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Debbie Reynolds (1932-2016)

 

  1. June Allyson, Remains To Be Seen, 1952.    According to such illustrious publications as Hollywood Reporter and MGM News, Allyson and Jackie Cooper (The Champ’s kid was now 30) were first chosen to head the 88 minute… er, musical comedy murder thriller.
  2. Jean Simmons, The Actress, 1953.       Ruth Gordon’s autobiographical tale began as a 1944 play, Journey To A Star, hitting New York in ‘46 as Years Agowith Fredric March as her father. For the movie, it had it be Spencer Tracy said Gordon, who wrote two of his and Katharine Hepburn’s nine films (Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike) with her husband Garson Kanin. She didn’t care who played her. Debbie’s 1952 test (between rehearsals forMGM’s I Love Melvin) was deemed “superficial nonsense” by Kanin, Wanda Hendrix wasthe next front runneruntil Tracy looked hard at the wife of his poker buddy, Stewart Granger.
  3. Natalie Wood, Rebel Without A Cause, 1955.      On the short-list for the teenage Judy was the oddest choice of all - the singin’-dancin’ Reynolds (23). Worse, opposite Tab Hunter as Jim Stark! Well, there weren’t many teens on   Warner’s books. “I wasn’t interested in drama,” said Debbie, happy being light-hearted in her MGMusicals. She loved Natalie’s performance, full of soul, depth, courage - “colour and unexpected moments which is what makes a star.” That and sleeping with the director, Nicholas Ray, at age 16... He rushed to the hospital when Wood was in a car crash with Dennis Hopper. She yelled: “Did you hear what the doctor called me, Nick? He called me a goddamn juvenile delinquent! Now do I get the part?”  Also in the Judy mix: Reynolds, , Carroll Baker, Patricia (later Pat), Crowley, Peggy Ann Garner, Jayne Mansfield, Maureen O’Brien, Lois Smith, Susan Strasberg.
  4. Betty Lou Keim, These Wilder Years, 1955        James Cagney and Barbara Stanwyck share a soapy weepie, 25 years after failing to make Night Nurse together. He’s trying to trace his adopted, illegitimate son. She runs a home for pregnant teens like Suzie who, of course, he ultimately adopts. By the time the script was ready, Reynolds was too old at 23 for an unwed teenage mom. In her LA Examiner column, Louella Parsons suggested Judy Jordon as a sub. MGM didn’t bite.  
  5. Margaret O ‘Brien,Glory, 1955.   Producer-director David Butlerwanted Reynolds in his Kentucky Derby movie.   MGM did not agree and O’Brien returned to work after a three year lay-off. She was not welcomef back by crtiics. In fact, The New York Times did not even  bother with a  review.
  6. Diane Varsi, Peyton Place, 1956.      Susan Strasberg was  set for Allison,  when she requested a heftier paycheck and was shown the door. To her surprise, MGM’s Little Miss Sqeaky Clean  was then invited to play, basically,  Grace Metalious, author of the lurid novel  blowing the lid off sex in  a small New England township.  (Brigitte Bardot wrote a similar best-seller in her  early hit: En effeuillant la marguerite (UK: Mam’selle Striptease; US: Mademoiselle Striptease, Please Mr Balzac and Plucking The Daisy), 1955).
  7. Jean Seberg, Saint Joan, 1957.      Although a trifle old at 25 - and every musical -for the 19-year-old Maid of Orleans, the tyrannical producer-director Otto Preminger was intrigued by the MGMusical star. Healso considered such unlikely Joans as Ursula Andress, Julie Andrews, Anne Bancroft, Claire Bloom, Carol Burnett, Joan Collins, Angie Dickinson, Shirley MacLaine, Mary Tyler Moore, Kim Novak (another Frank Sinatra co-star in Otto’sMan With The Golden Arm, 1955), Maggie Smith, Liz Taylor and…Mamie Van Doren!
  8. Sandra Dee,The Reluctant Debutante, 1958.   The 50s’ Tammy was replaced bythe 60s’ Tammy -neitheronecredible as Rex Harrison’s daughter.
  9. Janet Leigh,  Who Was That Lady? 1959.   The comedy aimed at old mates Bob Hope and Bing Crosby (The Road to Quantico?) didn’t work any better with Dean Martin  helping Tony Curtis concoct a story that he’s an FBI agent and the girl that his wife saw him kissing was… a Russian spy!  Reynolds was an early idea for the wife until Mrs Curtis  supplied the sole touch of reality in the whole mess. It was their fifth film toegther. Didn’t help. They divorced in 1962.  During What’s The Matter With Helen?, in 1970. Shelley Winters was telling her to change her name.  "No woman her age should be called Debbie. Deborah would be much more dignified, don’t you think?" Hmm, advice from a broad  called Shelley…
  10. Ellen Burstyn, The Exorcist, 1972.
  11. Shirley MacLaine, Postcards From The Edge, 1990.Debbie lobbied hard to playherself inthe film ofdaughter Carrie Fisher’s novel. Stage-screen director Mike Nichols did not think about it for long. He was making a movie, not a cathartic experience.  Broken-hearted by Carrie’s death (at 63) on December 27, 2016, Debbie died the following day at age 84. 

 

 





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