During my many years of interviewing movie stars, spending the day with Debbie Reynolds was one of the most memorable times of my life. I somehow feel like she and my mom are having a chat in heaven since they are both new arrivals and may be in the same newcomers class.
My day with Debbie, who insisted it was okay to call her by her first name, was a dream come true for me. It happened long after her glory days in Hollywood, but she was still a super star to me. No one will deny that she was Hollywood royalty, though she was not always treated that way.
I could hardly believe she was coming to Charlotte and that I would interview her in my studio. I always had to travel to New York or LA for, what most of the time, was a few minutes with movie stars to talk about their current movie. Ms. Reynolds had not made a movie in a while, but that did not matter to me. The ones she did make were so impressionable on this little girl growing up in a very small town. I didn’t even get to see them until after they had been out for a few years, but the images, the themes and the dialogue influenced my life. They remain among my favorite movies to this day. I had stacks of movie magazines with her photos and stories. Even though I had no way of knowing, I somehow felt that while she was so glamorous, there was something poignant yet powerful about her. Her characters helped shape my character.
I don’t even remember what brought her to Charlotte, but I do remember thinking how I felt like bowing when I met her. I was certain that I would have only a few minutes to let her know she was a childhood idol of mine. I expected her to sweep in with her entourage just in time for the interview and scoot out during the commercial break the instant it was over. That would have been fine. I was just thankful to be in her presence for a few moments.
To my shock, she was already there when I arrived that morning after getting my children off to school. I could barely speak and had to carefully try to be cool and reign in my gushing, but very quickly, the gracious, beautiful star made me comfortable with her generous, kind heart and the sweetest, most sincere smile. Though I am one of millions who loved her as an actress and performer, it seemed genuinely important to her that she was so important to me. We visited for well over an hour before time for my show and our 6-minute on-camera interview. I was quite certain she would leave while I finished the show. But she stayed and watched. I was a bit of a wreck. DEBBIE REYNOLDS was watching me work!
The show was over and I’m sure I gushed some more, but she stayed and seemed to know that whatever wisdom she could share with me would matter and it truly did. We talked for a couple of hours about life and she gave me wonderful advice. The lovely, talented major movie star, who seemed like a fairy princess to me, had not had a particularly easy life. She shared some very special stories, advice and guidance for me, that even though she is now gone, I still feel like all that was between us and her secrets are not to be shared. There is plenty out there about some scandalous things she had to endure, but somehow I think the things she chose to tell me were private and precious.
When time came for her to leave for the airport, we hugged goodbye and I HOPE I was able to let her know how meaningful her visit was to me and that I represented so many others who loved and appreciated her and her work. She seemed to glide out of the studio with such dignity and grace and left me with such gratitude. You can imagine how much time I have spent thinking about this recently. She was so caring and so lovely. I had always admired her and even more so after that day.
I’ve also thought about her starring roles that I loved most and why they were so impressionable. There were many roles in movies and later on TV, but these are the ones that started my affinity with her.
I did not get to see Singin’ in the Rain for many years after it premiered, but once I did, it became my favorite movie and still is! It is just so relentlessly joyful!! If I need to be buoyed, watching this movie does it every time. It also encourages me when I have a daunting task, because I know that Debbie Reynolds had to work so very hard amongst Hollywood legends to be accepted in that role. She was 19 and had never danced before. Keep that in mind when you watch her hoofing with Gene Kelly and Donald O’ Connor. Debbie Reynolds worked so hard and was so fearless.
She WAS The Unsinkable Molly Brown, another favorite and inspiring movie. The theme of the poor, uneducated mountain girl who goes in search of respect and a better life could not have been captured better by anyone. Warner’s has just released that movie in high definition. A highlight is hearing Ms. Reynolds sing “I Ain’t Down Yet”, a reminder to keep going, no matter what.
Another favorite for me was a movie that was comforting for those hoping and dreaming for true love. Tammy and the Bachelor is the story of a 17-year-old girl from the backwoods of Mississippi who falls in love with a handsome, successful, big-city bachelor. It was like a fairy tale to me. And to make it even more memorable, Leslie Nielsen played the handsome bachelor. Yep, the one who went on to star in The Naked Gun. I met him much later too and spent a few hours with him.
That’s another story for another time.
There are many life-lessons to be learned from the life and movies of Debbie Reynolds. I suggest you begin this new year watching and reading about this amazing, resilient, kind, smart woman. Turner Classic Movies is joining networks like ABC and Logo by celebrating the career highlights of the acting legend, announcing a full 24 hours of Reynolds beloved films to be aired Friday, Jan. 27. A small selection of the 84-year-old actress’ film and television work is already available on streaming services like Hulu and Netflix, as well as premium cable networks like HBO.
Tell Me: What’s your favorite Debbie Reynolds movie or television role?