Debbie Reynolds 1932-2016

IMG_2055

Debbie Reynolds, star of Singin’ in the Rain and other classic Hollywood musicals, has died after suffering a stroke, aged 84 – just one day after her famous daughter, Carrie Fisher, also passed away.

She was born Mary Frances Reynolds in El Paso, Texas in 1932. As a child she moved with her family to Los Angeles, and was crowned Miss Burbank in 1948. She began her career at Warner Brothers, where she was renamed Debbie.

In Three Little Words (1950), a nostalgic musical about the heyday of Tin Pan Alley, she played Helen Kane, the singer famed for her 1928 hit, ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You‘ (later revived by Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot.)

Debbie Reynolds sings 'I Wanna Be Loved By You' to Carleton Carpenter in 'Three Little Words' (1951)
Debbie Reynolds sings ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ to Carleton Carpenter in ‘Three Little Words’ (1950)

After moving to MGM, Debbie’s big break came when she was cast in her first dancing role, as chorus girl Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), recently named as the all-time Greatest Movie Musical (and fifth-greatest movie overall) by the AFI. She went on to star in Frank Tashlin’s Susan Slept Here (1954), and with Frank Sinatra in The Tender Trap (1955.)

In 1956, she played a bride-to-be in The Catered Affair. That year, her marriage to singer Eddie Fisher was feted by Hollywood’s fan magazines as the dawn of a new, all-American golden couple. They were swiftly paired in Bundle of Joy, with Debbie playing a shopgirl who takes in an abandoned baby.

Their daughter Carrie was born in 1956, followed by son Todd in 1958. He was named after Eddie’s mentor, theatrical impresario Mike Todd, who died in a plane crash soon after.  The Fishers’ seemingly idyllic life was shattered in 1959, when Eddie left Debbie for Mike Todd’s widow, Elizabeth Taylor. The scandal rocked Hollywood, although the two women resumed their friendship after Taylor divorced Fisher a few years later. Debbie married the millionaire businessman, Harry Karl, in 1960.

Debbie was the best-selling female singer of 1957, thanks to her hugely popular theme from Tammy. She later released an album, and went on to appear in Henry Hathaway’s How the West Was Won (1962), and opposite Tony Curtis in Goodbye Charlie (1964), in a role first offered to Marilyn Monroe.

Debbie With Tony Curtis in 'Goodbye Charlie' (1964)
With Tony Curtis in ‘Goodbye Charlie’ (1964)

In later years, Debbie would claim that evangelist Billy Graham approached her in 1962, after experiencing a premonition that Marilyn’s life was in danger. As Debbie did not know Marilyn well, she instead contacted a mutual friend, hairdresser Sydney Guilaroff, who allegedly spoke with Marilyn by telephone just hours before her death.

“She was a gentle, childlike girl who was always looking for that white knight on the white horse,” Debbie said of Marilyn, adding, “And why not? What sex symbol is happy?” Debbie also claimed that they attended the same church, although no further details have been uncovered.

Throughout the 1960s, Debbie played a three-month residency in Las Vegas each year. Her performance in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) earned her an Oscar nomination. Her second marriage ended in 1973. Four years later, her daughter Carrie Fisher found fame In her own right as Princess Leia in Star Wars.

With daughter Carrie Fisher in 2015
With daughter Carrie Fisher in 2015

Carrie would later become an acclaimed author. Postcards From the Edge, a novel about her close, if occasionally fractious relationship with her celebrated mother, was filmed by Mike Nichols in 1990, with Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine in the leading roles. Todd Fisher has also worked extensively in film, as well as assisting his mother with her business ventures.

The Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio opened in Los Angeles in 1979, and is still thriving. Her third marriage, to real estate developer Richard Hamlett, ended in 1996. She starred in several Broadway musicals and appeared in numerous television shows, including The Love Boat, Hotel, The Golden Girls, Roseanne, and Will & Grace. A former Girl Scout leader, she has also worked tirelessly for AIDS and mental health charities.

Debbie played herself in The Bodyguard (1992), and was reunited with Elizabeth Taylor for a 2001 TV movie, These Old Broads. One of her final roles was as Liberace’s mother in Behind the Candelabra (2013.) Her memoir, the aptly-titled Unsinkable, was published in 2015; and a new documentary, Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, premiered at Cannes in 2016, and has since been acquired by HBO.

Debbie with her Hollywood costume collection
Debbie with her Hollywood costume collection

Debbie Reynolds will also be remembered fondly for her efforts to preserve the legacy of Hollywood’s golden age, which began when she purchased costumes from classic films (including many made for Marilyn) at an MGM auction in 1970. Her dream of opening a movie museum was sadly never realised, and in 2011, she relinquished her collection.

Among the many Marilyn-related items sold in a two-part event at Profiles in History was the cream silk halter-dress designed by Travilla, and worn by Marilyn as she stood over a subway grate in an iconic scene from The Seven Year Itch. The dress sold for $4.6 million, a sum surpassed only by the sale of Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ dress at Julien’s last month for $4.8 million.

Although the buyer was not named, the Seven Year Itch dress is rumoured to have been purchased by Authentic Brands Group (ABG), the Canadian company which is the licensing arm of Marilyn’s estate.

2016: A Year In Marilyn Headlines

FA493B0C-8BFD-425A-9AEE-3BB7A1850CF2-2354-0000013A1572D1A0_tmp

In January, exhibitions featuring Milton Greene and Douglas Kirkland’s photographs of Marilyn opened in London and Amsterdam. In New York, the Museum of Modern Art paid tribute to Marilyn’s choreographer, Jack Cole. Also this month, James Turiello’s book, Marilyn: The Quest for an Oscar, was published. And Edward Parone, assistant producer of The Misfits, died.

F57E1FE9-E5F7-4AF3-9274-1DC047702DA6-2578-0000013D682C1196_tmp

In February, Marilyn ‘starred’ with Willem Dafoe in a Snickers commercial for the US Superbowl. Monroe Sixer Jimmy Collins’ candid photographs were sold at Heritage Auctions, and the touring exhibition, Marilyn: Celebrating an American Icon, came to Albury, Australia.

82FCF158-49A0-4A1C-9035-C6AF852F5E0F-2578-0000013E950D4BF3_tmp

Another major Australian exhibition, Twentieth Century Fox Presents Marilyn Monroe, featuring the collections of Debbie ReynoldsScott Fortner, Greg Schreiner and Maite Minguez Ricart – opened at the Bendigo Art Gallery in March. And Barbara Sichtermann’s book, Marilyn Monroe: Myth and Muse, was published in Germany.

IMG_1943

In April, a special edition of Vanity Fair magazine – dedicated to MM – was published. A campaign to save Rockhaven, the former women’s sanitarium where Marilyn’s mother Gladys once lived – was launched. And actress Anne Jackson – wife of Eli Wallach, and friend to Marilyn – passed away.

9E281B10-370F-4C02-A9A0-5A26DB344123-2578-00000140B9BDBC82_tmp

In May, Marilyn graced the cover of a Life magazine special about ‘hidden Hollywood’, and Sebastien Cauchon’s novel, Marilyn 1962, was published in France. Cabaret singer Marissa Mulder’s one-woman show, Marilyn in Fragments, opened in New York, while Chinese artist Chen Ke unveiled Dream-Dew, a series of paintings inspired by Marilyn’s life story. The remarkable collection of David Gainsborough Roberts was displayed in London. Finally, Alan Young – the comedian and Mister Ed star, who befriended a young Marilyn – died.

7F97E0CB-4534-4E2D-A7F8-8BD182034491-2686-0000015F5FA69BCC_tmp

June 1st marked what would be Marilyn’s 90th birthday. Also in June, New Yorkers were treated to an Andre de Dienes retrospective, Marilyn and the California Girls. An exhibition of the Ted Stampfer collection, Marilyn Monroe: The Woman Behind the Myth, opened in Turin, Italy. A new documentary, Artists in Love: Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, was broadcast in the UK, while Australia honoured Marilyn with a commemorative stamp folder, and genealogists investigated Marilyn’s Scottish ancestry.

36BBAA5B-4B61-4AA5-80CD-0B44A01DF0A2-2578-000001444908D23B_tmp

In July, the birthday celebrations continued in Marilyn’s Los Angeles hometown with tributes from painter David Bromley, and another Greene exhibition. A new musical, Marilyn!, opened in Glendale. Rapper Frank Ocean appeared alongside a Monroe impersonator in a Calvin Klein commercial. And Marni Nixon, the Hollywood soprano who sang the opening bars of ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, passed away.

1F04CA9E-1A1F-4344-9834-82E6FCD24FFB-2578-00000146EAE34134_tmp

August 5th marked the 54th anniversary of Marilyn’s death. Also this month, it was announced that Seward Johnson’s ‘Forever Marilyn’ sculpture may return permanently to Palm Springs. April VeVea’s Marilyn Monroe: A Day in the Life was published, and Marilyn’s role in Niagara was featured in another Life magazine special, celebrating 75 years of film noir.

A9B72469-B9EE-4813-A094-5395F29C367B-2578-000001465EC9B540_tmp

In September, Marilyn: Character Not Image – an exhibition curated by Whoopi Goldberg – opened in New Jersey. Terry Johnson’s fantasy play, Insignificance, was revived in Wales. Two locks of Marilyn’s hair were sold by Julien’s Auctions for $70,000. And author Michelle Morgan published The Marilyn Journal, first in a series of books chronicling the Marilyn Lives Society; and A Girl Called Pearl, a novel for children with a Monroe connection.

73480215-EE98-402B-81D0-642B1863806E-2686-0000014C4A376EB9_tmp

In October, Happy Birthday Marilyn – a touring showcase for the collection of Ted Stampfer – came to Amsterdam, while Marilyn: I Wanna Be Loved By You, a retrospective for some of her best photographers, opened in France. Marilyn Forever, Boze Hadleigh’s book of quotes, was published. Marilyn’s friendship with Ella Fitzgerald was depicted on the cult TV show, Drunk History. And on a sadder note, photographer George Barris, biographer John Gilmore, and William Morris agent Norman Brokaw all passed away this month.

CF83D751-8658-4AF4-AAF2-A5774A0FF52F-2686-0000014D401B7EB1_tmp

In November, Marilyn’s ‘Happy Birthday Mr President‘ dress was sold for a record-breaking $4.8 million during a three-day sale at Julien’s Auctions, featuring items from the David Gainsborough Roberts collection, the Lee Strasberg estate, and many others including the candid photos of Monroe Sixer Frieda Hull. Also this month, comedienne Rachel Bloom spoofed ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in a musical sequence for her TV sitcom, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And Marilyn Monroe: Lost Photo Collection, a limited edition book featuring images by Milton Greene, Gene Lester and Allan ‘Whitey’ Snyder, was published.

05E065FF-9E98-4677-8946-85623619BBF3-2686-0000014DE181D724_tmpFinally, in December the EYE Film Institute began a Marilyn movie season in Amsterdam. The Asphalt Jungle was released on Blu-Ray by Criterion. And actresses Zsa Zsa Gabor and Debbie Reynolds both passed away.

Meryl, Debbie and Marilyn’s Elusive Dress

7yea500

In an article for Woman’s Day magazine, tracing the history of Marilyn’s iconic white halter dress – designed by Travilla, and famously worn in The Seven Year Itch – Marlisse Cepeda reveals how Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep helped track it down. (However, as Scott Fortner noted in 2011, that dress may have been a prototype rather than the one worn by Marilyn.)

“In June 2011, Debbie [Reynolds] put much of her collection up for auction, including the white cocktail dress. It was purchased for $5.52 million, the most money ever paid for a movie costume. The winning bid was made over the phone, and the dress is now part of a private collection—the mysterious owner has remained unidentified.

The last time the dress was seen in public was in October 2012, for the “Hollywood Costume” exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The last-minute addition was made possible by another actress, Meryl Streep.

The exhibition’s curator happened to tell Meryl that she was hoping to add Eliza Doolittle’s Ascot dress from My Fair Lady to the show. Meryl claimed she knew the dress’s current owner, and helped the curator track her down. But it turned out the woman didn’t have the Ascot number, but she did, in fact, own Marilyn’s iconic costume. She agreed to loan the gown to the exhibit, and just like that, it made its way to London, into the spotlight once again. “

Debbie Reynolds Remembers Marilyn

debbie reynolds

Actress Debbie Reynolds, whose extraordinary collection of Hollywood costumes was auctioned in 2011, has spoken to Australia’s Herald Sun ahead of the Bendigo Art Gallery‘s tribute to Marilyn, which will include several iconic dresses worn by Marilyn before passing into Debbie’s care.

“OH, that dress. That flouncy white, pleated halter-neck billowing around Marilyn Monroe’s knees as ‘delicious’ breezes gust up from a New York subway grate … Debbie Reynolds remembers it well.

Very well. Because once upon a time, she owned that dress.

It belongs to somebody else now … but visitors to the gallery’s much-anticipated Marilyn Monroe exhibition will be dazzled by so much more.

The gold lame gown Monroe wore in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The racy cocktail dress she sported in Some Like It Hot. A brocade evening cape from her personal wardrobe. A silk blouse she had on the last time she was photographed … And Bendigo can thank Reynolds — true Hollywood royalty — for having rescued several of the objects on display.

Marilyn in her gold Travilla dress, 1953
Marilyn in her gold Travilla dress, 1953

Reynolds is especially fond of ‘Billy Travilla’s gold dress for Gentlemen… so beautiful’ and the Edwardian-style evening gown that graces The Prince and the Showgirl(1956).

‘I loved how Marilyn dressed in that movie. Beautiful silks with little stars and pearls and decorative things … I would have bought it in a second if I could.’

“There was something that Marilyn had, a quality that just stood her above everybody else,’’ she says, “but what a little girl she was …'”

The article also suggests that Reynolds was a good friend of Marilyn. While they were acquainted – Debbie is listed in Marilyn’s last address book – there seems to be little evidence of a closer relationship. Reynolds claims that they attended ‘the same lovely little church’, but Marilyn was not a regular churchgoer.

Debbie also says that she tried to contact Marilyn two days before her death, but was unable to get in touch.  ‘Nobody could,’ Reynolds adds. ‘It was an impossible task. She was surrounded by too many moats.’ In fact, Marilyn spoke to many friends and colleagues in her final days. But if Debbie had left a message, or approached Marilyn through a third party, it’s quite feasible that she didn’t hear back in time.

Whatever the truth may be, there is no doubt that Debbie Reynolds admires Marilyn greatly, and of her sadness at having to sell off her collection when her attempts to establish a museum in Hollywood went unfulfilled.

Debbie Reynolds Collection in LA

The Debbie Reynolds Collection auctioned last month – including costumes worn by Marilyn and other great stars – will be on public display at the Paley Center in Los Angeles from July 23 through to the end of 2011, with new items added monthly.

“The new exhibit is scheduled to feature iconic costumes, posters and props from Academy Award–winning film classics including Gone with the WindShow BoatThe Yearling, and Moulin Rouge, as well as garments worn by a glittering array of legendary icons including Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Carmen Miranda, Doris Day, and many more.

Ms. Reynolds’s fascinating collection will remain on view at the Paley Center throughout the remainder of 2011, and additional classic items, some never before displayed to the public, will be added each month. The exhibit, which will encompass both floors of the Paley Center, will be open to the public. The first floor viewing is available free of charge. Admission to the second floor gallery space will be FREE to Paley Center Members and $6.00 for the general public. Admission tickets will be available at the door.”

Year of the Dress

“I have a feeling some records are going to be broken with this gown,” artist Liz Grammaticas posted to her blog on the eve of the Debbie Reynolds auction. She was, of course, referring to the immortal white halter-dress that blew up as Marilyn stood over a subway grating in The Seven Year Itch (1955.)

And Liz was right, of course – the dress sold for £2.8 million, along with many other Monroe-related items as Melinda reported on The Mmm Blog.

The Guardian reported on the history of Marilyn’s dress, quoting its now deceased designer, Travilla: “I wondered what could I do with this most beautiful girl that Marilyn was to play to make her look clean, talcum-powdered, and adorable.”

Over at Bloomberg, Virginia Postrel noted that, contrary to myth, MM was definitely not a plus-size: “In fact, the average waist measurement of the four Monroe dresses was a mere 22 inches, according to Lisa Urban, the Hollywood consultant who dressed the mannequins and took measurements for me. Even Monroe’s bust was a modest 34 inches.”

However, Scott Fortner – who attended the auction – asked on his blog, ‘Was it the dress?’ As many fans will know, designers often made up to five versions of any costume. After liaising with Andrew Hansford, curator of the Travilla Estate, Scott recorded his findings in another post, ‘Say YES to the dress’. It is a well-researched article, pointing out differences between the dress worn in the outdoor photo shoot, and the version used in the later, studio-staged scene.

On a sombre note, many have lamented the dissembling of one of the world’s most spectacular collections of Hollywood memorabilia. None more so than Debbie Reynolds herself, who tried for many years to open a museum.

Finally, who bought the dress? Nothing has been confirmed, but Jane Fonda posted on her blog last week, “A Canadian consortium that has all of Marilyn Monroe’s estate and possessions bought her white Seven Year Itch dress for many millions.”

If Jane is correct, hopefully this won’t be the last we’ll see of the world’s most iconic dress.

Marilyn on the Front Page

Marilyn made the front page of The Times in the UK yesterday, with coverage of the upcoming Debbie Reynolds auction. Thanks to Fraser Penney