Friday, December 30, 2016

Debbie Reynolds (1932-2016)


No, we're not allowed to embed this clip of Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, and Gene Kelly singing and dancing "Good Morning" from Singin' in the Rain, but you can watch it on YouTube, where it doesn't even look too bad expanded to full screen. Is this magic, or what?

by Ken

Yes, yes, it's horrible, the sequence that on consecutive days brought the deaths of Carrie Fisher, at only 60, and then her mother, Debbie Reynolds, 84, after coping first with her daughter's heart attack, the seeming gradual recovery, and then the end for first the daughter and the next day the mother. It's understandable that the question on so many tongues is whether it's possible to die of a broken heart. (As I read it, the answer seems to be quite possibly yes.)

But I don't want to talk about that, or for that matter about Debbie Reynolds' long and busy career. I just want to hark back to the beginning of that career, and to the amazing phenomenon of a volcanic talent erupting. It doesn't often happy as explosively and conspicuously as it did in 1952 in that happiest of movie musicals, Singin' in the Rain, co-directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, with not much question that the dancing was primarily Kelly's responsibility.

Wikipedia notes that the picture "topped the AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals list and is ranked as the fifth greatest American motion picture of all time in its updated list of the greatest American films in 2007." In the following clip there's lots of interesting stuff early on, but for me the really good stuff begins at 2:55, when the focus shifts to Debbie Reynolds, recalling making the movie at age 19, with no serious dance training.

I couldn't resist transcribing at least this much:
If you dance alone, you can make a lot of mistakes. It doesn't look like a mistake, because it's just you. When you're in a partnership with Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly, you have to be equal to them. You did it Gene's way -- Gene's steps, Gene's style. I didn't have a style. He was a real taskmaster, because he had to be. In order for a young girl to learn that much -- that's almost impossible. We were redoing the number "Good Morning," the scene where we went over the couch, 40 times. He wouldn't stop. And then you just danced, danced, danced, danced. So I was in tears a lot. He worked me hard, but he taught me so well that I'm still in the business 53 years later, because of his teaching.
Did we really imagine that these things just happen? (You can also watch a couple of minutes of just Debbie talking about Singin' in the Rain. She mentions here that she was 17 at the time; I assume that while she may have been 19 -- the usually cited age -- when the movie came out, this is how old she was when she was cast in this career-making role.)

Then there's this, from one of the ten appearances Debbie made between 1999 and 2006 as the irrepressible, show-biz-besotted Bobbi Adler, mother of Grace (Debra Messing), on Will and Grace. Here they are, with Megan Mullally as the correspondingly irrepressible Karen Walker.

It's by no means Debbie Reynolds' best Will and Grace moment, but you understand why I had to pop it in here.

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At 3:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that Carrie Fisher was 60, not 50.

At 11:05 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Thanks for the catch!


At 8:46 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

Nice post Ken. Happy New Yearz to DWT!

At 10:25 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Thanks, Bil, and same to you!


At 11:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Debbie Reynolds was the last one of the WWII era musical performers. And it feels like the end of an era in that way. Both of these ladies seemed like they had good hearts. Maybe that's why they are so fondly regarded.


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