Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye, Debbie.

Tuesday night was not an easy one. When my sister texted me that Debbie Reynolds had died, I felt strangely numb. Of course I was deeply saddened, but the news didn't seem to sink in until five minutes later when I found myself bawling my eyes out. This probably seems weird, maybe even melodramatic, especially for someone who never even met Debbie Reynolds. While it's certainly true that I didn't come face to face with Ms. Reynolds, the open and frank way that she lived her life made her feel like a great friend to me. The woman didn't pull any punches on any subject, and the sheer delight that she took in acting made it clear to audiences that we weren't seeing Debbie Reynolds the Actress, but rather Debbie Reynolds the Person. She never put up a wall between herself and her fans. What you saw was what you got, and what we got was totally and magnificently fabulous.


I've been reading plenty of articles about Debbie the past few days, but none of them quite captured what was it that so enraptured audiences for decades. Journalists keep relegating her to "1950's America's Sweetheart," which sounds like a selling point from the MGM publicity machine rather than who Debbie truly was. Everyone mentions Singin' in the Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, the latter one purely because it was her only Oscar nomination, I suspect, since no one discusses what she actually did in that role -- you know, the singing, complex dancing, and gorgeously vulnerable yet fierce acting. I wanted to highlight some of Debbie's other roles, the ones that haven't been mentioned by Entertainment Weekly, People, and other sources I've read. (I'm only a little bitter.)

The Affairs of Dobie Gillis.
This adorable musical features a young Bob Fosse, the underrated Bobby Van, and a luminous Debbie. This film is a gem, an earnest flick that has one of my very favorite movie moments: Debbie and Bobby Van cuddling in a canoe as they tenderly sing "All I Do is Dream of You." This scene is simply perfect to me. Really, the whole film is worth a look -- with Fosse and Van, you know it's got some stellar dancing, plus the irresistible energy of Debbie. You can watch a number with the three of them here.

Susan Slept Here.
Let's just ignore the polarizing plot for a second because this film is an incredible showcase for Debbie. Playing one sassy and independent 17-year-old, her character slowly matures over the course of the narrative into a lovely young woman. Susan is just plain fun, whether she's fanning herself while listening to a crooner on the radio or doing a hilarious pantomime as she watches old footage of her new husband with his ex-girlfriend or stuffing her face with strawberries and pickles. Susan Slept Here even gives Reynolds a fantasy sequence that proves what a superb mime she could be.

Two Weeks with Love.
If you haven't read my sickeningly effusive review of this movie, spoiler alert: I love it more than, well, a lot of things and that's mainly because of Debbie and her character, Melba. Basically I am Melba and Melba is me. Also, Debbie's partnership with Carleton Carpenter is one of the cutest things this world will ever see. I dare you to disagree after watching this number and this one. Honestly, these are the kind of moments that I absolutely live for -- they are the whole reason why I'm obsessed with classic Hollywood. Two Weeks with Love is pure joy from start to finish.

Hit the Deck.
Speaking of charming musicals... Hit the Deck is somewhat like On the Town with its three girls and three sailors on the loose in the city. The cast is top-notch: Debbie, Ann Miller, Jane Powell, Vic Damone, Russ Tamblyn, and Tony Martin are the aforementioned leads, while Gene Raymond and Walter Pidgeon lend invaluable support. Debbie's musical prowess is on full display, thanks to "A Kiss or Two," "Loo Loo," and "Why Oh Why." Those first two demonstrate the cheeky, subtly sexy side of Debbie, a facet of her personality that sometimes gets lost when she is described as America's Sweetheart. She also does a routine with Russ Tamblyn that is a knockout and inexplicably not on YouTube. You can read Tamblyn's heartfelt statement about the passing of his friend here.

The Catered Affair.
Also known as "the movie where Debbie completely holds her own against Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine." This film demonstrates the hard work Debbie was willing to put into her career. In 1949, she was an extra in June Bride, a romantic comedy starring Davis and Robert Montgomery. In her autobiography, Reynolds would recount how she sneaked onto the set to watch the leading man and lady do a love scene, only to rouse Davis's wrath when she made a noise and broke up the scene. (She got away before she was found out to be the cause of the disruption.) Just six years later, Debbie was able to co-star with the formidable Bette and it's a wonderful dramatic turn from her.


Debbie, your talent could never be replicated and your spot in this world could never be taken. You absolutely lit up the screen, but you also lit up my life.

With all of my love and so much more,
Michaela

2 comments:

  1. So lovely. I watched Susan Slept Here recently. The movie was iffy, but Debbie completely won me over. I even said I wanted her to live forever. I also really like her in Athena, even though she's in a supporting role. What a tremendous lady she was.

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    1. Indeed. I still don't think I'm 100% comfortable with the romance of Dick Powell and Debbie, but Susan is a really wonderful character, especially because of how Debbie played her. I'm not the biggest fan of Athena, but she was great in it. I can't recall ever seeing a bad performance from Debbie, to be honest. Such a loss.

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