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The Unsinkable Debbie Reynolds

The Unsinkable Debbie Reynolds


In this archival interview, the legend gabs with Greg Archer about her return to the stage, her loyal gay fans, and how Hollywood has changed since her heyday.

Editor's note: This archival interview with Debbie Reynolds from December 4, 2007 helps explain we we are at such a loss today.

Her Emmy-nominated stint playing Grace's gregarious mother, Bobbi Adler, on Will & Grace may have ended in 2006, but the curtain isn't dropping for Debbie Reynolds anytime soon. The 74-year-old performer will star in a string of concerts this winter, including a show in Las Vegas for New Year's Eve. But after more than six decades of performing, the woman who turned heads in Singin' in the Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown seems more uninhibited than ever. She opens up to The Advocate about her career, her gay icon status, and why the Hollywood writers' strike makes her eyes roll -- dramatically, of course.

You're touring again, entertaining the masses, heading to Vegas... We have a good time. They call it a concert show. I still call it a vaudeville show. It's still me. We do film clips. We do four of my favorite films, from The Unsinkable Molly Brown to Singin' in the Rain. So I sing along with it. I do my impressions.

Any favorites? Well, Bette Davis. I just camp it up a bit. There's some Mae West and Katharine Hepburn, and I do Zsa Zsa Gabor advising Paris Hilton.

That must be fun. Well, Paris is the niece of Zsa Zsa Gabor. Did you know that? A lot of people don't know that ... and I didn't know that, and suddenly one day, I thought, you know, Zsa Zsa's niece is little Paris, and wouldn't be funny if Zsa Zsa would advise Paris and they both screw up.

You bring a lot of comedy into the show, sing a lot of Sondheim and Irving Berlin. I also do a lot of putting down of Debbie Reynolds.

That's always fun, some self-deprecating humor. Well, I am the one who knows her the best of all.

You have had six wonderful decades and are considered the quintessential performer. What do you love most about performing? I love the live-ness of it. The fact that people are sitting there and what you are feeling from them is the truth, and they love you or they don't like you at all -- you know the truth. I've been very lucky to have a good fan base for 60 years, and they still come and see me. They hold me up. They give me the courage to keep going on. They laugh. I laugh. I am happy when I am on the stage. It's my happiest time.

And you certainly have a big gay following. Well, I hope so.

Why do you think gay men in particular adore you? Well, because I adore them, I understand their lifestyle and the situations that life has presented to them. I admire how well they handle it. I am for them. I am their "mother at large," let's say. I appreciate all the hardship they have had to go through just to convince somebody that they were wonderful ... and not to be put down because of a lifestyle. It's not like you picked it out of a hat, but it's all yours. It would be much better if people in the world understand and accept and love you for you.

You listed your daughter's [Carrie Fisher] book The Best Awful on your favorites page on your website. How do you feel about her success? I am very, very proud of her. She is extremely gifted and funny, and after all, she has manic-depressive bipolar [disorder]. So for her to be able to accomplish what she has, and is accomplishing, it's been a real battle for her. But she's bringing her one-woman show to San Francisco next year. Every gay boy in L.A. saw it. You'll love it. I know the gay boys will back her more than anybody else.

What is the most challenging thing about what you are doing now in your career? Nothing. It's wonderful and it's a gift. God has been really good to me -- let's me stay healthy so I can travel, I can dance and I can sing and I can do my show. I don't have any physical problems. It's a walk in the park and it's great fun. I don't play golf and tennis and I don't want to play badminton. It's not what I want to do. What I want to do is entertain, and so far, I am being allowed to do that. So I am very blessed.

What do you find most interesting about today's entertainment world? It seems more celebrity-driven. Well, I don't think it is. There's just more paparazzi. And there are more newspapers and more magazines and more cable channels. It's just more exposure. We had a radio. Now you have 14,000 cable channels. You know, people are running around like chickens trying to suck all the strength out of the huge stars. It's really too much. And they're too tough on the young people. They take pictures of the children or follow the star to the park. They have way stepped over the bounds. They have to give them a life; give them a chance to enjoy their lives. And then the stars will share theirs with them. That's what we did.

Maybe it wasn't so obsessive 20, 30 years ago? We just didn't have that many paparazzi. We had only 100 in the front yard, instead of 200. I had plenty of press. Like Brad and Jennifer and Angelina, we had me and Eddie and Elizabeth Taylor. And so that was a big scandal, but we tried to let them take pictures of us and give them statements, and we did the best we could with trying to include them. So, that's what you have to do. But when they run into your car...I mean, they are really after Britney for some reason more than anybody. I think they should get over themselves and leave her alone. It's too much. It's just embarrassing. And it's not her fault. I mean, it was, but now it isn't.

You must have some friends in the writers' strike. My daughter, for one. That's a shame. I really don't believe in strikes. We don't get any residuals. We get nothing from our era, so, if they wanted to make a fight, why didn't they fight for us.

So for all the older movies that run... Zero. We get zippo. If there was ever an unfair case, it's our [the actors'] case. Mickey Rooney, myself, others. We should be crossing picket lines. But you know, I think in America we have it pretty good -- we should be happy with what we have. Fight for what's right ... but to stop production? This is Christmas. It's the holidays. It's just going to put a burden on everybody. I wish them all well. I hope they get what they want ...but think about us: we don't get anything. Nobody's fighting for us.

What makes you laugh these days?SNL. It still holds up.

Would you consider being on a sitcom again? You were memorable in Will & Grace. I would. I would consider anything that is funny and great.

What's the most interesting thing you've learned about yourself lately? Oh, that I'll never learn patience.

Really? As much as I try, I still get too upset over things. I still I am still tenderhearted. I still get upset over things that are done to me that are unfair. I should just ignore it.

But you seem so calm. Oh, no. Well, I am calm. But if they start in ... well, if anything unfair is said about my children -- it's all about my children. I am the typical mother bear. Ask Carrie, she'll tell you. She'd say, "Oh, mother got upset. It's OK. She'll be all right."

What is some of the best advice you've been given about life? Oh, gosh. Some of the best advice I got was from my grandmother and mother. They said be strong in faith, believe in yourself, and do for others.

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