If someone asks Debbie Reynolds who she is, she always gives the same humble and mischievous answer “I am Princess Leia's mother.” Carrie Fisher -indeed her 59 year old daughter - returns the compliment to her mother : « If I learned nothing else from my mum – and I learned quite a bit, though her sex tips left something to be desired, so to speak, I learned this : life is "f....g" hilarious – especially when it is not – Because that is the only time it truly has to be ».
Debbie’s memoir « Unsinkable » written with her friend Dorian Hannaway, a New York Times best seller in 2013, shared the story of a blond about her former husband, Richard Hamlett who stole many millions of dollars from her.
« Make 'em Laugh » to be published on November 10th, also written with her partner in comedy, explores the lighthearted moments of Debbie Reynolds’ life.
Hannaway started writing the comedian's jokes for her night club act in 1981 : « Debbie taught me structure, that every joke like every scene has a beginning and an ending », acknowledges her ghostwriter for 35 years : « I learned to write in her voice. When the book's editor wanted to change the lines, I could always say : « Debbie would never say that », I insisted on keeping what was not necessarily grammatically correct but genuine and punchy. »
Even when Dorian Hannaway oversaw the production of « the Late Show of David Letterman » and « the Late Late » show for CBS, Debbie would often be asking her friend for help or advice for her shows.
This book is a collection of little sparkling gems from Debbie's fantastic life. Dorian Hannaway researched stacks of Reyolds’ scrap books, which the actress keeps in her dance studio in the San Fernando Valley. « There were big trunks of them; you must realize that when Debbie was married to the rock n roll star and actor Eddie Fisher, they were both America sweethearts and made the front page of every magazine every day to the point that when they were not, Eddie said « What are we going to do ? »
The life of the sweetheart of America – now 83, started as a joke, on April 1st 1932 and took up when she became Miss Burbank, then posed for a photographer for a magazine cover with a collie which people mistook for Lassie and it never stopped.
Debbie Reynolds’ career proves that Oscar Wilde is right : « Life is too important to be taken seriously ». All over these years, Debbie remained a tomboy at heart and was never afraid to play with her glamourous image while swimming with Hollywood sharks. For the opening of Sea World, when she was terrified to put her head in the mouth of a bad breathed killer whale, Shamu (who would later severely bite a female employee). Or when in Las Vegas, Bertha the elephant, generously peed on the stage they shared, staining Debbie’s beautiful dress. Or when the ruthless dog of the Shah of Iran stole the steak off her plate - twice. Debbie has always had a talent to make fun of herself, jumping into a pool at the Hollywood Bowl wearing her favourite dress by Helen Rose just to « get into the swim of things » When a talk show host dares mention the big divorce scandal – Eddie Fisher leaving Debbie for her best friend, Elizabeth Taylor, she literally jumped to his throat and started taking away his jacket and throwing away her shoes starting a mock striptease. When asked by another interviewer about her Girl Scouts’ knowledge about stopping a fire, she tackled him to the floor, and rolled him back and forth.
Debbie has always been the queen of self-mockery, even when she does not get nominated for an Academy Award. She announced at the awards show that she stayed in bed for two weeks and finally joined the « Non-nominees Anonymous ».
From « Singing in the Rain » until her last TV film « Behind the Candelabra », by Steven Soderbergh in 2013, Debbie never stopped acting and met the world. She grew up with the greatest comics, from Groucho Marx to Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, some that she liked better than others. She remembers Groucho asking a woman on his TV sho why she had 11 children. She replied, « because I love my husband ». « The comic waggled his eyebrows and said « I love my cigar, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while.»
Surrounded by la crème de la crème of comedy,
Debbie Reynolds also had upper class suitors like the King of Belgium, Baudouin, smitten by the irresistible American actress, a love forbidden by the sovereign's entourage. Among the royals, Queen Elisabeth II 's husband, Prince Philip who flirted with her quite agressively after her royal performance honoring Bob Hope.
In « Make'em Laugh », she remembers when Bette Davis used to pick the phone and disguise her voice, pretending to be her own secretary, she recalls her friendship with Elizabeth Taylor, whom she loved in spite of her betrayal.
This book is not only a collection of delightful Hollywood anecdotes, it also a very sincere and moving introspection on aging, sickness and a life lesson. A must read.