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Debbie Does SAG

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Perhaps The Greatest Collection Of Parts In The Entertainment Industry, Debbie Reynolds Personifies Personality And Will Receive Well-Deserved Recognition From The Screen Actors Guild

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By David Fantle and Tom Johnson
Reel To Real Special for Modern Times Magazine

Jan. 12, 2014 — Nobody would ever accuse Debbie Reynolds of being the greatest singer, dancer or actor. But what most can agree on is her indomitable work ethic and a legacy of fine performances, most notably as the young starlet “Kathy Selden” in the 1952 classic Singin’ in the Rain.

Her body of work, which also includes an Academy Award-nominated turn in the Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), gets its due on Jan. 25 when her daughter, Star Wars princess Carrie Fisher (from Reynold’s marriage to crooner Eddie Fisher), presents her mom with the Screen Actors Guild, or SAG, Life Achievement Award.

The still perky Debbie, now 82, born in Texas and raised in Burbank, Calif., began as a contract player at MGM and became a full-fledged star at age 20 when she was cast as the lead in Singin’ in the Rain. opposite Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor.

In addition to acting and acquiring less-than-stellar husbands (Fisher, shoe magnet Harry Karl who pilfered her fortune and real estate developer Richard Hamlett), Reynolds is an inveterate fan of the movies and, starting with the MGM fire-sale in the early 1970s, accumulated a museum’s worth of rare Hollywood costumes and other memorabilia. Her attempts in the 1990s to showcase her collection at her own Las Vegas Hotel Casino ended in bankruptcy.

Starting in 2011, Debbie put her collection up for sale in a series of auctions and raked in proceeds of more than $20 million.

The auctions were the aftermath of multiple attempts Reynolds made over the years to find a home for her collection as part of the planned Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Museum.

It was during Reynolds’ ill-fated “gamble” in Las Vegas that we had the opportunity to sit down and talk about her career with her.

She was, in her own words, an accidental participant in the movies.

“I went to the movies as a fan, but I had no dreams of a show business career,” she said. “I wanted to be a gym teacher. Making pictures was really accidental.”

That “accident” occurred at age 16 when she won the title of “Miss Burbank,” resulting in a short-lived contract with Warner Brothers, followed by a long-term agreement with MGM. By the time she signed in 1950, the studio system was beginning to fall victim to a new competitor — television. While MGM (and the other studios) were offloading their rosters of high-priced talent, Reynolds was one of the few exceptions and proved herself a bankable asset to the studio.

While many stars fought the indentured servitude inherent in a studio contract, Reynolds said she never felt a creative noose around her neck.

“It didn’t bother me because I never had lofty ambitions,” she said. “I wasn’t a Gene Kelly who was a great director, a brilliant dancer, a person driven to succeed. I was happy with a steady salary and free acting, singing and dancing lessons all day.”

Gene Kelly would no doubt be proud that his talented apprentice, — the little girl with no ambition — is now being recognized by her peers for a distinguished body of work.

David Fantle & Tom Johnson have been entertainment journalists for more than 30 years and co-authored the 2004 book, Reel to Real: 25 Years Of Celebrity Profiles From Vaudeville To Movies To TV. Fantle teaches film and television at Marquette University in Milwaukee and Johnson is a former senior editor for Netflix. They can be reached at www.reeltoreal.com
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