. Well, I guess the thing is that they were all my friends, you know, and we kind of all hung out together
and went to different parties together. In the old days we used to always have a pianist and everybody sang and everyone got up
and did a number. It was just sort of expected of you. Belafonte got up; Lena Horne was there, Judy, Mickey Rooney would sing,
Van Johnson, Ethel Merman. We’d all do a number and it wasn’t like we felt we had too. It was like, “You remember this song?
Hey, how about this one?” Instead of going to the backroom and finding a lot of pot we just entertained and sang and did shows
together and so we had a lot of fun.
WCT: Someone just told me that a very young James Dean was a close friend of yours and came to parties at your house before he
DR: Well just in awhile. He was really quiet and if he came you hardly knew he was there. He’d come on his motorcycle in his blue
jeans and you’d just see him puffing his cigarette in the corner having a good time. He was very quiet. But Jimmy wasn’t around
very long. He didn’t like parties – he only liked them if you didn’t notice him and if he could just enjoy himself very surreptitiously
just hanging around. He didn’t naturally join in, in the entertaining though. He liked all the stars. He was a movie buff, a fan of the
actors like Lee J. Cobb and Gregory Peck and liked talking to them. And he liked the girls believe it or not. There’s a lot of rumors
about Jimmy but he had a real crush on Pier Angeli who was one of my best girlfriends.
WCT: Some of the male stars of that early 1950s period, like Dean and Farley Granger who I recently interviewed, were bisexual
and liked men and women.
DR: Well Jimmy did. Farley did (laughs).
WCT: Which leads me to ask a question for my gay and lesbian audience. You were so terrific in In & Out – playing the mother of a
gay son. I love you so much in that sweet, funny movie.
DR: I loved that. I loved when Kevin Kline was following the announcer – “Are we a little teapot? If you put your hands on your hip
you are gay.”
WCT (laughs): And when you say to Kevin Kline to try to force him to marry Joan Cusack, “I need some place cards before I die”
you see that crack Debbie Reynolds timing.
DR: Thank you.
WCT: How do you think you’d have reacted if either of your children – Todd or Carrie – had come to you and said, “I want you to
know I’m gay?”
DR: Well I love my children and life is what it is. I would just be worried that their lives would be too difficult, that’s all because I
find that there is still some prejudice and some people still think that gay or lesbian is not a good word so they have difficulty with
that. Me, I think that is destiny. It’s not as if you go out of your way to be…you are what you are born. I would love my children the
same because to be adored is to be adored – gay or lesbian or straight or heterosexual or homosexual. If everybody would love
everybody else we’d be okay in this world; if there wasn’t a lot of prejudice and hate going on in the world we’d be alright.
WCT: I know you’ve been asked this many times but how close is “Postcards from the Edge” to the real relationship between
yourself and Carrie – speaking to her troubled years.
DR: We’re very close. Carrie was a typical teenager. That begins about 13 – 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20! And it goes on for
quite some years and there are many difficult years just trying to edge them on. Like leading the horse to water but you can’t make
them drink. I mean trying to show your daughter – at least I only had problems with Carrie. They weren’t as extreme as in the
picture, of course, but she wrote about problems that happened between a mother and a daughter. We had our problems but they
weren’t terrible – they just were the usual teenage problems. About agreeing to disagree, it seemed, on most decisions because I
was worried about my daughter. I think most fathers and mothers worry about their daughters on dating and guy situations and sex
and getting pregnant and the usual things that we argued over. Just growing up pains.
WCT: Did you ever have that competitive thing when she started becoming so famous due to Star Wars?
DR: No never, show-wise. Show business never entered into it. It was always mother-daughter. It was never actressy. I loved the
business and she’s very gifted and very funny and a really great writer. All these were gifts from God. She’s very fortunate to be so
talented and I’m very honored that she has all that wonderful talent and that she can make people happy and be a wonderful
writer. She really is funny and is a very fine comedienne.
WCT: She’s so funny on that reality show “On the Lot” just being herself.
DR: Yes, that’s her just “being me.”
WCT: What’s going on with your memorabilia museum that I keep reading about?
DR: We’re working on it. It was supposed to have been settled last week with all the permits and we were supposed to start
building this week and I’m anxiously on the phone trying to reach people that are very difficult to reach called real estate
promoters. The people that are in charge of it are having their problems with the city over permits – parking permits and all kinds of
things like that. So detail work is holding it up but it’s supposed to be going in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee near Dolly’s place. It’s
really going to be terrific if I can ever get it done in my lifetime. I hope I make it.
WCT: I hope so, too. I know this has been your passion for over 30 years.
DR: Yes, a long time.
WCT: Which reminds, it’s been almost 20 years since your first autobiography and so much has happened since then. Are you
going to do a second one?
DR: I’m playing one night in South Hampton and then I’m going in to New York to meet with a couple of publishers about rewriting
mine and extending it to bring it up to date. I was hoping we’d have the museum on its way so we could have that be the fruition
and the tag – you know – that my dream finally came true but I don’t have that accomplished yet. I’m still working on it but I’m
going in to meet with two publishers next week anyway.
WCT: That’s exciting news. I spoke with Patricia Neal recently when she was in town and she told me that she wants her epithet to
read, “I’m still here.” Do you have an idea of what you’d like or a philosophy when you look back over your amazing life?
DR: I go to Forest Lawn and everywhere I travel I go to visit cemeteries because I love them. I love the headstones and my
favorite, one of the funniest, was a woman and it said, “I told you I was sick.”
WCT (laughs): That is wonderful.
DR: I think that’s awfully great.