Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Debbie Reynolds: Gene Kelly could never have known



Tales of how hard Gene Kelly was on 19 year old Debbie Reynolds during the filming of “Singin’ in the Rain” are legend. He was a tough task master who gave this young, non-dancer no sympathy. Did he look at her and see a youngster who had not proven herself? Just another ingénue imposed upon him by the studio? He worked her hard and offered little encouragement to her while her feet bled and her heart sank.

Debbie and her task master
No doubt the master was right. But how could he have known that the wholesome and hardworking kid (who rose to the challenge and won his respect) would become the last joyous representative of the studio star system and the keeper of the flame? Yes, Olivia de Havilland is with us, as is Doris Day, but they never wore their stardom joyously. Olivia fought the studio system with all her might and then retreated to France. Doris never seemed to enjoy it and, instead, found her passion in caring for the animals and in her Carmel-by-the-Sea home far away from Hollywood.

Debbie at her spunkiest (and loveliest) in "The Mating Game"
Only Debbie, sprightly, spunky Debbie Reynolds, never quite the greatest talent at the studio, embraced her role as Hollywood movie star. And we loved her for it. She may not have been the best actress, comedienne, singer or dancer, but her exuberance was unparalleled.  As only a star can, she lit up the movie screen and later the television screen and the stage simply by being Debbie. We have come to learn that it wasn’t always easy for her and that her later appearances were not a true reflection of her condition, but she made the effort for us. The illusion was for us. That’s what a move star does and that’s straight out of the Mary Pickford-Joan Crawford playbook. 
Debbie and Molly Brown - both unsinkable
Not only did Debbie continue to give us a Hollywood movie star well into the era where such people ceased to exist, she also became the keeper of its history. Through her massive purchase and warehousing of the costume and set treasures of Hollywood and her failed effort to find a museum for these articles she knew had an important history, she acknowledged the importance of Hollywood, its glamour and legends. For a peek at only a part of Debbie's massive collection at auction, click hereMarilyn Monroe’s billowing subway dress from "The Seven Year Itch" sold for $5.52 million and the Audrey Hepburn Ascot gown from "My Fair Lady" went for $4.44 million. (The collection would ultimately fetch more than $30 million).
$4.4 million!
Thanks, Debbie. You were wonderful and I think we are not really aware of how much we will really miss you.



14 comments:

Sara Sachs said...

Thanks for your insights and this wonderful article. Gene Kelly was a true Virgo in his obsessive perfectionism, but Debbie Reynolds was a great trouper to meet the challenge!

Caftan Woman said...

Debbie went into every area of entertainment - music, drama, impersonations, comedy, film, stage, recordings - she was a true entertainer and an inspiration.

Your tribute to Debbie and her place in history and our hearts is beautiful.

said...

Sometimes we need a little time to grief, and then we can put our words together and make some extraordinary tributes. Yours certainly was EXTRAORDINARY!
Kisses
Le

Silver Screenings said...

I suspect you're right – we may not really be aware of how much we'll miss her.

Beautiful tribute. :)

The Metzinger Sisters said...

Great article, Marsha! I'm sure Gene Kelly must have been proud to see what a big star she became in the 1950s and 1960s. Debbie was able to transition to drama easily too, which was sometime Gene always struggled with. Yes, he probably *envied* her a bit as well. He could have been a little lighter on her.... after all Judy Garland didn't ride him when he needed his first break in Hollywood.

Inge Gregusch said...

Terrific and informative post about one of the real 'troupers'. Debbie personified the "Unsinkable" moniker. Her work preserving costume put her in another league altogether. She really COULD do it all.

FlickChick said...

Sarah - Gene was indeed a perfectionist. Good thing!

FlickChick said...

CW - many thanks. She sure was a trouper. One of the last, I suspect.

FlickChick said...

Le - you are so right. It took a little time for me to put my feelings into words about Debbie's place among the stars.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Ruth. I always sort of took here being here for granted. She had such a youthful persona, it seemed as though she didn't age.

FlickChick said...

Connie - yes, Gene sure was hard on her, but it must have been difficult for him to work with such a novice after spending the day with Donald O'Connor and Cyd Charisse. I'm glad Debbie never gave up. And yes - Judy sure didn't get after him for not having a voice like Sinatra.

FlickChick said...

Inge - her efforts to try to preserve those costumes and artifacts were tremendous. How sad that she could not realize her dream.

Biddie said...

I loved Debbie so much as Tammy when I was a kid. My girls grew to love her as the grandma in the Halloweentown movies. She had fans of every age, and I agree, I suspect that she wll never now how missed she will be.

Christian Esquevin said...

And Debbie could be tough too - she had to be to survive that long in Hollywood and in show business. And let's remember Fred Astaire for the encouragement he was giving her on the sidelines during Singing in the Rain. Her work in saving Hollywood memorabilia is unparalleled
and was for a very long time unrewarded. There were times when she was taken advantage of.
She deserves every bit of recognition that posterity can give her.