An encore of my 2014 interview with icon Debbie Reynolds who died died a year ago today
This originally ran on May 14, 2014. Chatted with Debbie on a Saturday then saw her a few days later at an auction of her Memorabilia Collection. Just felt devastated, like so many other fans, about her death a year ago today and the death of her daughter Carrie Fisher a day earlier. Here is our interview in its entirety:
I’m very much looking forward to attending a preview reception tonight for “The Auction Finale” of the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Memorabilia Collection.
I had the most delightful conversation over the weekend with this Hollywood legend who I have loved since I was a kid because my mom loved Debbie so.
“The moms have always loved me,” Debbie told me.
Another group that has always loved the enduring star of such films as The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Singin’ in the Rain, Tammy and the Bachelor and How the West Was Won are the gays – and the feeling is mutual.
‘I have always since 1948 hired dancers and creative people who were gay,’ says the 82-year-old icon. ‘They are like my children.’
‘I didn’t know anything about why it had to be why we are different. I was probably like everyone else, no knowledge about we are born this way. I had to learn and I have learned. You have to want to learn to get rid of your prejudices. You can’t want to stay that way.’
Debbie knows there are many in her generation and plenty of other people who do not share her pro-gay views
‘No one who is born gay asks to be gay,’ she says. ‘I’ve tried of talking to members of my family. They hear it but don’t understand it. It’s very difficult to explain. Happiness is being a giving person, an understanding person.’
Speaking of gays, Debbie cherishes her experience playing Grace’s mother Bobbi Adler on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace. The character was not unlike Miss Reynolds herself.
‘I loved being asked to be on that show, everybody was terrific,’ she says. ‘I was so happy doing that show, the happiness was returned to me. I just had a good time. They wrote it just for me and about me. I used my own clothes, I used my fur pieces – I did my own drag. The gay boys who worked for me taught me how to dress drag.’
But she well knows the ups and downs of showbiz and has not had a new role since playing Liberace’s mother in HBO’s Behind the Candelabra last year.
‘I would do another film if I were offered but I’m not offered. But I have a full life. I do stage work and will be going to Vegas and Laughlin – I’ve worked there for 40 years. I do live theater and I do a campy kind of show like Bette Midler. I w0uldn’t want to do a long role in a motion picture, it’s too hard, or a play doing eight shows a week.’
She can fully focus on performing now that she will no longer have her once expansive collection of Hollywood memorabilia to take care of.
Debbie spent decades collecting such items as Marilyn Monroe’s dress from The Seven Year Itch and a pair of the red ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz.
She began her collection more than 40 years ago when MGM closed its movie lot and began auctioning off some of its treasures.
‘I went ahead with purchasing different items that I knew would be lost. My heart was in it because I was under contract to MGM for 17 years. It was my home. I wanted to save my home. All the pieces were very precious to me and to others who couldn’t have access to buying them.’
She and her son, Todd Fisher, worked hard to open a museum for the collection but were ultimately unsuccessful. Reynolds is still disappointed that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences passed on her collection which was one of the biggest in the world.
Miss Reynolds is holding a final auction of what is left of her collection on Saturday and Sunday at a dance studio she owns in Burbank.
Among the items for sale during this last auction hurrah are a piano that belonged to Elvis Presley, a Charlie Chaplin bowler hat, hats worn by Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind, a Mae West gown and costume pieces from Citizen Kane.
Although she has made millions in previous auctions, Debbie points out that ‘I spent a lot of money to buy over 50 years. You spend an awful lot to find them, to restore and save and preserve them.’
Reynolds jokes that after decades of stardom, she became best known after 1977 as Princess Leia’s mother after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, was chosen to be one of the stars of the original Star Wars trilogy.
She’s happy her daughter has been chosen to revive her character in the new Star Wars movie.
‘It is most unusual and wonderful,’ she says.
But as a mother, she worries about her daughter’s health and efforts to lose weight for the movie.
‘Carrie has been working extremely hard, classes in exercise and Pilates. She’s working herself to death. They want her to look the same. Listen boys, do you look the same year to year? They aren’t asking Harrison Ford to look this good.’
Towards the end of our conversation, I told Debbie about how remarkable it was to watch the reception she has received in recent years at the Turner Classic Films Festival in Hollywood where Singin’ in the Rain, Unsinkable Molly Brown and How the West Was Won were screened at the Egyptian, Grauman’s Chinese and the Cineramadome, respectively.
The ovations she received from the sellout audiences was thunderous and prolonged.
It was remarkable to witness that kind of love.
As the person on the receiving end, Debbie says she felt it – and appreciated it.
‘It didn’t matter if my marriages failed because I have my fans, I felt loved – a different kind of love. Lasting love. When you feel love, who cares what kind of love?’