Thursday, December 29, 2016

Debbie Reynolds: A TRUE STAR

The Unsinkable Debbie Reynolds
They literally threw away our history and I just got caught up in it.
-Debbie Reynolds in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter

It is December 29th, 2017!
We were just sitting down to dinner last night when friends started calling with the bad news. They called because they know of my love of Debbie Reynolds. I've always been a huge fan. I immediately reached out to my dear friend Stephen Sorrentino. Not only did he use to open for Debbie, but he was a true friend as well.
Although I saw Debbie's incredible show in Atlantic City several years ago, I never personally met her which will always be a huge disappointment for me. I did, however, get the opportunity to interview her two years ago on the eve of the final auction for her Hollywood memorabilia. This interview was thanks to Stephen. I will always remember how warm and inviting she was although she was incredibly sad about a sick friend that she was going to see after the interview. I offered to call at another time but she insisted we do the interview then because she had promised me the interview. HERE is the blog I wrote based on that interview. CLICK HERE for a special portion of our interview.

Her last New York engagement was at the Carlyle here in New York and I am still kicking myself that I was unable to get there.
With Harve Prenell in my favorite Debbie Reynolds movie: The Unsinkable Molly Brown
I have ALWAYS loved Debbie. I got up this morning and turned on the radio. The first song I heard was Tammy. It immediately took me back. My mom and dad had an 8-track collection of songs from the Fifties. The track I listened to over and over was Debbie Reynold's track of Tammy.

Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher - Happy Days/You Made Me Love You

When I was seventeen years old, I got cast in my first big role, Roberts, the butler, in The Unsinkable Molly Brown with The Theater of the Republic in my hometown of Conway, South Carolina.  I listened to the original Broadway cast recording starring Tammy Grimes (who also passed away earlier this year) and the soundtrack starring Debbie Reynolds over and over although I did not have a singing role. I fell in love with the message of I Ain't Down Yet and the determination to succeed against all odds. I, of course, fell in love with the movie, as well. It was a role that Debbie had to fight for. The part would eventually bring Debbie her only Academy Award nomination, but she was not the first
choice for the role. In fact, she had to fight just to get the director, Charles Walters to direct her.
He and MGM desired Shirley MacLaine, AND  she was eager to play the role. No sooner had she signed, however, than independent producer Hal Wallis, who had brought her to Hollywood in the '50s, claimed that she was still under contract to him. The legal complications forced MacLaine to withdraw from the role, which producer Lawrence Weingarten then offered to Reynolds. She jumped at the opportunity to star in a big musical of her own, even though she had to accept a lower fee than had been offered to MacLaine.
Read an earlier blog I wrote celebrating Debbie Reynolds HERE
According to the TCM website, Debbie had to deal with MacLaine, who 'accused her of undercutting MacLaine's price to steal the role from her'. Reynolds did her best to mollify her, arguing that MGM couldn't make the film with Wallis threatening a lawsuit and pleading that it was her last chance for a great film role. On the whole, she got off easier than Hollywood Reporter columnist Mike Connolly. When he reported that MacLaine had lost the part before any decision had even been made, she decked him.
An Excellent book that details the trials and tribulations of filming The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Reynolds' next hurdle was director Charles Walters. Although he had scored a hit directing her opposite Frank Sinatra in The Tender Trap (1955), he had his heart set on casting MacLaine as Molly Brown.
He even tried to convince Reynolds to turn the part down. When she asked why he thought she was wrong for it, he told her, "You're much too short for the role." Debbie quipped, "How short is the part?" then told him he was just plain wrong. His doubts continued through the location shooting in Colorado. In fact, he gave her so little direction that Reynolds turned to Lillian Burns, an accomplished acting coach with whom she had worked in her early days at MGM, to help her with the part. Finally, when the rushes started coming in, Walters conceded that she was right for the role. His doubts came back, however, when it came time to shoot Reynolds' biggest dance number, He's My Friend.
He even suggesting cutting it, claiming it was too tough for her to learn, but Reynolds insisted. MGM had slashed the film's budget because of cost overruns on Doctor Zhivago (1965), so Walters had to try to get the number in as few takes as possible. As insurance, he had TWO cameras simultaneously film a long take of the seven-minute number, a television technique rarely used on film. Reynolds pulled the number off without a hitch, though one of her male dancing partners fainted after it was over.
The Unsinkable Molly Brown turned out to be a huge hit for MGM,becoming the third highest-grossing film of 1964. The picture garnered six Oscar® nominations, including Reynolds' Best Actress nod. She would prove wrong in her prediction that this would be her last great role. She would go on to turn in an Oscar®-worthy performance in Albert Brooks'1996 comedy Mother. She and MacLaine would survive their differences, eventually teaming up for the television movie These Old Broads in 2001. Before that, MacLaine would play a role loosely based on Reynolds -- and with her blessing -- as the movie star mom in Postcards From the Edge (1990), written by Carrie Fisher.  (Source:
When I went to Denver the first time, The Molly Brown House was my number one destination stop. Of course, it is nothing like it was depicted in the movie! 
Debbie and I are even in a movie together, although we don't share screen time, Carol Channing: Larger Than Life! Just to see my name in the credits with her is a thrill!
On the Pandora Debbie Reynolds channel I created, they write: 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, Texas, 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. Read her biographies to get more info. I feel like Debbie has always been a part of my life. She always will be. Remember The Debbie Reynolds Show in the seventies? Check THIS out.

When artists depart this world, we mourn not because we knew them, but because it was as if they knew us. Artists reveal to us who we are.
-George Takei

A Few Testimonials and Tributes
Debbie Reynolds was a lovely, caring woman who also had a wonderfully quick wit. What she didn't have was ego. After decades of being a star, she called our house once and left a message for my wife. She identified herself as "Debbie Reynolds--I'm an actress." And at the end of her message, she said, "Again, that's Debbie Reynolds, R-E-Y-N-O-L-D-S." I thought that was adorable. I thought Debbie was adorable, too. George Pennacchio Entertainment Reporter KABC-TV, Los Angeles

 As a supporter and attendee of the Thalians for over 30 years from my first Ball in 1978 when Cab Callaway was honored to the last in 2009 when Debbie and Ruta stepped down to become emeritus have so many memories worked on raffle seating and magazine committees over the years and would
schedule my yearly visit to LA to coincide with Ball would love when she poked good natured fun at Eddie Fisher and refer to herself as Princess Leia's mother never forget the look in her eye when Mickey Rooney the 2009 honoree kept going after receiving his award always felt she would be around .Pic here is from 1980 event for her museum which she sadly never could get off the ground despite her 45 years of trying..
-Daniel Gettleman

I am so saddened to hear of the passing of my friend and mentor Debbie Reynolds. What she gave to me as a single entertainer, singer and actor can never have a dollar amount put upon it.
She was kind, talented beyond belief, generous with her stage and always pushed me to be noticed by the people who know nothing of me.

Debbie Reynolds and Stephen Sorrentino
She was the embodiment of grace, gratitude and old school show business. She is the last of the breed and they are making no more like her.
The loss of her daughter I'm sure affected her beyond any comprehension and knowing the positive person that she was and having a good idea of her beliefs, I believe she needed to go with Carrie to make sure that she was OK.
Debbie was in full control of her universe at all times yet with a smile and in kindness.
She was a caretaker, a giver, a professional yet she still remained "one of the boys in the band" which made her so much more real and attractive to me.

I will never forget Debbie Reynolds and I will always keep every single word that she said to me in my heart to share with the young people and the up-and-coming artists that will shape our future.
Every time she pushed me into the spotlight that was meant for her or referred to she and I "as us".. it made me feel so special.

I asked her more times than not that when she referred" to us" what that meant. She said "The talented, old show business people like us" I would pinch myself when I would hear that each time make sure that it wasn't a dream. Dreams fo come true as one of my icons as a child had called me on the phone and asked me to work with her to begin a 5 1/2 your friendship and relationship as "co performers"
Imagine flying on a private jet with your idol and
Debbie, Todd Fisher, Stephen
mentor when she calls you over to make sure that you knew that she made you a vegetarian sandwich because it was going to be a long flight. "you and your vegetables" I laugh when I think about that.

It Is my wish for every true artist in this world to get to know, meet and work with the person or persons that you admire the most. It is the most beautiful gift that God and the universe can give you.
When they turn out to be as you had hoped... consider yourself blessed.
Thank you Debbie. Click HERE

-Stephen Sorrentino

How wonderful to receive a call from her dear 'Charity sister' Ruta Lee this afternoon (thank you George Pennacchio for arranging this). Ruta and I are going to be doing a Facebook LIVE interview over the phone on January 10th to discuss Debbie Reynolds, the Thalians, and to take your questions and comments. Please keep checking my page on Facebook for updates.
Ruta and Charity Sister Debbie
We will announce the time of our interview on the 9th. In the meantime, Debbie sat down for an interview with Ruta for Lifestyle Magazine in 2011. HERE is a snippet of that interview.

Here is a TIMELINE of Debbie throughout my life.
I was born in 1961. The year of my birth, The Pleasure of His Company was released with Fred Astaire, Lilli Palmer, and Tab Hunter. 

1966-I was five when The Singing Nun came out. 

1971- What’s the Matter with Helen?
Reynolds with Shelley Winters

1976-Debbie did a revue on Broadway called Debbie on Broadway for 14 performances.

Debbie Reynolds Live in Las Vegas 1978

1981-Debbie Reynolds Aloha Paradise Premiere ABC

1986-"Say You, Say Me" Wins Original Song: 1986 Oscars. It was presented by Gene Kelly, Debbie, and Donald O'Connor

1991-Movie Memories with Debbie
Reynolds:Debbie introduces a classic Hollywood film, then returns afterwards to talk with legendary movie stars about their careers and experiences during Hollywood's "Golden Age."

1996-Debbie talks about her life and career in show business during an 1996 interview with CNN's Larry King

2001-These Old Broads airs on TV with Shirley MacLaine, Joan Collins, Elizabeth Taylor.

2006- November 2006 Reynolds received the Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award from Chapman University (Orange, California).

2016-December 28th, Debbie passes away the day after Carrie Fisher.

Here is a short biography of Debbie Reynolds presented by Carrie Fisher on TCM

Debbie, I Love you! Thanks for ALL you have given and will continue to give! 

Here are five of my Favorite Debbie Reynolds Moments

The World Must Be Bigger Than an Avenue from Irene 1974

Woman of the Year - Debbie Reynolds

Belly Up To The Bar Boys from The Unsinkable Molly Brown 1964

A Lady Loves Outtake from I Love Melvin 


As we move towards 2017, focus on the word Unsinkable.  Think of this word as your mantra every day. First apply the word to yourself, THEN apply this word to EVERYONE YOU meet.
Think of this word as you respond to EVERY POST you see throughout the day in social media. Please pay it forward...
In the meantime, let's all agree to celebrate pride in each other AND our differences.

Please send your suggestions for future blogs to

Thank you, to all mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give! 
Thank you to Margo Feiden for the use of the Hirschfelds! 

With grateful XOXOXs from YOUR pro-active friend,

Check out my site celebrating the legacy of Call on Dolly: From Carol to Bette!


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!  
17 Days till showtime: Please celebrate with us January 16th, 2017!
Richard Skipper Celebrates...The 53rd Anniversary of Hello, Dolly! Opening on Broadway 7PM at the Triad on Janurary 16th, 2017 featured guests will INCLUDE Beth Fowler, Lee Roy Reams, Sondra Lee, Rita McKenzie...AND Marilyn Maye. 
 Tedd Firth Musical Director with Jeff Carney on bass and Rex Benincasa on percussion.  Richard Skipper Celebrates: A Talk/Variety Show encouraging us to celebrate each and every day and the hidden gems therein.
 Wear David Merrick red for amazing photo ops. 
Tickets are $30.00 plus a two drink minimum.  Reservations a MUST! To purchase , go to THEIR website.  Mix and mingle with the cast  afterwards. You never know who may show up! ;)

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!
Please leave a comment and share on Twitter and Facebook

Countdown to Bette Midler's Opening Night in Dolly:
Gary Beach, Jerry Herman, Vicki, Andrew Kato, Fran Weissler
111 Days! Today, I celebrate Vicki Lewis, Dolly at Maltz Jupiter Theater 

If you have any questions/comments/suggestions, please share with me

Keeping Entertainment LIVE!

Richard Skipper,

No comments:

Post a Comment