Eddie Fisher was least of her problems
BY STEPHEN KOPFINGER, Correspondent
Crack open a copy of "Unsinkable," and you will discover the life of Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds is one wild ride, for good and for bad.
This woman has been through a lot. And she makes no apologies for it.
Let's clear up something first: I approached this 300-plus-page tome,written with Dorian Hannaway, with a little bit of bias. I had the great pleasure of interviewing "Miss Reynolds" (you always call a legend "Miss," even in this casual age) for an article about her 2010 appearance at Lancaster's Fulton Theatre.
I remarked at the time that Reynolds didn't come across as a great star, but rather as a nice aunt who just happened to know Gene Kelly (her leading man and mentor in 1952's "Singin' in the Rain"), Bette Davis and Frank Sinatra. She was warm and sincere and, to use language she would approve of, she put on a helluva show at the Fulton.
That's the tone in "Unsinkable," named after her favorite movie role, "The Unsinkable Molly Brown." The big, brawling 1964 musical celebrated the life of one Mrs. J.J. Margaret "Molly'' Brown, a colorful Colorado heiress who survived the sinking of the Titanic and endured almost as much as Reynolds.
But if you are expecting a standard Hollywood tell-all in "Unsinkable,'' stop right here. There are some juicy stories from the former Miss Burbank of 1948 -- the contest, entered on a whim, that set Reynolds' movie career into motion. But the first half of the book actually deals with the star's incredible financial setbacks over many decades. If you feel bad because your checkbook is off by $50 or so, read this. And keep in mind that Reynolds had already dealt with much before the creditors came to call.
In the late 1950s, Reynolds was on top of the world. The pert beauty was married to golden-throated pop star Fisher. They had a son, Todd, and a daughter, Carrie, who would grow up to become an actress in her own right, obtaining legendary status in the original "Star Wars'' movie.
It seemed so all-American, until Fisher left Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor. The scandal rocked the country. Much worse was to follow, as Reynolds makes clear in "Unsinkable.''
Her second husband, shoe magnate Harry Karl, treated Reynolds to a life of luxury until he gambled away most of his money and hers. Third husband Richard Hamlett, Reynolds states, was a charming man who ended up dragging her through more financial trouble; some details of their relationship are quite scary to read.
Yet, like Molly Brown, Reynolds sails on. The only time she admits feeling sorry for herself is when she lost her hotel in Las Vegas, which housed her treasured collection of Hollywood memorabilia in a museum on the property. She fought for years to hold onto things, but pretty much everything was auctioned off in the late 1990s.
If all this sounds depressing, rest assured that Reynolds has rebounded, and she does, indeed, share Hollywood anecdotes (some of them delightfully off-color) in the second half of "Unsinkable.'' Fans of "Singin' in the Rain,'' "The Tender Trap,'' the cult classic "Mother'' and, of course, "The Unsinkable Molly Brown'' will not be disappointed.
Reynolds expresses matronly pride when she speaks of her devotion to her son and daughter, who have shared her often difficult journey. The book is warmly illustrated with family photos, and Reynolds expresses hope that readers of her book will find happiness.
As for herself, she's done a brand-new movie, "Behind the Candelabra,'' in which she plays the mother of piano legend Liberace. And she's even managed to forgive Eddie Fisher, who died in 2010.
On a personal level, I can only hope Miss Reynolds will visit Lancaster again; surely a helluva one-woman show is in order.
There are some juicy stories, but the first half of the book deals with the star's incredible financial setbacks.