Whether remembered for her hit single “Tammy” or her Oscar®-nominated performance in The Unsinkable Molly Brown or her role as Grace’s mother in Will & Grace, Debbie Reynolds is unquestionably an American star – an accomplished singer, actress, dancer, and host. Born in El Paso, Texas, in 1932, Reynolds went to school in Burbank, California, winning the Miss Burbank Beauty Contest at age sixteen and, at the same time, securing a film contract with Warner Brothers. She played bit parts in June Bride (1948) with Bette Davis and The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady (1949). MGM soon took an interest in Reynolds, and she appeared in Three Little Words (1950) with Fred Astaire, which led to her signing a seven-year contract with the company.
By 1952 she had hit the big time with a starring role in what would become a movie classic, Singin’ in the Rain, as the chorus girl who becomes Gene Kelly’s love interest. She played the title character in Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), the first of four Tammy movies and the only one starring Reynolds. She also sang the theme song, which became a hit in its own right. She later starred in the musical films The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) – earning an Oscar® nomination – and The Singing Nun (1966).
She married the popular crooner Eddie Fisher in 1955; Carrie Fisher, of Star Wars fame, is their daughter. The dream marriage and its dissolution in 1959, when Fisher left her for Elizabeth Taylor, were ready-made stories for the gossip-hungry press.
Reynolds, who had often appeared in Las Vegas shows, made her Broadway debut in 1973, playing the title role in Irene, a popular 1919 musical that had been substantially reworked for the revival. Only a handful of the original songs were retained, and many new ones were added. The show played for 594 performances, and Reynolds – playing a hard-working Irish girl who becomes romantically entangled with a young tycoon – earned a Tony® nomination for Best Actress in a Musical. Carrie Fisher was in the cast as the debutante, and the New York Times praised the production as “raucous, frequently cheerful.”
Reynolds returned to Broadway to star in her musical revue Debbie (1976) and in 1983 stepped in to replace Raquel Welch as Tess Harding, the lead in the musical Woman of the Year. In 1989 she toured the United States in a revival of The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
Her film career flourished again in the 1990s, with notable performances in Mother (1996), in which she starred as the mother of a struggling writer (she earned a Golden Globe® nomination), and In and Out (1997), playing the mother of a gay English teacher (Kevin Kline) outed shortly before his scheduled wedding day. And she had a recurring role in Will & Grace as Grace’s theatrical mother, earning an Emmy® nomination for her performance.
Her extensive filmography also includes The Mating Game, It Started with a Kiss, How the West Was Won, Divorce American Style, The Bodyguard, and Zack and Reba.
Reynolds continues to perform a nightclub act in Las Vegas.