Guest Opinion: America's sweetheart from El Paso
Debbie Reynolds, who went from playing in the mud in El Paso to “Singin’ in the Rain” in Hollywood, left an indelible mark over her 84 years.
In her later years, and even at her death on Wednesday, she was perhaps best known as the mother of another Hollywood star, actress Carrie Fisher. But that view shortchanges Reynolds’ own remarkable accomplishments.
As a child in El Paso, Reynolds knew the sting of poverty. She lived with an extended family – parents, siblings, grandparents and uncles – in Central El Paso for the first seven years of her life.
"I used to play in the mud. It wasn't paved," she said of the streets of her early childhood in El Paso, spent mostly in a house at 705 Magnolia. "I remember when it would rain, I'd run out and eat the mud. I thought it was so wonderful. My mother would run out and pull me in."
In a 2010 interview with the El Paso Times, Reynolds recalled the generosity of her predominately Hispanic neighborhood.
"There was no money. All the neighbors shared. They made us pinto beans and taught my grandmother how to make what we ate," she said. "We ate beans, tortillas, enchiladas and tacos, and my grandmother raised chickens."
Her parents moved to southern California in 1939 in search of work. In 1948, a 16-year-old Mary Frances Reynolds was discovered by Hollywood and renamed Debbie.
Her stardom came in 1952’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” where a 19-year-old Debbie Reynolds was teamed with two of the most experienced dance stars of the time, Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. The frantic pace of the shooting left her feet bloody.
“Making ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ and childbirth were the two hardest things I’ve ever done," Reynolds would later quip.
She became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars of the 1950s, but stardom wasn’t always kind. Her husband, Eddie Fisher, engaged in a notorious affair with Reynolds’ close friend, actress Elizabeth Taylor. Two other marriages also failed, wrecking Reynolds’ finances in the process.
She persevered, making more than 50 movies and performing a stage show 42 weeks a year into her 80s. She made a triumphant return to El Paso in 2010 to be honored at the Plaza Classic Film Festival. She would frequently make light of her well-publicized personal life on stage.
Reynolds was famous for her singing, dancing and acting, but her self-deprecating wit became a hallmark in her later years.
When her daughter published a new book in November that included some salacious revelations, Reynolds tweeted: “Why all the fuss about Carrie's admitting she had an affair with Harrison Ford? I have to admit I slept with her father!”
Carrie Fisher, 60, died on Tuesday after suffering a medical emergency on a flight four days earlier. Reynolds died the next day.
"She said, 'I want to be with Carrie,'" her son, Todd Fisher, told The Associated Press. "And then she was gone."
The deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds brought grief around the world. A family that brought so much joy to others was struck by unimaginable sadness.
Mother and daughter both honestly shared their life struggles, helping others in the process. We mourn their passing and celebrate their lives.