When Princess Leia died, or I should say when Carrie Fisher died on Dec. 27, so soon after George Michael, last Dec. 25, I was reminded of the sad last days of December 2015 and last year’s early weeks when well-loved pop stars were dying one after the other. Oh no! I thought. Not again.
In a way though, I was thankful, I did not really have to write about Carrie’s demise. She was not really a singing or dancing star. Besides, I caught myself getting teary-eyed while watching a tribute to her on TV. That meant that sharing my feelings on print would have been somewhat painful. But then, Carrie’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, died. She suffered a severe stroke while preparing for her daughter’s funeral and died on Dec. 28.
Now, there was no way I could not write about Debbie. I have been watching her and listening to her almost all my life. One of the first songs I learned from my mother was Abadaba Honeymoon, which was a big novelty hit for Debbie and Carleton Carpenter in the soundtrack of the movie Two Weeks With Love. “Abadabadabada said the chimpie to the monk/ abadabadabada said the monkey to the chimp…”
When video tapes and cable TV made old movies available, I watched Debbie with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in Singing in The Rain, acclaimed as one of the greatest musical films ever made, countless times. I still watch when it is on, once in a while. “You are my lucky star/ I saw you from afar/ two lovely eyes at me/ they were gleaming…”
And because she was one of the biggest stars produced by the MGM talent factory during its golden days, Debbie was a constant presence on Turner Classic Movies. Why I only recently caught her probably 16-year-old self in Mr. Imperium, a little known musical romance that starred a singing Lana Turner a few days before the New Year.
I have memories of feeling perplexed over the high school girls swooning over Debbie Reynolds movies. They loved her cute and feisty personality and nobody did feisty cute with turned up nose better than Debbie. Invariably, they also adored her older leading men and the films’ theme songs.
Susan Slept Here with Dick Powell and Hold My Hand, “So this is the kingdom of heaven/ so this is the sweet promised land/ while angels tell of love/ don’t break the spell of love…” The Tender Trap with Frank Sinatra, “You see a pair of laughing eyes/ and suddenly you’re sighing sighs/ you’re thinking nothing is wrong/ you’ll string along then snap…”
Then just as the non-dancer Debbie marvelously held her own beside the great Kelly and O’Connor in Singing in The Rain, it also turned out that the supposedly non-singing Debbie had a sweet, expressive voice. So, she effortlessly churned out huge hit songs one after the other during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.
Remember Tammy and the Bachelor with Leslie Nielsen? Yes, the guy of The Naked Gun series was once Debbie’s leading man. The movie featured Tammy, a song performed by Debbie that became an across the board No. 1 seller worldwide. “I hear the cottonwoods whisp’ring above/ Tammy, Tammy, Tammy’s in love/ the old hootie owl hootie hoos to the dove…”
She also had big hits with A Very Special Love, City Lights and Ask Me To Go Steady and its flipside Am I That Easy To Forget. “They say you’ve found somebody new/ but I don’t want no one but you/ how could you leave without regret/ am I that easy to forget…”
The latter rode the crest of popularity fuelled by the scandalous love triangle of Debbie, her husband, singer Eddie Fisher and her best friend and fellow MGM actress, Elizabeth Taylor. Eddie, Carrie’s father, left Debbie to marry Elizabeth in 1960. The affair resulted in a second wind for martyr-wife Debbie as a major box-office star.
Among her other film roles that followed were the screen version of the musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown for which she was nominated for the Academy Award; The Singing Nun, which gave Debbie a hit soundtrack album with the hugely-popular single Dominique; Divorce: American Style; It Started With A Kiss; The Pleasure of Her Company; as the voice of the spider in Charlotte’s Web; Mother; In and Out; and many others.
My favorite image of Debbie was in the grand cinerama production of How The West Was Won. She played feisty cute again but beautiful and looked so gorgeous catching the eye of Gregory Peck while singing A Home In The Meadow to the tune of Greensleeves.
“Away with me/ come away with me/ where the grass grow wild / and the winds blow free/ away with me/ come away with me/ and I’ll build you a home in the meadow/ Come, come…”
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