Reynolds, the wholesome ingénue in 1950s
films like “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Tammy
and the Bachelor,” died on Wednesday, a
day after the death of her daughter, the
actress Carrie Fisher. She was 84.
Frances Reynolds was born in El Paso, Texas;
when she was 8, her carpenter father moved
the family to Burbank. At age 16, “Frannie”
entered the Miss Burbank Contest, winning
in 1948 for her imitation of Betty Hutton
singing “My Rockin’ Horse Ran Away.” She
was spotted by Warner Bros. talent scout
Solly Baiano, who signed her to a $65-a-week
contract. Studio head Jack Warner renamed
her Debbie — against her wishes, she said.
With the promise of a better job, Ray moved
to California when Mary Frances was 7, and
the family soon followed. Her career dream
was to go to college and become a gym teacher,
she often said, but when she was named Miss
Burbank 1948, everything changed. Two of
the judges were movie-studio scouts, and
she was soon under contract to Warner Bros.,
which changed her name.
1950, she had her first screen credit in
“The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady,” a musical
comedy starring June Haver and Gordon MacRae.
(Two years earlier she had a small uncredited
part in “June Bride.”) The same year, she
played Helen Kane, the 1920s singer known
as the boop-boop-a-doop girl, in “Three
Little Words” and also appeared in “Two
Weeks With Love,” in which she sang “Aba
Daba Honeymoon” with Carleton Carpenter.
The song became a huge novelty hit.
roles seemed to mirror 1950s attitudes toward
love, marriage and family. In 1955, she
played a marriage-minded all-American girl
opposite Frank Sinatra in “The Tender Trap.”
In 1956, she starred with her new husband,
Mr. Fisher, in “Bundle of Joy,” a musical
remake of the 1939 comedy “Bachelor Mother.”
Reynolds’s career included a best-actress
Academy Award nomination for playing the
title role in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”
(1964), a rags-to-riches western musical
based on a true story.
argue that her best-remembered film is probably
“Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), the classic
MGM musical about 1920s moviemaking, in
which she held her own with Gene Kelly and
Donald O’Connor, although she was only 19
when the movie was shot and had never danced
professionally before. Her fans may cherish
her sentimental good-girl portrayals, like
the title role in “Tammy and the Bachelor”
(1957), in which she played a Louisiana
moonshiner’s wide-eyed granddaughter who
spouted folksy wisdom.
took a stab at series television with a
sitcom, “The Debbie Reynolds Show” (1969),
in which she played a wacky Lucy Ricardo-like
wife who wanted to be a journalist like
her husband. It lasted only one season.
But she soon achieved a kind of immortality
as the voice of Charlotte the selfless spider
in the animated film version of E. B. White’s
children’s classic “Charlotte’s Web” (1973).