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Debbie Reynolds, RIP

Written by Gary North on December 31, 2016

She’s gone, one day after her daughter died.

How strange. They did not get along for a long time. They got along so unwell that Mike Nichols made a semi-biographical movie about them: Postcards from the Edge (1990). Carrie Fisher wrote the book and the screenplay. Nichols persuaded Meryl Streep to play Carrie’s character and Shirley MacLaine to play Debbie’s. Then he recruited one of the great supporting casts in Hollywood history. They were all there to be outshined, which they all were. (Streep ends the movie with a spectacular and totally unexpected grand finale — my favorite movie ending of all time: Streep/Fisher as a country music singer. How Streep can sing country . . . with a great Canadian band and a Shel Silverstein masterpiece! Sadly, the spectacular closing credits are not shown.)

I was never a Debbie Reynolds fan, but I was a dance movie fan. Kids my age were introduced to dancing by Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh (1945), where he dances with Jerry the Mouse. He also dances with Frank Sinatra, and Sinatra goes with him step for step. I did not comprehend the magnitude of what Sinatra had done. Look, I was three years old. I was impressed by Jerry the Mouse.

At the age of nine, I sat astounded in a theater, watching Fred Astaire dance up the side of a room and across the ceiling. It was Royal Wedding. I never got over that scene or Astaire. I saw it as a loner. My parents were not into dance movies. My wife still isn’t.

I don’t recall if I saw Singin’ in the Rain (1952) in a theater. I know I should have. I know that if I saw it first on TV, I was completely taken in by the show-stopping dance routine, “Good Mornin’.” There she was, dancing step for step in between Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. Well, not really step for step, but they staged it so that it looked like she did. It sure fooled me. She had never danced professionally before — just as Sinatra hadn’t. How did she do it? She said Kelly taught her. Sinatra said Kelly taught him. It took Sinatra two months to train, plus 72 takes. She took three months to train, but they shot the scene in one 15-hour day. Her feet were bleeding at the end. She had to be carried off the set.

She then faced a gigantic career problem. How would she ever top that? It was her breakthrough film at age 20, and she had matched Kelly and O’Connor on screen. Her role made her the star: the story of a walk-on who was also a dance-on. She really was, and she really did.

It never happened again. How could it?

She was a trouper. She made a lot of movies. She was popular for the next two decades. She kept on trouping after she was less popular. She did voice-overs. She kept at it. She stuck to her knitting.

She will be remembered as the mother of Princess Leia, who died the day after Leia died. That is a strange way to be remembered, but it is better than not being remembered at all.

But for me, it will always be “Good Mornin’.”

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