Magazine article The Spectator

Alive and Kicking

Magazine article The Spectator

Alive and Kicking

Article excerpt

Marianne Gray talks to Debbie Reynolds, one of the last of Hollywood's Golden Era

Debbie Reynolds is the first to admit she's no longer Tammy.

At 78, she's more like the Unsinkable Molly Brown as she tours Britain this month in her one-woman show, Alive and Fabulous.

'You people in England probably think I died years ago but I'm still kicking, ' she says, laughing. 'I know that a lot of young people don't know who I am unless they've noticed me as Grace's mother, Bobbi Adler, in the sitcom Will & Grace, but I've never stopped working. I'm an Aries and it's in my nature to be a performer.

'I've worked for 62 years and the only change is that nowadays I only do one show a day, not two or three like I did in the old days, ' she tells me. 'I'd wither away and die if I wasn't working. When I kick the bucket they're going to stuff me like Trigger [Roy Rogers's horse] and put me in a museum. If you put a quarter in my mouth I'll sing you "Tammy". I just love performing!'

Her second husband said of her: 'Debbie is always on. Every time the fridge door opens and the light goes on, she takes a bow and does 20 minutes.' I run the story past her and she shrieks with delight.

'Oh, that's an old joke. All my friends say, "She'll perform anywhere, " and it's true.

People like me and Judy Garland and Ethel Merman, all those who have worked in nightclubs, we're used to performing. Give us a party or a piano and we're off.'

In her show, which she describes as a fullon energy show, she sings to clips of films like Singin' in the Rain and Tammy and the Bachelor, dances to a medley of 1940s songs, reminisces in front of MGM movieexcerpts and does impressions of friends like Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Barbra Streisand, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and all the Gabors, especially Zsa Zsa, who is aunt to heiress-socialite Paris Hilton, and gives her troubled niece advice on how to talk to policemen and stay out of jail.

'My life has been so exciting and in the show I tell true stories, even bad ones! It's 35 years since I last performed in London.

In 1974 I played at the London Palladium.

I'd come hot from Vegas. Carrie [daughter actress/writer Carrie Fisher] was 16 and singing in the show. My mother and father and my son [Todd Fisher] were also here and we were all staying at the Savoy. We loved it. One reviewer said, "She is the gold of Vaudeville and she brought us the platinum".'

Reynolds is one of the last of the Golden Era of Hollywood professionals. Energetic, exuberant, tiny (5ft 1/2in), trim (115lbs) and still cute-looking, she has a lot of history behind her; three husbands: Eddie Fisher, who left her for her friend Elizabeth Taylor ('Elizabeth could have any man she wanted - and she wanted mine'), millionaire businessman Harry Karl, who gambled away his and her money and left her with the debts ('he was 27 years older than me'), and property man Richard Hamlett ('he was younger than me'), with whom she bought a small hotel and casino in Las Vegas, which failed and forced her into bankruptcy.

'I was a fool for love and I married idiots.

I thought when a man said he loved me, he meant it. I don't have good taste in men and they got all my money. Anyway, now Eddie is senile, the second one is deceased and the third is just another ordinary, mean man. And I'm still here and I still have my fabulous life.

'I live down the garden from Carrie and next door to my brother, who I adore. My son is working with me on a project. …

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