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Debbie Reynolds: More than just a film star



US film star Debbie Reynolds, one of Hollywood’s biggest drawcards at the box office in the 1950s and 60s, was more than just an actress. Born Mary Frances Reynolds in 1932, the ambitious blonde first attracted attention when she won a beauty contest in California as a teenager.

In 1950 she was spotted by a Warner Brothers talent scout and given a small role in the film “The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady.” But Reynolds’ breakthrough came in 1952 when she was cast alongside high-profile dancer and actor Gene Kelly in the musical “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Although it only achieved limited success at the time, the film was selected as the greatest movie musical ever by the American Film Institute, and established Reynolds as a star.

She went on to act in over 50 films, receiving her only Oscar nomination for playing the title character in the 1964 film “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” After initially being dubbed over in her first singing role, Reynolds turned to singing herself for her ensuing film musical roles.

The title track to the 1957 film “Tammy” saw Reynolds earn a golden record, as the song stormed up the US music charts.

In 1959, Reynolds was caught up in one of the biggest Hollywood scandals of the day, when her husband, Eddie Fisher, left her for her best friend Elizabeth Taylor, later becoming one of her many husbands.

Reynolds had two children with Fisher, the actor Todd Fisher and late “Star Wars” actress Carrie Fisher, who died just a day before her mother following a heart attack.

US media reported that Taylor and Reynolds eventually patched up their differences, over a private dinner on a cruise boat ship. In all, Reynolds ended up marrying three times.

She married a wealthy shoe manufacturer Harry Karl, in 1960 and divorced him in 1973, after he gambled away all their money. She later married a real estate developer Richard Hamlett. They split in 1996 after 12 years of marriage.

By 1969, the Texan-born star was famous enough for her own TV show, “The Debbie Reynolds Show,” for which she received a Golden Globe nomination.

She also acted in musicals on Broadway through the 1970s, including “Irene” and “Annie Get Your Gun.”

Reynolds launched a film comeback of sorts in 1992, playing herself in the Kevin Costner film “The Bodyguard,” before taking on a lead role in the 1996 film “Mother.” Her regular appearances in US sitcom “Will and Grace,” between 1999 and 2006, also increased her popularity again.

She also appeared with her old rival Taylor together with Shirley MacLaine and Joan Collins in the 2001 TV movie, “These Old Broads,” which was written by Carrie Fisher and centred on four ageing Hollywood divas trying to make a comeback. Reynolds tried her hand in business throughout her film career, with varying success.

In 1992, she purchased a hotel and casino in LasVegas, which eventually went bust and five years later Reynolds was forced to declare bankruptcy.

She also enjoyed collecting Hollywood memorabilia, opening a LasVegas museum full of film costumes.

But, the museum failed to thrive and was eventually closed down before the star decided to sell the items in 2011.

In an interview with NPR radio last month, Carrie Fisher praised her mother as an “extraordinary” woman.

“There’s very few women from her generation who worked like that, who just kept a career going all her life, and raised children, and had horrible relationships, and lost all her money, and got it back again,” she said.

“I mean, she’s had an amazing life, and she’s someone to admire.” — dpa

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