Saturday, January 28, 2017

'Kings Row' is Much More Than Reagan's Personal Best

This welcome sign to "Kings Row" should serve as a warning--the fact that "good" is used FOUR times raises a red flag!
Kings Row, a fondly remembered ‘40s movie, turns 75 this year. Kings Row was a shocking bestseller by Henry Bellamann about the sordid secrets of a Victorian-era small town. The film version was “cleaned” up for 1942 movie audiences, who flocked to Kings Row, reading between the lines where the dirt was scrubbed out. Kings Row later served as a direct inspiration for Peyton Place.

Robert Cummings, Ann Sheridan, and Ronald Reagan lead the large cast.
In all my decades of movie watching, I somehow missed this Warner Brothers epic. I was surprised by several elements of Kings Row—the first was right over the opening credits. Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s famous score apparently “inspired” John Williams’ Star Wars and also Superman. My ears perked right up when I heard Korngold’s musical fanfare. Now, Hollywood’s golden era composers often “borrowed” from classical composers for their scores, so why shouldn’t John Williams? I guess this was the original version of musical sampling.

The second surprise was the cast. This movie cemented Ann Sheridan’s and Ronald Reagan’s pre-WW II popularity. Kings Row’s young stars are indeed front and center, though Ann Sheridan, the one who truly delivers a great performance, doesn’t even appear until half way through the movie. Yet, she gets top billing.

Kings Row was a best-seller based on a real-life small town--yes, scandalous!
Another surprise was reading what was left out of the movie—homosexuality, nymphomania, and incest! As it is, sadism, insanity, a murder-suicide, and cancer were all shocking plot points for a ‘40s flick. One way veteran screenwriter Casey Robinson keeps this saga moving is to recap the story’s most memorable events, which take place off-screen.

What I thought most striking about Kings Row was that it’s not just another small town melodrama. It’s genuinely haunting. The camerawork by James Wong Howe is fluid, going from sharply realistic to shadow-filled and sinister, with actors moving into their close-ups for key dramatic points, instead of just posing. Director Sam Wood left the camera setups and angles to cinematographer Howe and set designer William Cameron Menzies. Kings Row often has a dream-like feel to it—at times, nightmarish.

Reagan's big moment as an actor, brilliant captured by James Wong Howe.
The party line on Ronald Reagan regarding Kings Row is that it’s his best performance. My response: that’s not saying much. A more accurate take is that Drake McHugh is Ronald Reagan’s best role. In early scenes, as the happy-go-lucky small town playboy, Reagan is just adequate. Like many actors of his era, Reagan relies on shtick, because he has little charisma. Striving for high spirits, there’s hollowness to Reagan’s line readings, and you are always aware that he is “acting” and not “being”—unlike true greats such as Fonda, Tracy, or Stewart. When Drake’s character is down on his luck and isn’t so happy, Reagan is sincere, if not dynamic. Still, in the famous scene when Drake finds out the results of his railroad accident, Reagan’s anguished call out to Sheridan feels real, “Randy! Randy! Where’s the rest of me?!”

Errol Flynn, a fellow Warner’s star, had genuine charm and sex appeal to burn. Flynn could have played playboy Drake in his sleep, plus Flynn was only two years older than Reagan. Jack Warner gave up on trying to “borrow” Tyrone Power from 20th Century Fox for Parris, whose quiet sensitivity would have been marvelous against brash Flynn. Once that failed, Kings Row was to showcase newer stars like Reagan and Sheridan, supported by an ensemble cast. Robert Cummings was borrowed from Universal to play Parris, likely in exchange for WB star Priscilla Lane, who was loaned to Universal the same year for Hitchcock’s Saboteur.

Robert Cummings and Ronald Reagan are bland as best buds Parris and Drake. Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn--yes, please!
Next to Robert Cummings as Parris, Reagan comes off like Clark Gable. For starters, Cummings wears so much make up that, at times, he looks like a kewpie doll. The big issue here is that a bland second lead has been cast as the leading man—he can’t even fake it like Reagan! As Parris, Cummings mugs during scenes of comic relief, and is bland and vaguely whiny during dramatic moments. However, like Reagan, Cummings is better in the quiet scenes. But when he tries for charm, as when Parris tells his Grandma, “I’m crazy about you, lady!” in his game show host voice, Cumming is slightly ludicrous.

It doesn’t help that Cummings is saddled with much of the film’s explanatory lines. The scene where Parris prepares to tell Drake the truth behind his accident is hokey and hilarious. First Cummings puffs himself up, gives a flowery speech, and THEN recites the poem “Invictus!” As Cummings and Sheridan cringe and cry, awaiting Reagan’s response, it feels like a silent movie—Parris and Randy all but putting a hand to their brow. Reagan’s Drake stuns them with cathartic laughter! You will be laughing, too, as the music swells, with Cummings literally running to the waiting arms of his girl.

Ann Sheridan as Randy Monaghan: the real star performance in 'Kings Row.'
I often wondered why Ann Sheridan wasn’t a bigger star. Popular in her day, Sheridan never hit the top tier. Was it because she was sexy and glamorous, and not to be taken seriously? Studios and audiences were often dismissive of glamour girls who wanted to “act.” Was it because she wasn’t a “great actress” by the era’s conventions? Perhaps that’s why Sheridan seems so fresh and naturalistic here. Sheridan has the least showy role of Kings Row, yet she is warmly real against the artificiality of Cummings and Reagan. Ann Sheridan is a pleasure to watch as Randy Monaghan, the “bad girl” from literally the wrong side of the tracks, who is actually the heroine.

Sheridan’s no-nonsense acting is also a stunning contrast to Nancy Coleman and Betty Field’s “acting” turns as small town girls gone crazy. Coleman plays the doctor’s daughter, Louise, who lets Reagan’s Drake get away. Louise loses it when she loses Drake, especially when, because of her father, Drake loses his legs. Coleman’s acting is typical of the movie era, which emulated stage acting: lots of telegraphing emotions, but little real feeling.

Attempts at turning Betty Field into a leading lady were mixed. She fare better
later as a character actress in 'Picnic,' 'Peyton Place,' and 'Butterfield 8.'
Whose idea was it to cast Betty Field as Cassie Tower, the prettiest girl in Kings Row, as she is referred to several times? The long, curly blonde wig, glamour makeup, and soft lighting don’t disguise her dumpy figure and sharp, scowling features. Oddly, Field looks like a funny-faced version of Ann Sheridan. Cassie is an unstable girl whose father—another doctor yet!—feels it best to keep her locked away at home. Fields’ idea of playing crazy—eyes darting from side to side—as Cassie carries on a secret affair with Parris, is right out of the silents.

The supporting cast really makes this movie, as often is the case with these episodic epics. They breathe life here, from Maria Ouspenskaya as Parris’ nurturing grandmother, to Charles Coburn and Judith Anderson as the heartless doctor and stone cold wife, to Harry Davenport and Minor Watson as knowing locals, and especially Claude Rains as Henry Tower. His doctor is haunted by an insane wife and a daughter who seems to be following suit. Rains was a great character actor who was allowed to show his versatility, seldom the case during the studio era.

Claude Rains, wonderfully nuanced as the tormented Doctor Tower.
Kings Row is more American gothic than later colorful small town movies like Picnic or Peyton Place. Despite some lacking leads, this is studio filmmaking at its best, when skilled studio technicians and performers came together and made movie magic.

Friday, January 20, 2017

'A Face in the Crowd' Looks at Real Problem of Media Mania: Us

'A Face in the Crowd' came out in '57 and Andy Griffith as southern singing idol Lonesome Rhodes was surely a nod to Elvis!
Media pundits have had a field day over Lonesome Rhodes, from 1957’s A Face in the Crowd, claiming the charismatic creep “predicted” the rise of Donald Trump. Even religious right columnist Cal Thomas tagged Trump as Rhodes, the rags-to-riches character of Elia Kazan’s prophetic film. Yet one columnist scoffed that a more apt comparison would be of Trump to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane—and meant it as a compliment!

 Welles’ 1941epic, Citizen Kane, is about a rich blowhard who pushes his luck with the public, and sends his empire tumbling. Like Rhodes, Kane pays the price for hubris. Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd and Welles’ Citizen Kane were tough movies that questioned the triangular love-hate relationship between the media, public figures, and their audience.

Andy Griffith is loathsome as Lonesome Rhodes: the boob on the tube...and audiences eat him up!
A Face in the Crowd was made in 1957, when film censorship and ‘50s conformity was past its zenith, but still in power. Still, the film is gritty, unglamorous, realistic, and packs a punch. Director Elia Kazan employs a sharp visual look but discards the glossy movie style of the era: A Face in the Crowd’s characters look sweaty, rumpled, harried, and human. Andy Griffith is eerily good, both loathsome and riveting as Lonesome, the country crooner turned super-celebrity. Patricia Neal does world weary perfectly, yet is also vulnerable as Marcia, the reporter who falls for Rhodes’ slick charm. Walter Matthau shows his dramatic side as a cynical reporter who carries the torch for Neal. And Lee Remick, in her film debut, is luminous and funny as Rhodes’ majorette bride.

Lee Remick plays a majorette who thinks Lonesome is a dream,
and finds out he's a nightmare.
The only letdown perhaps is when Lonesome loses his TV throne/bully pulpit after a hot mike exposes the real Rhodes on network television. Censorship of the day demanded characters pay for their sins. Today, we see inflammatory remarks, boorish behavior, and scandal rewarded with TV shows, book deals, and yes, public office.

Both A Face in the Crowd and Citizen Kane got rave reviews but were box office flops. Movies in Hollywood’s golden era were typically escapist fare and audiences didn’t flock to see grim dramas. Post-Watergate cynicism made Sidney Lumet’s Network possible as a black comedy hit, with its dire message about power, politics, and television. Network, which came out nearly two decades after A Face in the Crowd, takes washed-up TV anchor Howard Beale from a nervous breakdown on the air to a megalomaniacal media messiah.

Even worldly-wise reporters Walter Matthau and Patricia Neal can't look away!
 A Face in the Crowd is an in-depth look at the impact that television has on the masses—both positive and negative. Lightening bolts like Elvis and The Beatles made their mark on pop culture when they appeared on American television. So did political phenom Joseph McCarthy, when he found himself on the other side of an investigative committee, and went down in flames on live TV. Yet, fellow Republican Richard Nixon managed to warm the public’s heart once, when he gave his infamous “Checkers” speech in the 1952. The public later cooled toward Nixon in the early ‘60s, with his shifty, sweaty looks next to all-American John Kennedy, during their presidential debates. His infamous losing comment didn’t help his image: “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around.” In the ‘70s, President Nixon sealed his Tricky Dick persona with the “I am not a crook” speech…which was later followed by his resignation speech!

Citizen Kane, A Face in the Crowd, and Network took a hard look at how far the media would go to manipulate the masses. Now you can add the internet to the mix. In their time, these films were a therapeutic slap in the face to audiences, to wake up from their complacency and naiveté.

Applause whets the appetite of celebrity consumers.
Here’s the difference in today’s world: We live in an age where just about any small-town person is media-wise. The change started with cable TV and later, the Internet, providing a world-wide platform for anyone with something to sell—a product, a personality, or a point of view. We have been the consumers, sitting in front of massive TV screens and computers, laptops, tablets, and cell phones. There’s been an escalating Tower of Babel built by “personalities,” pundits, and politicians. They are all vying for our favor, with louder voices, bigger promises, and no regard for the truth.

The problem is many of us want to believe the lies, despite the mass of information at our fingertips. Now, people have always preferred comforting lies to painful truths—that’s human nature. But now, we rationalize bad behavior, wallow in conspiracy theories, and defend to the death negative news that fits our world view—no matter what. Before, it was a matter of exposing lies to an unsuspecting public—Watergate, for example. Now, it seems hardly anyone cares. On a recent This American Life broadcast, Ira Glass addressed this trend in “Lies Become the Truth.” After recounting some recent political dust-ups where mud was flung, Glass noted, “It’s easier than ever to check if the fact is true, but the facts matters less than ever…”

The real "face" of celebrity isn't always pretty.
Is it because we want to cling to old beliefs, even though, deep down we know they don’t work anymore? Is it because it takes too much time to sift through the vast amounts of information out there, in our limited attention span era? Is it because we prefer to feed on a newsfeed that’s exclusively scandal over substance? Or is it all of the above?

The tune of a Lonesome Rhodes, Citizen Kane, and Howard Beale never really changes, nor do those of real-life demagogues like Huey Long, Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Donald Trump, or any of the loudmouths on MSNBC, CNN, or FOX News.

What politicians still count on today...
Only the face in the crowd changes, but the song remains the same. It is us who have changed. Too many people are willing to overlook the deep flaws of their idols, as long as they can continue to believe the false message. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

'Bright Lights' Brings Back Personal Memories

At home with Debbie and daughter Carrie, with their dogs.
Bright Lights, the HBO documentary that provided a fitting farewell to showbiz mother/daughter icons Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, has received much comment and acclaim. As a fan of both stars, I was touched by this Hollywood “home movie.” And as a baby boomer who has watched aging family members and friends dim and fade away, watching Bright Lights brought back a lot of personal memories.

This photo of Debbie, with those arched, penciled eyebrows and twinkle
in her eye, reminds me of my Grandma Leone so much.
Watching Debbie try to put on her best face, figuratively and literally, reminded me of my maternal grandmother Leone, who wanted to be independent and dignified to the end. Debbie’s “up” attitude, in spite of some lousy breaks in life—especially with men—recalled my upbeat pal, Alice Crosby. Watching Reynolds’ determination to do what she always did, even if required reinforcement from her children, made me think of my longtime neighbor, Claire Nixon. And the steel beneath Debbie’s El Paso magnolia made me think of my late partner’s mom, Sue Johnson. Like Debbie, fellow Texan Emma Sue could be the life of the party, but if she felt her wishes being ignored, look out! Aging was frustrating for all of these great women, though Claire did it best, in my opinion. Yet, as Bette Davis once warned, “Old age ain’t for sissies.” That fine line between keeping on and letting go is a tough call and hard on everybody involved.

Grandma Leone enjoying her middle years, makeup intact!
The scene where Debbie holds up a dry erase board and cheerily says she put notes if she doesn’t want visitors, made me laugh. My Grandma Leone was one of the most pleasant—yet private—people I have ever met. She preferred that you call first, no dropping in, please! And like Debbie refusing to be photographed without her platinum wig, Grandma Leone always “put her face on” before going to town, even if it was for a doctor’s appointment.

Debbie’s insisting on taking a few last gigs despite assuring her kids she was retired made me think of my buddy Claire. The climactic scene is Debbie’s fraught journey to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors’ Guild. Debbie did it her way, but Reynolds wrangled her kids in to pull it off. 
My pal Claire Nixon's 90th birthday finale!
My old neighbor Claire Nixon, the Katharine Hepburn of Traverse City, had cancer the last two years of her life. Claire was certain that her 89th birthday would be her last, so she threw not one, but two parties! True diva style, Claire had a big one for all her many pals and acquaintances, and a smaller one for close friends and family. Here’s the kicker: Claire hung in so well, that she lived to have a 90th birthday bash! Claire, a control freak in the best sense of the word, did much of the cooking for these parties, as always—but enlisted her family to ensure everything was in order and on schedule.

Sue Johnson, who had as much personality and energy as fellow Texan Debbie!
And the scenes depicting Debbie’s frustration with her aging body reminded me of my late partner Jigger’s mother so much. Like Debbie, Sue Johnson was a bundle of energy most of her life and would charge into projects like her huge flower gardens and elaborate family gatherings like a Texas tornado. But after her stroke, Sue was often exasperated that her now-diminished body would not cooperate with her still-energetic mind. For Sue to delegate holiday meal tasks or down-size yard projects required tact and patience on both sides—with results that could be hilarious or sometimes heartbreaking.

My pal Alice Crosby, back when she was as cute as Debbie!
The segment where Debbie is finally forced to auction off the massive memorabilia that she collected for decades gets a dramatic boost—her kids find out she took a tumble in the bathroom the night before. The next scene is Debbie, matter-of-factly talking about the purple bruises on her face. This brought back memories of when my buddy Alice started taking falls in her home. I remember walking through her front door with dread many times, not knowing what to expect.

One last hurrah for Debbie, honored at the Screen Actors' Guild Awards.
When Grandma Leone, Alice, Claire, and Sue passed, I was beyond sad, knowing each time that an era had passed. In fact, Alice and Sue died a week a part in February of 2004—that was the most depressing Michigan winter ever, for me. While I’m relieved for their sakes the way Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds passed, it still makes me melancholy to know these two life forces are gone. Yet I know, after time passes, I’ll think of them the same way that I think of these four great women in my life. Not as ill or aged, but as eternal bright lights.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Debbie Reynolds Double Dose of Memoirs

Debbie Reynolds and daughter Carrie.

Debbie Reynolds, showbiz’ ultimate sweetheart, lived a dramatic life and made an equally dramatic exit on December 28, 2017 a day after daughter Carrie Fisher died at age 60. After the initial avalanche of stories on Debbie and Carrie Fisher, I wanted to read about Debbie Reynolds’ glory days as a movie star. So, I borrowed her two memoirs from the library, My Life and Unsinkable.

I had passed on her first autobiography when came out almost two decades ago. For one, I was always on Team Liz. If you have to ask Liz who, you’re reading the wrong blog! Also, Debbie’s memoir was titled My Life, a classic cliché show biz bio title—code for no dirt. The super-retouched cover photo was another red flag for star-filter stories inside.

Debbie plugging Debbie!
“Don’t judge a book by its cover” turned out to be the case with Debbie’s tome. Reynolds’ soap opera life is told straightforwardly, with the help of ghostwriter David Patrick Columbia, blog maestro of the nifty New York Social Diary.

Is it a tell-all? Just as daughter Carrie Fisher characterizes Debbie’s second memoir, Unsinkable, as a “tell-some,” so is My Life. Reynolds is a woman and a star of her era. What she chooses to discuss is direct and the stuff that she leaves out falls under the category of none of your business. Debbie Reynolds was never a wallflower, nor a “wallower.”

Backstory: I liked Debbie better as I grew older than my growing up years. In the ‘70s & ‘80s, Reynolds was already that fizzy showbizzy personality in sequined slit gowns, platinum slathered frosting wigs, and kewpie doll makeup. Her youthful image didn’t endear me, either. Debbie Reynolds on the afternoon movies always meant nostalgic musicals, with Debbie hyper and sugary sweet. Why were Hollywood’s wholesome blondes perkiness personified, like Betty Hutton, Doris Day, Sandra Dee, Connie Stevens, and Debbie, I wondered. On talk shows, Reynolds was always “on,” and came off like a phony for the “good old days” of Hollywood.

Debbie loved to perform and had exes' debts to pay!
Though Reynolds had mixed feelings at the time, I thought Debbie was a good sport when daughter Carrie satirized their relationship in 1990’s fictionalized Postcards from the Edge. I liked Debbie when she tweaked her sweetheart image with tartness in Albert Brooks’ Mother. The ‘90s were the first time Debbie Reynolds seemed like a real person to me, and not an aging Chatty Cathy Doll. The more I read about her, I empathized with Reynolds endless rounds of tribulations and admired her for surviving with sass.

What’s amazing about Debbie’s My Life and Unsinkable is not great writing or storytelling, but the long-lasting career and cray-cray life. Reynolds grew up in El Paso, Texas, raised by tough parents, with an especially steely Mom. Once they moved to California, Reynolds’ star was quickly on the rise at MGM, just as the studio’s was beginning to dim. Ironically, Debbie became a bonafide movie star in Singin’ in the Rain at 19, the same age daughter Carrie became Princess Leia in Star Wars. When Reynolds married teen idol crooner Eddie Fisher, they became America’s sweethearts. After three years together and two children, Eddie famously left Debbie for her MGM pal and his idol Mike Todd’s widow, Elizabeth Taylor.

Aba Daba Honeymoon! If only Debbie's marriages were this cheery!
Debbie’s second marriage to shoe tycoon Harry Karl ended when she found out that he not only blew through his fortune, but hers, too. My Life ends on a happy note when Debbie marries rich businessman Richard Hamlett—revealed as a sociopathic con artist in her followup memoir, Unsinkable. In both books, Debbie seems to be a magnet for mismanagement and rip-offs, from asshole husbands to business associates. When Debbie’s marriage to Karl ended, there was a point where Reynolds was reduced to sleeping in her car!

Tammy was Debbie's #1 hit...and Eddie Fisher was pissy about it!
Reynolds paid off his debts—that were unfortunately in both their names. A later Las Vegas hotel venture went belly-up, thanks to her crooked last husband. Debbie Reynolds worked like a rented mule from age 40 until she was nearly 70, paying off debts from two loser husbands. Reynolds’ dream of a Hollywood museum for her vast movie memorabilia faded, too…though its auction a few years ago finally brought her some millions back.

The Singing Nun. Bet there were times when Debbie wished it true!
In between all this, the pages fly by as Debbie dealt with her own issues: keeping Debbie Reynolds the performer relevant throughout the decades; aging parents and growing older herself; raising her kids in showbiz; and especially, daughter Carrie Fisher’s many emotional ups and downs.
How did Debbie survive all this? Reynolds credits her strict upbringing, strong faith, good humor and health, and children Carrie and Todd, for getting through all this, and most of all, putting one high-heeled foot in front of the other.

Despite fame and fortune, I found it fascinating that MGM girls Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor were essentially women of their era. Debbie thought she’d be a movie star a few years and then get married, start a family, and become a gym teacher—seriously! Fellow starlet Elizabeth Taylor just wanted to quit movies and marry a “big, strong guy who paid all the bills.” Yes, this was the ‘50s, folks. Ultimately, both women worked well into their older years, and basically supported themselves—and more than a few husbands!

Carrie once suggested Debbie title her first memoir "Singin' in the Pain!"
Debbie’s marriage to Harry Karl became surreal, him living in a fantasy world as the walls came tumbling down around them because of his gambling and big-spending. When Debbie finds out that Karl’s barber, who visited the house daily, was also his pimp, and the manicurists were actually hookers, it’s beyond anything a screenwriter could make up. Then Debbie makes the same mistake again, going from a dysfunctional spendthrift to a predatory con man, and Reynolds wonders when Eddie Fisher started looking like the good husband!

Debbie Reynolds, at the peak of her movie stardom!
Reynolds’ tale of woe emphasizes the shark mentality of Hollywood, as when she reveals how the estate of her late pal Agnes Moorehead—Endora of Bewitched—was “left” to her lawyer! Or how MGM’s drama coach and life-long mentor Lillian Burns got dumped and duped, after 30 years of marriage, by her famous director husband—and his next wife. No wonder stars become tough, a criticism leveled at Debbie over the years, and one Reynolds acknowledges.

In both books, Debbie’s direct about people who’ve disappointed her, but her dislikes are not dwelled on. Reynolds freely admits Gene Kelly was tough to work with, but ultimately worth it. Other stars or directors who were unkind or disloyal are dealt with pithy humor. The only exception is first ex-hubby Eddie Fisher. After reading Debbie’s side of the story, it confirmed Fisher as one of a long line of Hollywood Peter Pans, oblivious to the damage they did their families, such as Tony Curtis or Ryan O’ Neal.

Oh, yeah...there was that little Liz/Eddie/Debbie scandal that made Angelina/Brad/Jen look like a nursery school tussle!
The Debbie/Eddie/Liz triangle was essentially the Jen/Brad/Angelina scandal of its time. While Debbie is honest in recounting her naiveté and Eddie’s immaturity, Reynolds gives mixed signals about the state of their marriage when Liz came into the picture. Frankly, Debbie and Eddie sounded more like a PR story than a love story. The fact that Reynolds repeats her tale of getting Fisher drunk to get pregnant so she can salvage their marriage says more than Debbie intended.

Unsinkable, written 15 years later, picks up where the first memoir leaves off. The ongoing Reynolds saga shows Debbie less invested in being Hollywood’s perennial good girl. Reynolds became bawdier and sharp-tongued over the years. Debbie also writes candidly of making up with Elizabeth, and coming to terms with problem child Carrie.

Read about Liz and Debbie's escape from New York after 9/11!
Then there’s Debbie with the dish! Reynolds may not have been lucky in love, but Debbie’s lifelong career is fascinating—she’s got stories about everyone. Did you know that Liz helped Debbie escape the 9/11 aftermath by asking her ex, Senator Warner, to get them a plane out of NYC? Or that Michael Jackson practiced his dance moves for his Thriller album at her LA dance studio? Or that her first big romance was with Robert Wagner? Or that Debbie suggested herself for the movie star mom role in daughter Carrie’s Postcards from the Edge, only to have director Mike Nichols tell her she wasn’t right for the part! Or that Frank Sinatra tried to warn her off marrying Eddie Fisher, saying singers make terrible husbands? Or making Warren Beatty promise to be a gentleman when he cast daughter Carrie in her film debut, Shampoo?

Hollywood's most famous Girl Scout!
There’s tons of anecdotes in both books about Debbie Reynolds fabled and varied career. Personally, Debbie’s signature roles like Tammy and The Unsinkable Molly Brown are too sickly sweet for me. However, I think that Debbie Reynolds was the female Mickey Rooney: an energetic and charismatic performer who could sing, dance, plus play comedy and drama. Check out Debbie in lesser-known, but more substantial films like The Catered Affair with Bette Davis, The Rat Race with Tony Curtis, or What’s the Matter With Helen?, with Shelley Winters. Plus, there’s Reynolds’ latter day turns in Mother, In and Out, and Will and Grace.

My Life and Unsinkable are both highly entertaining reads about one of Hollywood’s true class acts. Debbie Reynolds is gone, but her story and screen performances live on.
Debbie Reynolds, the Unsinkable Star!