Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Overlooked by Oscars: Debbie Reynolds

From Hollywood's golden era when major studios groomed top talent under contracts, Debbie Reynolds is one of the last of the A-list movie musical queens.  She made hard work look easy while she added so much sunshine to 1952's classic musical, Singin' in the Rain.  When Shirley MacLaine was originally mentioned for the lead, Debbie campaigned and landed the lead role in the grand MGM version of a big Broadway hit.  The Unsinkable Molly Brown crystallized the essence of Debbie Reynolds.  She did the role and earned her one and only Academy Award nomination as Best Actress of 1964.
Although they mostly make you smile and laugh, musicals are strenuous exercise.  Debbie was up for Hollywood gold thanks to her work in this movie.  She should've also been up for Olympic gold for the "He's My Friend" number alone.  It's a triathlon with a downbeat.  She acts.  She sings.  She dances.  She does gymnastic moves in formal evening wear and heels.  Pilates class ain't got nothin' on what Debbie did in that number!
Because she lit up so many musicals and comedies with her All-American Girl personality, her solid dramatic depth seemed to escape many critics. Young Debbie Reynolds held her own as the Catholic daughter of a working class Bronx family whose wedding may be more than her folks can afford.  She stood out showing great sensitivity in The Catered Affair opposite veteran pros Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine, screenplay by Gore Vidal.
She had the right touch of steeliness and cynicism as the tough New York City showgirl who finds love in The Rat Race opposite Tony Curtis as a musician from Milwaukee.
Her dramatic range expanded as the disillusioned 1930s Hollywood teacher whose career dreams are hamstrung by her ties and responsibility to a troubled, emotionally unhinged friend in What's The Matter With Helen?  Debbie really understood this character and played all her dark corners, deftly matching her Oscar winning co-star Shelley Winters.  This 1971 psychological thriller was poorly marketed when released.  Many movie-goers missed one of Debbie Reynolds' finest and most challenging dramatic performances.
And there's the movie that should've brought Debbie her second Oscar nomination for Best Actress:  Mother.  She is just flat-out brilliant in this critically acclaimed mother-son comedy co-starring, directed and written by Albert Brooks.  She is that blunt, independent, aggravating but loving Beatrice.  I'm glad Doris Day passed on the role when Brooks offered it to her.  I love Doris but Debbie was perfectly cast in this wise 1996 comedy.
I saw so much of myself and my mother in this movie.  My mom has had this penchant for purchasing big portions of obscure brands of food like Mrs Henderson did.  I understood exactly what her grown son was going through when she pulled a huge brick of cheese out of the refrigerator so she could make him a snack.  I've gotten that maternal look.
This is another performance young acting students seeking a career in movies and TV should watch.  Debbie's mastery of screen acting technique is at its peak in Mother.  Watch how she reacts to things.  Her timing, her pacing, her phrasing, her look -- it's all different here.  This is an original character and marvelous character acting.
Only Debbie danced onscreen with Gene Kelly (Singin' in the Rain), Fred Astaire (The Pleasure of His Company) Bob Fosse and Gower Champion (Give a Girl a Break).  Only Debbie used an Oscar as a nutcracker in a movie (1954's Susan Slept Here).
We know that she and the late Eddie Fisher and Elizabeth Taylor made headlines the way Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie did decades later.  Debbie and Eddie were married.  Eddie had an affair with Elizabeth and left Debbie to marry her.
Taylor too divorced Eddie Fisher. She and Debbie became great, close friends.  She visited Elizabeth Taylor in the hospital days before the legend passed away.
You know that Debbie is the mother of actress, novelist and screenwriter, Carrie Fisher.
Since the 1970s, Debbie Reynolds spent a lot of her time and money for Hollywood preservation, giving a home to movie costumes and other memorabilia from the classic movie studio days.  She displayed some of her collection and discussed her passionate Hollywood preservation work on Oprah's globally famous daytime talk show.
Oprah Winfrey, like Debbie, was an Oscar nominee for acting.  She was born two years after Singin' in the Rain was released.  Oprah received an honorary Academy Award.  Like Elizabeth Taylor,  Debbie was a former MGM movie star who pitched right in to give benefit help during the early dark days of the AIDS crisis.  With all that in consideration -- all the love the unsinkable entertainer has given to Hollywood and to her fans -- I say that Debbie Reynolds deserves her own honorary Oscar from the Academy.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post! Can’t wait for the next one. Keep stuff like this coming.
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