Debbie Reynolds

Active - 1948 - 2016  |   Born - Apr 1, 1932 in El Paso, Texas, United States  |   Died - Dec 28, 2016   |   Genres - Comedy, Romance, Musical

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Biography by AllMovie

At the peak of her career, actress Debbie Reynolds was America's sweetheart, the archetypal girl-next-door. Best remembered for her work in Hollywood musicals, she appeared in the genre's defining moment, Singin' in the Rain, as well as many other notable successes. Born Mary Frances Reynolds on April 1, 1932, in El Paso, TX, she entered the film industry by winning the Miss Burbank beauty contest in 1948, resulting in a contract with Warner Bros. However, the studio cast her in small roles in only two films -- 1948's The June Bride and 1950's The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady -- and she soon exited for the greener pastures of MGM, where she first appeared in Three Little Words. A more significant turn in 1950's Two Weeks With Love garnered Reynolds strong notices, and soon she was touted as the new Judy Garland, with a role in 1951's Mr. Imperium also on the horizon.

Though star Gene Kelly initially opposed her casting in his 1952 musical Singin' in the Rain, Reynolds acquitted herself more than admirably alongside the likes of Donald O'Connor and Jean Hagen, and the film remains one of the greatest Hollywood musicals ever produced. A series of less distinguished musicals followed, among them 1953's I Love Melvin, The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, and Give a Girl a Break. On loan to RKO, she scored a major success in 1954's Susan Slept Here, and upon returning to MGM she was awarded with a new and improved seven-year contract. However, the studio continued to insert Reynolds into lackluster projects like the health-fad satire Athena and the musical Hit the Deck. Finally, in 1955, she appeared opposite Frank Sinatra in the hit The Tender Trap, followed by a well-regarded turn as a blushing bride in The Catered Affair a year later.

Additionally, Reynolds teamed with real-life husband Eddie Fisher in the musical Bundle of Joy. The couple's children also went on to showbiz success: Daughter Carrie Fisher became a popular actress, novelist, and screenwriter, while son Todd became a director. In 1957, Reynolds starred in Tammy and the Bachelor, the first in a series of popular teen films which also included 1961's Tammy Tell Me True, 1963's Tammy and the Doctor, and 1967's Tammy and the Millionaire. Her other well-received films of the period included 1959's It Started With a Kiss, 1961's The Pleasure of His Company, and 1964's The Unsinkable Molly Brown, for which she earned an Academy Award nomination. In 1959, Reynolds' marriage to Fisher ended in divorce when he left her for Elizabeth Taylor. The effect was an outpouring of public sympathy which only further increased her growing popularity, and it was rumored that by the early '60s, she was earning millions per picture.

By the middle of the decade, however, Reynolds' star was waning. While described by the actress herself as her favorite film, 1966's The Singing Nun was not the hit MGM anticipated. Its failure finally convinced the studio to offer her roles closer to her own age, but neither 1967's Divorce American Style nor the next year's How Sweet It Is performed well, and Reynolds disappeared from the screen to mount her own television series, the short-lived Debbie Reynolds Show. In 1971, she appeared against type in the campy horror picture What's the Matter with Helen?, but when it too failed, she essentially retired from movie making, accepting voice-over work as the title character in the animated children's film Charlotte's Web but otherwise remaining away from Hollywood for over a decade.

Reynolds then hit the nightclub circuit, additionally appearing on Broadway in 1974's Irene. In 1977, she also starred in Annie Get Your Gun. By the 1980s, Reynolds had become a fixture in Las Vegas, where she ultimately opened her own hotel and casino, regularly performing live in the venue's nightclub and even opening her own museum of Hollywood memorabilia. In 1987, she reappeared in front of the camera for the first time in years in the TV movie Sadie and Son, followed in 1989 by Perry Mason: The Case of the Musical Murder. In 1992, Reynolds appeared briefly as herself in the hit film The Bodyguard, and a small role in Oliver Stone's 1993 Vietnam tale Heaven and Earth marked her second tentative step toward returning to Hollywood on a regular basis. Finally, in 1996 she accepted the title role in the acclaimed Albert Brooks comedy Mother, delivering what many critics declared the best performance of her career. The comedies Wedding Bell Blues and In and Out followed in 1996 and 1997. She continued to work in animated projects, and often allowed herself to be interviewed for documentaries about movie and dance history. She made a cameo as herself in Connie and Carla, and in 2012 she had her most high-profile gig in quite some time when she was cast as Grandma Mazur in One for the Money. In 2015, Reynolds was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Reynolds died in 2016, at age 84, just one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died.

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  • At 16, won the Miss Burbank beauty contest, which resulted in a contract with Warner Bros. Allowed studio head Jack Warner to change her name from Mary Frances to Debbie, but refused to change her last name to Morgan. Transferred to MGM and eventually landed a star-making role in the classic movie musical Singin' in the Rain (1952). Co-founded the Thalians Mental Health Center for children with mental health issues at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in 1955. Scored a radio hit with the song "Tammy," which was featured in her 1957 comedy Tammy and the Bachelor. Broadway debut as the lead in a 1973 revival of the 1919 musical Irene won her rave reviews and an Outer Critics Circle award. Released an autobiography, Debbie: My Life, in 1988. Notable TV work included a recurring role as Grace's mother, Bobbi Adler, on Will & Grace and voicing Lulu Pickles on the Nickelodeon cartoon Rugrats.