The popular actress brought her characteristic sparkle to FMCA’s Redmond, Oregon, convention.
By Robbin Gould, Editor
She stepped onstage to cheers, whistles, and thunderous applause. When the room quieted, the diminutive woman joked as though no one knew her: “Hello. I’m Debbie Reynolds.”
The audience erupted again. She waited patiently, then exclaimed, “Isn’t this great we’re still alive!”
She continued. “This is my 63rd year in show business. And I’m only 52!”
Chatting with a young girl in the audience, she explained, “I’m Princess Leia’s mother,” referring to the character played by her daughter, Carrie Fisher, in the Star Wars movies.
“That makes me a queen.”
The actress, who starred in Singin’ In The Rain, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and numerous other motion pictures, shared many such lighthearted moments with a packed room of FMCA members who were on hand for FMCA’s 84th International Convention in Redmond, Oregon, in mid-August. Her multimedia presentation, titled “A Lifetime Of Laughter And Love,” also featured home movies from her family’s long-ago motorhome vacation; clips from her films; and a movie reel of “bloopers” starring many famous screen personalities. She also treated the audience to impressions of cinema greats such as Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, and Katharine Hepburn, and had them chuckling at tales of her misadventures on the set. She closed by singing a clear-as-a-bell rendition of “Tammy,” the title song from her 1957 film Tammy And The Bachelor.
Afterward, relaxing backstage with her son, Todd Fisher, Debbie shared some additional thoughts about her family, career, and other interests.
The family’s motorhome trip took place in the summer of 1969. Debbie’s show business career had changed her life dramatically, she said, and she wanted to spend some quality time with her parents and two children. She acquired a Condor motorhome, packed up the family, and set off for a multi-state tour.
“We loved it,” she said. “We camped out, we cooked out, we were family. We were together.”
The family visited sites in Arizona and Colorado such as Ouray, Flagstaff, Petrified Forest National Park, and Silverton. They took a ride on the Silverton & Durango Railroad and rode inner tubes along the Colorado River. They stayed in campgrounds, despite the fact that Debbie already was a well-known celebrity. People did notice her at the campsites, she said, “and when you put a quarter in to take a shower” in the bathrooms.
Debbie’s father piloted the Condor at first. But before long, it became apparent that he had trouble sharing the narrow, curvy, mountain roads with fellow motorists. When he rounded a turn on one road with dramatic drop-offs on both sides, a car behind them suddenly “disappeared,” Debbie said. At that point, she intervened.
“I said, “˜Daddy, I think I should drive now. I think you’re tired.'” Her father assumed the role of navigator, and Debbie took the wheel.
The trip continued, but after a while, Debbie said, driving the motorhome became too much for her as well. “There was a long stretch of land and I said, “I think we are going to fly home. I’m tired now,'” she said with a laugh.
That marked the end of the Condor. By then, however, Todd had been bitten by the RV bug. When time came for the teenager to get his first car, his mom gave him a choice of a variety of high-end models. He told her that he wanted a motorhome instead.
Todd recalled the day that Debbie drove him to a dealership in Carson, California, where a 26-foot 1976 GMC motorhome sat in the parking lot: “She said, “˜Is that what you want?’ She walked inside and sat down, and the guy had the paperwork ready. She wrote a check, got in her car, and said, “˜See you at home.'”
Although Todd had never driven a motorhome, he had experience with trucks, and he also received some instruction at the dealership before leaving. “I had a good time,” he said with a smile.
Today Todd owns a 40-foot Fleetwood Revolution and is an FMCA member.
Debbie has traveled to some of her jobs in Todd’s motorhome, and she occasionally has used tour buses in the past, as do many singers and actors. Unfortunately, her current schedule doesn’t permit that. “If I could arrange my tours so that I could have my own bus and go from state to state, I would do that. But I travel 42 weeks a year and go to 42 different states “” or Australia, or England,” she said.
The day after her Redmond appearance, Debbie flew east to begin filming her latest movie, One For The Money, based on the first book in a popular Janet Evanovich series. She is playing feisty Grandma Mazur opposite Katherine Heigl, who stars as bounty hunter Stephanie Plum.
Despite her demanding work schedule, the actress works tirelessly on other related projects. She is a cofounder and longtime president of The Thalians, a group of actors and allied professionals who are committed to helping individuals of all ages and disabilities with their mental health needs. Since 1955 the Thalians “” named after Thalia, the Greek Muse of comedy “” has raised more than $30 million for patient care and research, including the construction of a clinic and a mental health center. The center assists patients afflicted with autism, Alzheimer’s disease, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post traumatic stress disorder, and more.
Another activity close to Debbie’s heart is the preservation of Hollywood memorabilia. (“I collect scenes,” she said.) The collection has an estimated value of more than $50 million and contains film clips, costumes, and props from Academy Award-winning films, beginning with the silent-screen era up through today.
“You’ll see the film clip and the outfit and the props and the whole set,” Todd said, “and so it connects back to the motion picture itself, as opposed to just hanging things on a wall. Everything that we do has a clip with it of some sort.”
“They’re all saved in order to re-create famous moments for the fans to go look at and relive the time they saw that motion picture when they were young, when they were dating, when they got married, when they had their children,” Debbie said.
“American films have influenced the world,” she continued. “Shouldn’t we save everything about them?”
She and Todd are working to establish a permanent home for the collection, to be known as the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Movie Museum.
What about the future? Debbie said she has no intention of stopping. “I have always worked, and I really wouldn’t know what else to do. I would never retire. My life has been more than I ever dreamt. It’s so exciting. . . . traveling, and having all the wonderful experiences.
“It’s really been quite a marvelous life.”