Debbie Reynolds has been in show business for over six decades. She talks to Alec about her big break in Singing in the Rain. “I slept in my dressing room,” recalls Reynolds. “I didn't take any days off because I’d practice on Saturday and Sunday.”
Reynolds went on to appear in Tammy and the Bachelor, The Unsinkable Molly Brown—and more recently, Mother. Reynolds talks about working with different directors and says she’s not one to hold a grudge, but warns that she does have a memory like an elephant.
Alec Baldwin: Stop, stop, stop. If you're a baby boomer, that might be the version of Singin' in the Rain you most remember. Malcolm Mcdowell and Stanley Kubrick's satiric masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange. But if you were born before the 1950s, you probably prefer this.
It's rare when a movie comes along and inspires a whole generation of actors, singers, and directors. Singin' in the Rain is one of those movies. It also transformed the lives of its stars. Debbie Reynolds was just a 20-year-old actress under contract at MGM.
But after her performance in that iconic film, Debbie Reynolds was destined to become a star. Some of the highlights of her career include Tammy in Tammy and the Bachelor with a song that reached number one on the billboard charts.
Reynolds was nominated for an Academy Award for her leading role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown and received a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut in the musical Irene. Over 20 years later, she played Albert Brooks' mother in his film entitled Mother.
Debbie and I celebrated our birthdays earlier this month – just two days apart. We share an astrological sign: Aries.
Debbie Reynolds: I'm still living. Isn't that extraordinary?
Well now I couldn't believe it when my birthday came again. It just was and there it was and now I'm 81. I said, 'Hold it, I didn't wanna be 80. How did we get to 81?'
Alec Baldwin: And Debbie Reynolds has stayed busy, unlike a lot of her contemporaries.
Debbie Reynolds: My friends, a lot of them, just gave up because there weren't any good roles and everything they read was a moron and that was depressing to a lot of the stars.
Alec Baldwin: So the opportunities just dried up?
Debbie Reynolds: They just walked away and everything just wound up to be like nothing and so they took up different hobbies. Some of them became teachers.
Alec Baldwin: Can you give me an example?
Debbie Reynolds: Agnes Moorehead was one of my best girlfriends.
Alec Baldwin: Was she really?
Debbie Reynolds: And she was a great actress, really great, and she had a lot of students at her house. They'd come over –
Alec Baldwin: She taught acting?
Debbie Reynolds: She taught acting and she taught singing. She taught impressions.
Alec Baldwin: This is in California?
Debbie Reynolds: California on Roxbury. Right across the street was Jimmy Stewart and Lucille Ball and everybody was on that one street. It was like, 'Let's have a party every night.' George Burns and Eddie Cantor lived on one block. So I would drive over there because that street was more fun than my fun.
Alec Baldwin: Right. Now I'm gonna mention certain people and not for the obvious reasons, but you remained friends with Elizabeth Taylor until she died, and why do you think she stopped working and why do you think she stopped taking care of herself?
Debbie Reynolds: Elizabeth had to stop working. She became quite ill.
Alec Baldwin: Beause she was so sick.
Debbie Reynolds: She wouldn't have ever quit working. Oh, Elizabeth loved to work.
Alec Baldwin: She did?
Debbie Reynolds: Yes. She did and she was a very good actress. We did a picture Carrie wrote – my daughter Carrie – These Old Broads it was called and Shirley MacLaine, Joan Collins, and Elizabeth and myself. So –
Alec Baldwin: You made this movie?
Debbie Reynolds: We made a movie. It was called These Old Broads that Carrie convinced -
Alec Baldwin: I've never seen this movie.
Debbie Reynolds: Well, maybe you're one of the lucky ones. I don't know. It was a cute movie. It was of four old broads that gave – it was what you're talking about. They gave up working and kinda dallied around with the rest of their lives.
Alec Baldwin: I would love to see this movie. You, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Collins, and Shirley MacLaine?
Debbie Reynolds: And Shirley MacLaine. It was funny.
Alec Baldwin: Oh my gosh.
Debbie Reynolds: Well, we had a lot of fun working together. Now, Joan, nevertheless, she watched her makeup and she hides in her trailer and does all her makeup. It was – but we all kind of do that.
Alec Baldwin: I'm sure it's quite an operation. Yeah.
Debbie Reynolds: Well, it is an operation for all of us. There's a certain point when you look in the mirror and everything has moved someplace else.
Alec Baldwin: And all you broads, shall we say, came – these four broads came from an era when everything was just – was at its height. It was heightened, doing your hair and your makeup and your costumes and everything. It's not as...
Debbie Reynolds: Everything is super important and everything is done for you. When we were under contract most of us, Shirley MacLaine and Elizabeth Taylor, were at MGM and everything was done for us, the makeup, the hair. They'd send cars for us. We were very spoiled. We didn't know what to do when they dropped everybody when television came in '48.
Alec Baldwin: Sure. Can you remember what year, around? Was the end of the '40s?
Debbie Reynolds: '48, '49.
Alec Baldwin: The studio system died as you get into the '50s?
Debbie Reynolds: It slowly died a death. It was like interesting to watch. It was – I didn't realize it was the end. I didn't know that it was that.
Alec Baldwin: You didn't know what the change meant.
Debbie Reynolds: Well, I was a young girl, so I didn't and I wasn't an intellectual. I wasn't educated. I wasn't -
Alec Baldwin: You're from Burbank.
Debbie Reynolds: I'm from Burbank.
Alec Baldwin: You're a gal from Burbank.
Debbie Reynolds: Originally from Texas.
Alec Baldwin: And you wanted to be a gym teacher.
Debbie Reynolds: That's me. I always aim high.
Alec Baldwin: Me too.
Debbie Reynolds: I love gym. I love sports.
Alec Baldwin: I wanted to be a lifeguard. Sun, girls, swim.
Debbie Reynolds: Well, yeah. Yes. Well, I was never that ambitious that I wanted to be a lifeguard, but I wanted to be a gymnast. I wanted to work on the bars and trapeze work – I loved all that stuff.
Alec Baldwin: And what's the link for you as a young girl, because you started very young, as a young girl in Burbank and you're athletic no doubt, what's the first thing that happened that said "show business" to you?
Debbie Reynolds: Well, I never thought about me being in show business. I was a fan and I would go to the movies because my mother let me, but no one else in our church was allowed to go to films because movie stars were all evil creatures, just dreadful. My mother let me go to films.
Alec Baldwin: Your mother was very religious?
Debbie Reynolds: Very. My family, except my dad. My father used to say, 'No, no, no. I'm not going to go to church with you. I've told you that I'm not gonna go because all those good people will be killed if I walked in, the roof would fall in.'
Alec Baldwin: Have heart attacks.
Debbie Reynolds: And he was always teasing my mother.
Alec Baldwin: Sure. What – if you don't mind my asking, what church did you go to?
Debbie Reynolds: Church of the Nazarene, which is like hard shell Baptist, kind of like that.
Alec Baldwin: So your mom was a – she was a Texan.
Debbie Reynolds: She was a Texan.
Alec Baldwin: She was a Texan Baptist.
Debbie Reynolds: She was tough and strict and there were so many rules.
Alec Baldwin: How many kids in the family?
Debbie Reynolds: Just my brother and I were in the family, and then my mother discovered what –
Alec Baldwin: And what's your brother's name?
Debbie Reynolds: Bill.
Alec Baldwin: And do you know who Bill is to me?
Debbie Reynolds: No.
Alec Baldwin: You don't know?
Debbie Reynolds: No.
Alec Baldwin: Do you know that Billy Reynolds was my makeup artist on Knots Landing for a year and a half?
Debbie Reynolds: Oh my gosh. Was he really?
Alec Baldwin: Your brother, Billy, was –
Debbie Reynolds: Was – isn't he the greatest?
Alec Baldwin: – my makeup artist.
Debbie Reynolds: And?
Alec Baldwin: He's one of the people that helped me survive that experience.
Debbie Reynolds: Well, he would.
Alec Baldwin: Because those three broads –
Debbie Reynolds: The broads – yes.
Alec Baldwin: – were from the Joan Collins school where they were having the makeup put on with a trowel every day.
Debbie Reynolds: That's right.
Alec Baldwin: They had to have federally funded programs to pay for the makeup for them. Billy Reynolds would turn to me and he'd sit there and say, 'Did you bring a book with you?' 'Cause he'd go, 'We're gonna be here for a while. These gals are two, three hours in the chair.' And then he told me that he was Elvis's makeup artist and do you know that every time he mentioned Elvis – he didn't mention it a lot 'cause he was very quiet.
Debbie Reynolds: No. He was shy. Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: Very shy. He mentioned Elvis once or twice and he started to cry. He would turn away from me and hide his face. He said to me, 'Elvis was the greatest man I ever worked with.'
Debbie Reynolds: Well, they used to play – Elvis used to tease him a lot and put snakes down his pants –
Alec Baldwin: How awful.
Debbie Reynolds: – and popcorn. They'd pop popcorn and put it in his drawers. They used to kid my brother. They used to just pick on him kind of, but he didn't care. My brother was a baseball player, a really man's man.
Alec Baldwin: Where is he now?
Debbie Reynolds: He lives in my house with me.
Alec Baldwin: No. Will you give him my love?
Debbie Reynolds: I will.
Alec Baldwin: I don't even know if he'll remember me. I hope he does.
Debbie Reynolds: Oh, sure. Oh, he remembers everything. He just doesn't talk about it. You know some men that are almost reclusive, but not really, because underneath all of that is a great sense of humor. I adore my brother. I think he's –
Alec Baldwin: I – he helped save my life. The ladies here, by the way, who we work with made us a cupcake.
Debbie Reynolds: I see.
Alec Baldwin: They made this for my – this is really for you.
Debbie Reynolds: I know that the candle just – that the candle just burned my finger. Candles and strawberries and cupcakes, it's our birthday.
Alec Baldwin: Has to be nice to us – so as to be nice to us they made the cupcake gluten free, but you and I both know I have a feeling that gluten-free really is bullshit.
Debbie Reynolds: Oh, is it?
Alec Baldwin: May I say that? It's bullshit.
Debbie Reynolds: Well, I think you're allowed on this radio. I used to be a disc jockey. When I was 16 years old I was at Warner Brothers and I first went there when I first won this little contest.
Alec Baldwin: What contest?
Debbie Reynolds: In Burbank, California where I was raised. See we came from Texas because we were really poor and my dad wanted us to have a better life. So he moved us to California.
Alec Baldwin: What kind of work was he looking for?
Debbie Reynolds: He was railroad. He worked for the railroad. He repaired underneath the engines. He would repair all kinds of –
Alec Baldwin: They had a lot of railroad happening there in California? Guess they had enough, huh?
Debbie Reynolds: Well, my dad worked really hard, but the most boring job in the whole wide world. I retired him as soon as I came – as luck changed and my whole life changed and I came into show business, I discovered a whole different world and that people really had fun and people laughed and our life was rather tedious and hard because we didn't have any money.
My dad made $200.00 a month on – now, that's better than nothing, but it still also buys very little. So our life was a little bit meager. We never had a Christmas tree. We never had –
Alec Baldwin: So when the opportunity came along for you to get into the business and I'm from the same school actually, I'm wondering were you as enticed by and were you as thrilled by as much about making money to help your family as you were about your own glory?
Debbie Reynolds: Well, mostly I thought it was a joke that I won this contest and then all of a sudden I'm in movies. It's the silliest thing I ever –
Alec Baldwin: What was the contest?
Debbie Reynolds: It was Miss Burbank.
Alec Baldwin: Oh, you were Miss Burbank?
Debbie Reynolds: I was Miss Burbank. Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: Don't downplay that. That's a great honor.
Debbie Reynolds:No. Are you kidding? It's changed my whole life and made my whole life wonderful, marvelous, travel all over the world and meet all these fabulous, interesting people and see different countries.
So I'm very proud to say I was Miss Burbank and had a hole in my bathing suit and my rear end was hanging out and I didn't have shoes, high heel shoes. So I'm very grateful for stumbling into show business.
Alec Baldwin: It was the first step.
Debbie Reynolds: Yeah. I loved it.
Alec Baldwin: Then after Miss Burbank what happened?
Debbie Reynolds: They took me to Warner Brothers and made a little screen test and asked me why I wanted to be a movie star. So of course I told them I didn't want to and after they laughed and they said, 'Of course you do.' I said, 'No. I don't. I don't really – this is just fun. You're kidding around, right?'
I was very square and my family were very virginal, very go to church Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.
Alec Baldwin: Are you glad they were square?
Debbie Reynolds: I'm grateful for that kind of upbringing. Alec Baldwin: Because throughout your career, and I'm not just saying this, I wouldn't waste your time or mine, you're a gorgeous woman. Everybody thinks of you – they think of you being three things, beautiful and talented, but also being very straight-laced.
Your career was something where there's kind of a – in the sensuality quotient there's Ava Gardner over here who's working that whole thing and then there's you who you didn't work that whole thing. Did you find that was something that was because of your childhood and your upbringing?
Debbie Reynolds: I just think that that's the way you're raised. It's what you hear. What you hear is sinful and what you hear is not proper for young girls to behave in that manner. So you were pretty strict. You were – and I just grew up that way. So I thought that's the way everybody was until after three husbands now I realize that that's a totally wrong concept.
Alec Baldwin: We're gonna get to that.
Debbie Reynolds: [Singing] unlucky in love, unlucky in - what else happens when you're unlucky in love? I just made it up.
Alec Baldwin: Oh, you just wrote that song?
Debbie Reynolds: Just for you.
Alec Baldwin: Well, we should record you later on. We should sing it together.
Debbie Reynolds: [Singing] good morning. Good morning. We've danced the whole night through. Good morning. Good morning to you and you and you and you.
Alec Baldwin: Good morning to you.
Debbie Reynolds: Good morning. Good morning.
Alec Baldwin: Good morning. Good morning.
Debbie Reynolds: It's great to stay up late. Good morning. Good morning to you. What fun, you see?
Alec Baldwin: My – I can't sing to save my life. If you put a gun to my head and said, 'Sing,' I might be dead.
Debbie Reynolds: Well, you almost sang on key.
Alec Baldwin: When did you know you could sing? When did you realize you could sing?
Debbie Reynolds: I just started singing like other people. So what you're saying –
Alec Baldwin: So you started by doing mimicry?
Debbie Reynolds: I started mimicking. Yes.
Alec Baldwin: Jeanette MacDonald's.
Debbie Reynolds: I never tried Jeanette McDonald. She's a soprano, but I would do the alto and Ethel Merman. Anybody with a big voice I'd always do their voices, because I enjoy comedy. Comedy is everything. A pratfall, a schticklach, that's everything to me. I love vaudeville. That's my favorite thing.
I enjoy drama, somebody else doing it. I personally don't wanna do a Debbie Reynolds because it's so serious. It makes me sad. It takes me where it goes and so I don't accept any parts that are devastating because I don't wanna be unhappy in my life. I'll just live my life because that's tough enough. So I don't know need any parts that make me miserable.
Alec Baldwin: So when you're at Warner's and you say to them, 'I don't wanna be an actress,' and they do the screen test, what happens there that you wind up banking over to MGM? What happened?
Debbie Reynolds: Well, Jack Warner, he was the boss. So he said, 'We're not gonna do any more musicals. So send the kid over to MGM.'
Alec Baldwin: They sold you?
Debbie Reynolds: So they drove me. They sold me.
Alec Baldwin: Like a horse.
Debbie Reynolds: Well, a donkey. I was sort of stubborn. I say a donkey. So I go to MGM, which is L.B. Mayer and they're still making musicals like mad because they were the biggest studio of all. Everybody in the world was there, Clark Gable, Van Johnson, Greer Garson, Lana Turner, Ava Gardner.
The doors opened and all these stars spilled out. It was the only one – the only one that ever really left on her own was Garbo. So 'Oh, I'm on to be alone. I'm on to be alone.' So we left her alone.
Alec Baldwin: You sound like Garbo.
Debbie Reynolds: She's gone. She's out of there.
Alec Baldwin: So we got her a car and we shipped her off.
Debbie Reynolds: We got a car and shipped her off. She went to New York. She saved $100,000.00. She went to the bank. She met the president. His name was Schlee, Mr. Schlee, and he's gone now, but I know this story. I love stories. You could call me a gossip.
Alec Baldwin: So Garbo's with Mr. Schlee with $100,000.00?
Debbie Reynolds: And she asked, 'Please to help me to take care of my money.' So Mr. Schlee falls in love with Greta Garbo and takes care of her the rest of her life. She lived in New York City and they used to go for a walk.
Garbo would walk and Mr. Schlee didn't like to walk. So he'd drive in the Rolls Royce or the Duesenberg or whatever it was, beside her while she did her shopping, antiquing. She loved to antique.
Alec Baldwin: Now was Mr. Schlee taking care of Greta Garbo or was he taking care of Greta Garbo?
Debbie Reynolds: It was her money. No. He was taking care of her money.
Alec Baldwin: Of her money.
Debbie Reynolds: Now what they did on the side for tea or lunch, I never inquire because –
Alec Baldwin: A good Baptist girl from Texas doesn't tell.
Debbie Reynolds: Well, it was – I didn't want to even think about that because I just wanted to think about what a romantic situation the whole thing.
Alec Baldwin: Yes. A man trailing along in his ex-caliber.
Debbie Reynolds: Beause you're sitting here with this movie star and she's walking, looking in all the windows and then he's in a car – right – with the door open, driving along beside her. These stories don't happen anymore.
Alec Baldwin: So she walked away forever?
Debbie Reynolds: She walked away forever. She never made another film ever.
Alec Baldwin: And you show up at MGM and what happens?
Debbie Reynolds: Well, what happens is they send me to a meeting and so they call Gene Kelly in the room and Mr. Mayer says, 'Here Gene. This is the new girl that's your going to have as your leading lady and' –
Alec Baldwin: And you're 17?
Debbie Reynolds: I'm 17 and I had never danced before. I had never acted before, nothing. Nothing – just a Girl Scout. So there I was with Gene Kelly, a movie star. I couldn't believe the whole scene. I just thought the whole thing was silly. I really thought it was silly. So Mr. Kelly says, 'Can you do a time step?' I said, 'Oh, oh, yes. I learned that at Girl Scout camp.' So he said, 'Do a time step.' So I did a little awful time step.
Then he said, 'Can you do a Maxie Ford?' And I said, 'I don't have a car.' Well, obviously that was the wrong answer. He looked at Mr. Mayer and he said, 'You're kidding me, boss,' and Mr. Mayer said, 'No. I'm not kidding you. This is the leading lady. She's going to do the part,' and that was it. He was stuck with me. Poor thing. Can you imagine Gene Kelly?
Alec Baldwin: And these guys were, I'm assuming, like many of the actors I know today, they're pretty no-nonsense people when it comes to the quality of their product. They're very hard working.
Debbie Reynolds: Well, Gene Kelly of course is the most brilliant dancer. Gene said, 'All right. I'll take her. I can fix her. I can fix it up,' because she's right for the part, the acting part, but the dancing, my God. It was an interesting time, but I was too young to know about it.
Alec Baldwin: But Astaire taught you too?
Debbie Reynolds: He helped me. I was trying to learn everything like with Donald, run up the wall and flip backwards. I knew I was a flip, but I had to learn how to – I wanted to learn everything and then I'd be crying under the piano. One day a pair of legs go by and I'm crying away and the legs say, 'Who is that under the piano? Who is crying?' So I said, 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It's just me, Debbie.'
So it was Fred Astaire. He said, 'Debbie, get out from underneath there.' He pulled me out and he said, 'Now you come and watch me rehearse. I never allow anybody' – he always had a guard at the gate, a security guard. No one was ever allowed, but he let me watch and for maybe over 40 minutes and his face turned all red.
He just used a cane and a drum after about a half an hour and his turning red, and he's doing brilliant work of course, he looked over at me and says, 'Now, Debbie, I want you to go back in there, stop crying and be great. In order to be a great dancer you have to practically kill yourself. This is what it takes to be a great dancer.'
Alec Baldwin: To work, work, work.
Debbie Reynolds: 'Now run in there. Just run in there. Shut up and do it.'
Alec Baldwin: Did that help you?
Debbie Reynolds: Oh, yes. I just felt like I was a big sissy and I didn't like to be a big sissy in those days or any other day.
Alec Baldwin: And then so when you finished the movie and when it was done how did you feel about how it went?
Debbie Reynolds: It took a year to do Singin' in the Rain.
Alec Baldwin: And how did you feel when it was over?
Debbie Reynolds: I think you've learned a great deal, either that or you already quit, because in order to keep up with these great talents you had to devote yourself totally. I didn't go home. I slept in my dressing room. I wasn't off any days. I didn't take any days off because I'd practice more while I was on Saturday and Sunday. We didn't have Saturday off. We only had Sunday off and I'd practice all the time and I don't think I changed at all. I just learned how to apply myself.
Alec Baldwin: What about people's perception of you? That must have changed. The picture came out what year?
Debbie Reynolds: I don't remember what year, 1952, something like that. Well, it was not a hit. It was not a hit. It was just a mediocre hit and then it was discovered, rediscovered through schools and the teachers that taught drama and class and lessons. The movie became a hit through school and through teachers, university teachers and all that. Singin' in the Rain has remained a hit or became a hit maybe 10 years, 15 years after.
Alec Baldwin: But is it safe to say that the girl who's crying under the table, by the time the movie comes out and that process is complete, you're a movie star now, correct?
Debbie Reynolds: Well, I was popular. They couldn't believe a young girl had gotten that far and no talent, no experience. So I was newsworthy, but in those days we had movie magazines and they'd write all kinds of stories for free. The studios would give – it was the Golden Era. So –
Alec Baldwin: And what kind of stories did they write about you then when you were only 17, 18 years old? What did they write?
Debbie Reynolds: They'd make it up. They'd give a little party. They'd give a party. They had Rock Hudson going out with his secretary. You know Rock didn't wanna go out with his secretary.
Alec Baldwin: Unless it was Paul.
Debbie Reynolds: Yes. That's John, Sam, and Joe.
Alec Baldwin: What's the next picture you did after Singin' in the Rain? Debbie Reynolds: After Singin' in the Rain, I did How the West Was Won with every star you've ever heard about.
Alec Baldwin: The first movie I ever saw in a movie theater in my life ever was How the West Was Won.
Debbie Reynolds: It was a wonderful picture. Spencer Tracy narrated the whole thing.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. Stewart.
Debbie Reynolds: Stars you'll never see again. That was Tracy's last appearance and he didn't even go on film. He just narrated it and John Wayne was in that. Everybody. It took two years to make that picture. I started out playing a 16-year-old and ended up a 90-year-old. It sort of felt like my life. These things happen.
Alec Baldwin: Did you enjoy that picture?
Debbie Reynolds: I worked very hard on that picture and Henry Hathaway was the director and he was really tough and very hard on everybody.
Alec Baldwin: Not very kind to actors.
Debbie Reynolds: No, but we were all a little bit stupid and –
Alec Baldwin: Employees.
Debbie Reynolds: – slow. He thought we were slow. So he – I had heard this about him, that he was a very tough director. So when he came over to Fox Studio where I was making another film with Andy Griffith I said to him – he wanted me to do it, the first part of it, How the West Was Won. I said, 'Well, sir, truth of it is that I've heard really such bad things about you, I don't wanna work with you.' So he just stared at me. He says, 'What the 'f' is that? What' –and so he's cuss like crazy.
Alec Baldwin: Really?
Debbie Reynolds: Oh, yeah. He cussed. He said, 'What the' –
Alec Baldwin: What the beep.
Debbie Reynolds: 'You little snot nose. You little' –
Alec Baldwin: Did he really?
Debbie Reynolds: Oh, yes.
Alec Baldwin: So he just – he attacked you and got aggressive?
Debbie Reynolds: He balled me out. He just said, 'You have no right to say that I'm bossy or that I cuss and all that.' I said, 'Well, what are you doing now, for goodness sake? What do you think you're yelling at me for?'
Alec Baldwin: Did he change towards you at all?
Debbie Reynolds: We were in the commissary. There were people staring and everything. I said, 'This is why I would never work for you because I don't wanna be miserable.' So I turned it down and then he wouldn't let me turn it down. He said, 'No. You're going to do it,' and he talked to the president of Fox and MGM, which owned my contract. They said I had to do it. So I had to do it.
Alec Baldwin: So back then you signed those contracts and people, I think – the distance that the studio system has now which receded so far for audiences today. They don't understand that notion that you signed a contract and you didn't get to pick the films you were in.
Debbie Reynolds: You're owned, it's like a bondage.
Alec Baldwin: Right. It's like indentured servitude.
Debbie Reynolds: That's it. Exactly.
Alec Baldwin: How did the picture go with him? Was he difficult?
Debbie Reynolds: Well, I went out – I did – the first section is the one that I was signed for. I went on location and he said, 'All right. Walk over there.' I said, 'Where am I walking to, sir?' 'You just walk where I start pointing to.' I said, 'I have to understand where am I walking, what am I saying.' He said, 'No, you don't. You just do what I say.'
I said, 'This is what I told you that day we had the lunch that you were gonna be rude and terrible to work with and so I'm gonna go lie down and rest.' He said, 'No, you're not. You're going to walk over there and you're going to shut up.' I said, 'No, I'm not. I'm going to faint because you've upset me too much.' So I fainted on purpose.
Alec Baldwin: And what happened? Oh, I love this. I'm gonna do that one day. I'm gonna do that.
Debbie Reynolds: No. You just pass out.
Alec Baldwin: When I meet a director I'm gonna faint. I'm gonna go, 'Oh my God. You've upset me so much.' Boom.
Debbie Reynolds: Boom. Fall. Just fall down.
Alec Baldwin: And fall.
Debbie Reynolds: Just let him kick you. It doesn't matter.
Alec Baldwin: So lay down. So if you're laying – did Hathaway come up and kick you? Did he poke you with his boot or something?
Debbie Reynolds: Well, he poked me. He poked me with a boot.
Alec Baldwin: No. Seriously.
Debbie Reynolds: No. With his foot he poked me. 'You wake up you silly son of – what' – cussing.
Alec Baldwin: You're kidding me.
Debbie Reynolds: I wouldn't open my eyes at all 'cause I was – just in my mind I said, 'Just stay here all day. Just stay here – they can't make you wake up.' So then they put some that's – what's that stuff under – ether under your nose.
Alec Baldwin: Smelling salts.
Debbie Reynolds: Yeah. Well, I didn't still wake up. I just breathed really deeply like yoga.
Alec Baldwin: You're a tough broad.
Debbie Reynolds: No. I was –
Alec Baldwin: So you were doing this ayurvedic breathing of smelling salt. That's how obstinate you were.
Debbie Reynolds: Yes. I was not going to wake up. He couldn't get me up for anything.
Alec Baldwin: So what was the conclusion of this? What happened? I'm assuming because you're here you eventually got up.
Debbie Reynolds: He walked away finally. He said, 'She's faking. I know she's faking and I'm gonna kill the little kid,' and then he became amused by it because he thought –
Alec Baldwin: You fought back.
Debbie Reynolds: He knew I was faking, but I wasn't going to ever wake up.
Alec Baldwin: So he respected you a little bit that you fought back?
Debbie Reynolds: He knew I wasn't going to wake up. He knew I wouldn't do it. I was a lot like Hathaway. So –
Alec Baldwin: How many months did you have to go on this Goddamn picture? How long was left?
Debbie Reynolds: A year and a half.
Alec Baldwin: So this was like day two.
Debbie Reynolds: And I fainted about ten times.
Alec Baldwin: So I was gonna say how many more faints? Did your dresser know to lay down a cushion or something? Did you wink at her? 'I got the faint coming.'
Debbie Reynolds: I would just wink and I'd fall. The same thing happened on Broadway. I was doing a play here called Irene and they wouldn't give us two more days to rehearse and Gower Champion's going nuts. We're not quite ready or ready to open, but we're not quite ready.
So I went over to Gower. I said, 'Listen, Gower, if we need another two days I'll get it.' He says, 'You can't get it. They're out of money.' I said, 'No, no. If I disappear, if I get sick or something happened or if I fall.'
He said, 'Well, how can you do that?' I said, 'Watch.' I said, 'Okay. Let's rehearse that first number.' So we – I – 'When will I do the flip?' So I did and they say, 'All right. Go ahead, go ahead.' Gower's looking. He can't believe what I'm going to do. He doesn't know what I'm going to do. So I run and I run forward to the wings and flip in the air and crash down and knock myself out, but I'm not really out.
Alec Baldwin: Of course not.
Debbie Reynolds: No.
Alec Baldwin: You Hathaway –
Debbie Reynolds: So I open one eye to Gower and winked at him and went back out.
Alec Baldwin: You really aren't this wholesome, that Nazarene from Burbank. You're a devilish little imp. You like trouble.
Debbie Reynolds: Well, it's fun to be with me. You can flip around all day.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. You like trouble.
Debbie Reynolds: Well, no, I just get out of trouble.
Alec Baldwin: You're a troublemaker. You're very willful. Who's a director that you loved?
Debbie Reynolds: I really loved all the directors. I loved Hathaway too. I became very dear friends and visited together –
Alec Baldwin: You are an Aries, aren't you? You're an Aries.
Debbie Reynolds: I'm Aries. I'm born April Fool's Day. Aries is very stubborn, but very really good person. I don't think that there's a bad bone in the body other than our temper. That I – you're known for your temper.
Alec Baldwin: No. That's not true. All of that's a lie.
Debbie Reynolds: But it's not true, right?
Alec Baldwin: That's just all a lie.
Debbie Reynolds: It's just that if you –
Alec Baldwin: That's the press making up things.
Debbie Reynolds: Oh, the press love to make up things.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. They just make up -
Debbie Reynolds: Well, luckily, see I'm not popular in this sense for the press.
Alec Baldwin: If you see a picture of me going to – it says I'm going to hit or push a photographer I'm going to help them. They might fall – I'm reaching to help them or I'm reaching to hug them.
Debbie Reynolds: Oh, I think the photographers today are terrible when they chase people. See, they didn't do that in my day. No. I'm so happy I was in the Golden Era – they keep calling it – of show business. We didn't have paparazzi like this.
Alec Baldwin: But speaking of which when you say about being an Aries, and I'm not big on astrology, but people who are Aries they always say they love to bury the hatchet and have people get along and even though you can have a bad temper and you can have grudges against people they don't last.
Debbie Reynolds: No. You just speak up.
Alec Baldwin: Right. You're rigorously honest, if you will, but for you, you buried the hatchet with Hathaway and he became a friend. You're someone that doesn't like to hold a grudge with people.
Debbie Reynolds: No. I don't, but I'm rather like an elephant. I remember everything.
Alec Baldwin: And Debbie Reynolds has had her share of hatchets to bury. In 1955, she married singer Eddie Fisher – it was the show business wedding of the year. Four years later, Fisher famously left Reynolds for her best friend, Elizabeth Taylor – soon after Taylor's husband was killed in an airplane accident. But years later, she patched things up with Elizabeth – they had known each other since they were kids.
Debbie Reynolds: We were friends. We went to school together. Elizabeth and I were kids together and so what happens about our relationship was out of their desire to be together – Eddie Fisher and she. So when a man wants to go, he wants to go, he goes. I've learned that certainly. So of course I forgave her years after that because she forgave herself.
Alec Baldwin: Marriages two and three were less public but no less painful for Reynolds – now she's sworn off the institution. In a minute, she'll talk about her daughter, Carrie Fisher and their relationship. I'm Alec Baldwin and you're listening to Here's The Thing from WNYC Radio.
Alec Baldwin: This is Alec Baldwin. Carrie Fisher's solo show Wishful Drinking discusses her battles with substance abuse, manic depression, and being the child of Hollywood royalty. It's poignant and hilarious.
Carrie Fisher: Having waited my entire life to get an award for something, anything, I don't care. All right. Fine. Not acting, but what about like a tiny one for writing? I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill. I am apparently very good at it and I get honored for it regularly.
Alec Baldwin: So she is so funny.
Debbie Reynolds: Oh, yes. She's brilliant.
Alec Baldwin: She's a brilliant woman.
Debbie Reynolds: She's brilliant. The children were really little I was really worried about my health. I was on the road and I was just working like mad in Vaudeville and I was concerned and the children were very small and I called up Jeane Dixon, who was a prophet and lived in Washington, and she did the Government and all kinds of – and she was – it was the truth. She was sensational.
Gave me an appointment and I sat down and she told me exactly what my children have become and everything that happened. She told me – I was married to Harry Karl at the time. She said, 'When you go home you're going to have to face a divorce and he is taking all of your money. When you go home you will find that out. So you don't know anything about it?' I said, 'Well, no. I let him take care of the money.' She said, 'Well, he is. Carrie is going to be in white robes and stand on a stage.'
Alec Baldwin: This is the astrologer Jeane Dixon?
Debbie Reynolds: Astrologer Jeane Dixon who is very world famous.
Alec Baldwin: I remember her. Didn't she predict Kennedy's assassination as well?
Debbie Reynolds: She predicted everything. Yes. Kennedy – Robert Kennedy and Jack Kennedy. Yes.
Alec Baldwin: That was her claim to fame.
Debbie Reynolds: She was very famous and then she told me Todd would be a builder and go to architectural school and they have exactly –
Alec Baldwin: This is your son?
Debbie Reynolds: My son, Todd.
Alec Baldwin: What does he do now?
Debbie Reynolds: Architectural – well, he builds.
Alec Baldwin: Where does he live?
Debbie Reynolds: He lives in the Valley.
Alec Baldwin: Oh, he's in LA as well.
Debbie Reynolds: In LA. Carrie –
Alec Baldwin: Oh, all your family's all around each other?
Debbie Reynolds: Yes. They're all – we all live sort of together because we adore each other.
Alec Baldwin: You wrote in your book that you're unlucky in love. Why were you unlucky in love? What do you mean by it?
Debbie Reynolds: Because I'm just too old-fashioned.
Alec Baldwin: You picked the wrong people?
Debbie Reynolds: Well, of course I picked the wrong men, but that's because I am easy. I don't ever argue. 'You need the money? Here, you take it. Oh, you need that? Well' –
Alec Baldwin: You trust people.
Debbie Reynolds: Well, I'm very trusting.
Alec Baldwin: How is Carrie like you and how is Carrie like Eddie? Can you see the lines there?
Debbie Reynolds: Well, Carrie was born with Eddie as the father and he was on speed. So Carrie was born was manic-depressive bipolar.
Alec Baldwin: The father?
Debbie Reynolds: So she will have that for the rest of her life.
Alec Baldwin: Oh, she was?
Debbie Reynolds: And it's a dread disease for Carrie.
Alec Baldwin: Oh, you think she got that from him?
Debbie Reynolds: Yes, from Eddie. It was very sweet of him. Carrie has an illness that is a severe problem over the whole world and they do not have any answers for you.
She's taking shocker treatments right now. It is a family's pain. We all have it because we so want Carrie to be well and that's what we pray for all the time.
Alec Baldwin: How's Billie?
Debbie Reynolds: And she's so funny.
Alec Baldwin: How's Billie?
Debbie Reynolds: Her daughter is divine and she goes to school here in New York and she's the most beautiful, young, smart – really smart – and she's taking accounting. So I think we'll be all right.
Alec Baldwin: Those things won't happen again.
Debbie Reynolds: She won't come to be for about money and Carrie's going to be fine. She's brilliant and she's a great writer.
Alec Baldwin: What did Carrie get from you?
Debbie Reynolds: From me?
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. What did she get from you?
Debbie Reynolds: Laughter. If you can give people laughter that would be the ideal thing.
Alec Baldwin: I know this is gonna sound really clichéd and silly, but you come from such a great era of movie stardom. Your name means something. When you say someone's name you go, 'Oh, okay,' but your name you say a certain kind of a film people automatically think the big, golden age of Hollywood musicals and you and Kelly and all these movies and Unsinkable Molly Brown and all these great films, even though people don't realize that you stopped making films – I wrote this down – you stopped making films by and large at around What's the Matter with Helen in 1971 and then from 1971 to 1996 according to your biography, most of what you do is voice overs or retrospective releases like That's Entertainment. You don't work a lot during that period in film.
Debbie Reynolds: I just do night clubs. I work theater.
Alec Baldwin: You do a club act.
Debbie Reynolds: I do a club act. I worked 42 weeks a year. I worked every day.
Alec Baldwin: You did?
Debbie Reynolds: I –
Alec Baldwin: Where would you go?
Debbie Reynolds: Everywhere. Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas.
Alec Baldwin: You toured the country singing.
Debbie Reynolds: Yes. Australia, England.
Alec Baldwin: Did you really?
Debbie Reynolds: I did five a day in England.
Alec Baldwin: For 20 years?
Debbie Reynolds: So I became a Vaudevillian for 20 years to make a living for my children.
Alec Baldwin: You were a Vaudevillian. and then in 1996 you go and do the movie with Albert Brooks?
Debbie Reynolds: Yes. I did Mother.
Alec Baldwin: And how did he convince you to do that movie?
Debbie Reynolds: No. Carrie called me. She said, 'Mother, I read a script Albert Brooks' – they were very good friends – 'did and it's so funny. You have to do it.' I said, 'Well, honey, you know nobody wants me for movies anymore, dear.'
She said, 'Well, Mother, I want you to fly up here.' I was in Vegas and I owned a little hotel and it had a night club and I was happy as a hog in heaven. So she said, 'Well, no. I don't care, Mother. You have to fly.'
So I flew in and I met Albert and I read a scene for him and he said to me, 'You've got it.' And I said, 'What does that mean, Albert?' He said, 'Well, you've got it. You've got the part.' I said, 'Albert, I have to meet the director.' 'Oh, I am the director, Debbie.'
'Oh, I didn't know Albert,' I say, 'cause I know him since he's a young boy and I said, 'Well, you have to see the producer then, dear. You can't just suddenly hire Debbie.' 'Well, yes, I can. I'm the producer. I'm the producer. I'm the director. I wrote it and yes, you're going to do it.'
Alec Baldwin: He's Orson Wells in – yeah.
Debbie Reynolds: I said, 'Albert, you'll get into trouble.' He said, 'No. You're really gonna get it now because you're bossing me. So now you're just like my mother, so you've got the part for sure.'
Debbie Reynolds: Can you eat lamb chops?
Albert Brooks: Well, what the hell is a lamb? It's meat. I told ya. I don't eat it.
Debbie Reynolds: But it's not a cow. I didn't know if it was the animal you were siding with or the whole thing.
Albert Brooks: The whole thing.
Debbie Reynolds: Want some cheese?
Albert Brooks: No.
Debbie Reynolds: Albert was very sweet. He wanted Doris Day, but she just wouldn't do it 'cause she would have been terrific, but as we all know, Doris doesn't want to go back on the screen and I didn't want to because I was in Vegas and I was running my hotel and I was having a lot of trouble with my husband and he wanted to take over my business and throw me over the balcony and I was having a lot of problems, but I left and I did the movie Mother and I'm happy I did. I think it's –
Alec Baldwin: And you've made a lot of films and a lot of TV shows since then.
Debbie Reynolds: Will and Grace.
Alec Baldwin: What'd you play?
Debbie Reynolds: Well, what do you mean?
Alec Baldwin: What role?
Debbie Reynolds: I played Grace's mother.
Alec Baldwin: Right. You were Grace's mom.
Debbie Reynolds: Adler. Her name was Adler and so she sang a lot, did impressions. It was a lot of fun to do.
Alec Baldwin: And the – have you stopped the club act? Are you still doing that? Are you still –
Debbie Reynolds: No. I still do my club act. I've been under the weather for about four months. So I've been taking it easy and getting my health back.
Alec Baldwin: You look – can I tell you something? You look fantastic. You look gorgeous.
Debbie Reynolds: Well, you're very sweet.
Alec Baldwin: You look gorgeous.
Debbie Reynolds: You're giving me my birthday present.
Alec Baldwin: No. You look beautiful.
Debbie Reynolds: Thank you, dear –
Alec Baldwin: You look sensational.
Debbie Reynolds: – and I wish you all the happiness with your new wife and a baby to come. Your life is all ahead of you. I love my babies so much and even though they're all grown and your age practically there's nothing like it. It's just so special.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. I'm really looking forward to it. When I think of you and you being a part of that great era of studio filmmaking, do you ever watch your stuff that you did? Do you ever go back and watch those films or you don't bother?
Debbie Reynolds: Well, some of the films. I watch everybody else's films. Betty Davis, oh, I loved her and Katherine Hepburn I loved –
Alec Baldwin: So when you watch a movie you watch a movie from back then?
Debbie Reynolds: Oh, yes. I only watch old movies.
Alec Baldwin: You don't go to see – so you don't go see movies today?
Debbie Reynolds: Not really.
Alec Baldwin: You don't? Not even screeners from the Academy or DVD's at home? So you don't –
Debbie Reynolds: If someone tells me it's really wonderful I'll go.
Alec Baldwin: So like Titanic you'd watch or something?
Debbie Reynolds: No. I didn't go to see Titanic.
Alec Baldwin: You didn't? You've been there.
Debbie Reynolds: No. I did that movie.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. You did that movie.
Debbie Reynolds: No. I just did a film with – it was about Liberace, Behind the Candelabra.
Alec Baldwin: With Michael Douglas.
Debbie Reynolds: With Michael Douglas and that'll be out soon. I played Mrs. Liberace and because I like to do dialects and I knew Mrs. Liberace and knew Lee. We were very good friends. Yes. We were really dear friends and he'd always call me up after the show and we'd go out together and he'd say, 'Wear white. All white, Debbie, and your jewelry,' and then he'd arrive in the limousine with a chauffeur's hat on and he'd drive me. He was so much fun. I loved Liberace. He was great. So I did his mother.
Alec Baldwin: How was Soderbergh to work with? Did you like Soderbergh?
Debbie Reynolds: Oh, he was wonderful. The director was wonderful.
Alec Baldwin: Great director.
Debbie Reynolds: I just had a little part and she had an accent.
Alec Baldwin: There are no little parts, baby.
Debbie Reynolds: She – well, she – the only thing hard is dialect to be real and to have to do when you do the dialect is Polish and so you have to talk like this real the really one and to be believable because I am very good at dialects. I love to do them.
Alec Baldwin: You know what's amazing to me is you still enjoy doing this.
Debbie Reynolds: Oh, yes.
Alec Baldwin: You still love this.
Debbie Reynolds: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: Even though this is something that you came into almost accidentaly. You won the contest and you went over to Warner Brothers and you were like –
Debbie Reynolds: I think it was a gift from God.
Alec Baldwin: They said they want you to be in the movie business and you laughed when they said that and yet here you are when you were 16 years old and now you're 81 years old. Sixty-five years later you still enjoy doing this, don't you?
Debbie Reynolds: Absolutely. If you're blessed enough to be able to have something to do that you love, besides marriages I mean. That's the only thing that's been a disappointment to me in my life.
Alec Baldwin: Honey, you're looking at the man you should have married. Here – it's me. Here I am. I wouldn't have stolen your money. You and I would be home right now watching Turner classic movies eating popcorn. I'd be giving you a foot rub.
Debbie Reynolds: I have a wonderful life. I really do. God bless everybody. I really am very happy.
Alec Baldwin: But I bet you another thing you have and you don't have to confirm this. But I bet you I know another thing you have which is when you meet people, your fans, I bet you they just love you.
Debbie Reynolds: They're my friends, they're not my fans. Everybody I meet I just feel like I know them. Sixty-five years and they made me. They gave me my work and they stayed by me all these years. I work in Vegas all the time and I work in Laughlin which is called – it's in Nevada.
Alec Baldwin: Sure. Near Bullhead City, right?
Debbie Reynolds: Yeah. Anywhere there's a job I work.
Alec Baldwin: Let me end with this. Acting for me is very strange now. I'm done with it. I don't think I wanna do it much longer and the world has changed as you well know. It's very different the way – [music playing] is that your phone? I think it is your phone.
Debbie Reynolds: Where's my – isn't that odd?
Alec Baldwin: Yeah.
Debbie Reynolds: Where's – oh, excuse us folks.
Alec Baldwin: What you're listening to now is Debbie Reynolds taking her phone out of her pocket.
Debbie Reynolds: You know what? It's my son I'll bet you.
Alec Baldwin: Is it Todd?
Debbie Reynolds: And I – yes and I never –
Alec Baldwin: Calling us from the Valley?
Debbie Reynolds: I never turn this phone on.
Alec Baldwin: Debbie Reynolds is now taking out all the accouterments, her little Asian case.
Debbie Reynolds: But I don't – I can't find the phone.
Alec Baldwin: She can't find the – let's find it, please.
Debbie Reynolds: Oh, here it is.
Alec Baldwin: There it is.
Debbie Reynolds: Well, this is how my son was born, nine pounds, three ounces. Took a long time to get it out.
Alec Baldwin: I was nine pounds too.
Debbie Reynolds: Hello?
Alec Baldwin: Is that him?
Debbie Reynolds: Good heavens. That's hard to find. Can you say it again? Hello. Did I get you too late? That's the story of my life, isn't it? Must be a man. Well, I'm going to hang up now. I'm visiting with Alec Baldwin. He's a big star. Yes. He's in Broadway. Lives in New York. Just got married again, a young girl. They always pick them younger.
Alec Baldwin: You damn right.
Debbie Reynolds: Yeah. I might as well give up.
Alec Baldwin: That's one thing that hasn't changed in Hollywood.
Debbie Reynolds: Yeah. Nothing has changed. That's for sure.
Alec Baldwin: Now what I wanna say to you is I've been doing this and I wanna just say I'd love to work with you one day.
Debbie Reynolds: I'd love – any time.
Alec Baldwin: I would love to work with you one day. If there's a movie and there's a part in it for you to play my crazy aunt will you come and do it?
Debbie Reynolds: That would be fun to do the crazy aunt or the street lady or anybody like that.
Alec Baldwin: Come play the crazy lady. Something.
Debbie Reynolds: I like to do characters where I can faint.
Alec Baldwin: Debbie Reynolds has a new book, Unsinkable, and she has a huge collection of Hollywood memorabilia that you too can have a piece of.
Debbie Reynolds: I'm selling it online so if they –
Alec Baldwin: Debbie Reynolds what?
Debbie Reynolds: DebbieReynoldsStudioStore.com.
Alec Baldwin: DebbieReynoldsStudioStore.com. You're selling your memorabilia.
Debbie Reynolds: Lots of wonderful things. Yes.
Alec Baldwin: I'm gonna go buy something on there.
Debbie Reynolds: Okay. Charlie Chaplin's hat. How about that? The real hat.
Alec Baldwin: Is any of your underwear for sale online there?
Debbie Reynolds: No, but if you really want it badly I'll give it to you.
Alec Baldwin: We're done. Thank you.
Debbie Reynolds: You got it?
Alec Baldwin: We're ending there.
Debbie Reynolds: Bye.