Debbie Reynolds: 10 Memorable Roles
Her show business career spanned six-and-a-half decades.
This article originally appeared on Entertainment Weekly.
1 Helen Kane, Three Little Words (1950)
Actress, singer, and dancer Debbie Reynolds was a fixture on screen and for nearly seven decades until her death Wednesday at age 84, a day after the loss of her daughter, Carrie Fisher. Following is a look back at 10 of her memorable performances.
In one of her first screen roles, Reynolds made an impression portraying "boop-boop-a-doop" singer Helen Kane and performing her signature tune, the flapper hit "I Wanna Be Loved By You." Reynolds' turn earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer.
2 Kathy Selden, Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
At the age of 19, Reynolds shot to stardom playing an aspiring actress caught up Hollywood’s transition from silent films to talkies. Though she had never danced before, she held her own with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. “I learned a lot from Gene,” Reynolds recalled years later. “He is a perfectionist and a disciplinarian: the most exacting director I’ve worked for.”
3 Lilith Prescott, How the West Was Won (1963)
Reynolds joined a star-studded ensemble for this ambitious drama following four generations of a frontier family trying to tame the American West. Her costars included Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, and John Wayne. “You couldn’t believe your eyes to be in such a monumental cast, with all these huge stars,” Reynolds said in 2015. “It was bigger than life.”
4 Molly Brown, The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)
In a role that was a personal favorite and earned her an Oscar nomination, Reynolds played a fictionalized version of Margaret Brown, the indomitable socialite and activist who famously survived the sinking of the Titanic. Reflecting on the movie musical in 2015, while accepting the SAG Life Achievement Award, Reynolds said, “I got to sing a wonderful song called ‘I Ain’t Down Yet.’ Well, I ain’t.”
5 Debbie Thompson, The Debbie Reynolds Show (1969-70)
Reynolds’ eponymous sitcom was touted as the next I Love Lucy, and shared a creator in Jess Oppenheimer. Reynolds portrayed a kooky housewife who constantly schemed to write features for the big-city newspaper where her sportswriter husband (Don Chastain) was employed. The series ended after one season, however, in part because Reynolds objected to cigarette commercials aired during the show.
6 Irene O’Dare, Irene (1973)
In her first Broadway outing, Reynolds earned a Tony nomination playing a hard-working Irish immigrant thrust into Long Island's high society.
7 Beatrice Henderson, Mother (1996)
Marking her major movie role in nearly decades, Reynolds played the title role in this Albert Brooks comedy about a twice-divorced science-fiction novelist who moves back in with his passive-aggressive mom to better understand his issues with women.
8 Aggie Cromwell, Halloweentown (1998-2006)
The Disney Channel’s quartet of spooky, Halloween-themed adventures introduced Reynolds to a new generation of viewers. She played a high-spirited witch who helps her grandchildren battle the forces of evil.
9 Bobbi Adler, Will and Grace (1999-2006)
Appearing in all eight seasons of this NBC sitcom, Reynolds earned an Emmy nomination playing the bubbly, theatrical, and meddlesome mother to Debra Messing's Grace. One episode was cheekily titled “The Unsinkable Mommy Adler.”
10 Frances Liberace, Behind the Candelabra (2013)
In one of her final screen roles, Reynolds appeared opposite Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in Steven Soderbergh’s drama about the waning years in the life of Liberace. She played the mother of the flamboyant pianist, a woman with whom she was acquainted. “I knew Mrs. Liberace,” Reynolds told the Los Angeles Times last year. “Lee and I were great friends. I know the whole inside story.”