The Unsinkable Debbie Reynolds

Still Performing After All These Years

At 68, an age when most of her movie star contemporaries are either dead or retired, Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds is picking up the pace, performing in live shows around the country, about 42 weeks a year.

"I feel I have to," she says.

That's because Debbie Reynolds, film sweetheart of the 1950s, has gone broke twice, coping with three disastrous marriages. It's how she survives that makes her one of Hollywood's great dames, reports Correspondent Bill Lagattuta.
"If I had financial security I would not work half as hard," Reynolds admits.

And this is someone who made millions starring in movies that have become film classics. She's been innocent Tammy, the unsinkable Molly Brown, Gene Kelley's dance partner but then she had to go and get married:

"You can see how young I was, innocent, the virginal girl," she says, viewing her wedding footage.

When her first husband, the popular crooner Eddie Fisher, abandoned her for the voluptuous Elizabeth Taylor back in the 1950s, it was much more than front page news.

"She was the most beautiful woman you ever looked at. I mean, those eyes," Reynolds says of Taylor. "Debbie Reynolds couldn't stack up to that, you know? It was just unfortunate because I had two little children."

Todd Fisher was just an infant when his father left. "To this day there are people who would like to kill my father because of what he did when he dumped my mother for Liz," he recalls. "It was the scandal of all times!"

The couple's daughter is Carrie Fisher, the successful actress and writer.

There was a rumor a few years back that Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher would appear together on stage.

"No, it will never happen. Nothing like that will ever happen after, you know, he's done a book that was not very nice," Carrie Fisher says.

The book was a Hollywood tell-all memoir.

She terms it "unforgiveable, tacky, tasteless."

He wrote some pretty unflattering things about her. "Oh, I know he did. But I didn't read it, and I don't care what he says. He's a liar and he has a bad memory," she says.

Marriage No. 2 was to "Harry Karl. K-a-r-l. Karl shoes. We were married 14 years," she recalls.

She says his problem was gambling.

"He took every penny I had, plus, plus, plus. It took me 10 years to dig out after the second marriage," Reynolds says. "It was a very hard time in the '70s for me."

She was a genuine movie star by then with dozens of films to her credit. Yet Reynolds says she was forced to go on the road just to pay the bills.

By the time 48 Hours visited her in Las Vegas six years ago, she had married again, and with husband No. 3, developer Richard Hamlett, she had bought and renovated her own casino.

"We put quite a few million in. You can't fix a hotel for $20," she says.

And insid her hotel, she had built a museum to house her collection of Hollywood movie memorabilia collected over 20 years.

This includes items like the now-priceless Marilyn Monroe subway dress that blew up when she stood on the subway grate.

"If anybody ever shows you a white subway dress, it's a fake," she says.

But three years ago the Vegas venture began to crumble.

"I went down in a blaze. I spent eight years of my life and probably $12 million lost," Reynolds says.

She again blames her husband and she divorced him.

"The men I marry seem to love the money that I make more than me," she quips.

Of course she picked the men. "Oh, it's fully my fault."

The casino was put up for sale, her beloved museum was shut down and all of the memorabilia put into storage.

Among the collectibles: Laurel and Hardy's car, a restored chariot from Ben Hur and a guitar from The Sound of Music.

"I really believe this is going to be her legacy," says son Todd Fisher.

On stage, Reynolds has no reservations laughing at her life. In some town, in some theater nearly every week of the year, it's all out there for better or for worse.

"I think the only other person that I know of that is dumber than I am about love or romance is Burt Reynolds!" she says. "Maybe I should marry Burt. I wouldn't have to change my last name and we could share wigs!!!" she tells an audience.

Will she marry again? "Absolutely not. I won't even date. I don't even date. I can't afford it," she says.

Her daughter may say men love her. But her response: "They love Debbie Reynolds. Do they love me? Not so far," she says.

Is she a happy person?

"Yes," she declares.

"My work is my life, now," Reynolds says. "I really do love performing....Every problem disappears."

"I hear the music...and what has just despaired me no longer does. I walk out on stage; I'm happy."

Great Dames: Main Page


  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

More From 48 Hours

Comments