Like Mother, Like Daughter: A Conversation with Debbie Reynolds


The world barely had time to mourn the death of actor-author Carrie Fisher – a woman famed for roles ranging from her iconic Princess Leia in the Star Wars saga to the recent comedy series Catastrophe, and books including Postcards from the Edge (also a film released in 1990) and The Princess Diarist – before her mother, Debbie Reynolds, passed away. Renowned for her boundless energy and roles in classics such as Singin' in the Rain, The Tender Trap and her Oscar-nominated turn as The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Reynolds was a queen of Hollywood with Fisher as her princess. In January 1997, I met with Ms. Reynolds to interview her about her title role in the Albert Brooks film, Mother, for the now-defunct Philadelphia City Paper.

In Brooks' signature style, Mother was a caustic comic treat. With Mother, however, Brooks added heart and lovable humanity to his resumé without getting saccharine. Reynolds – a tiny woman with gorgeously coiffed hair and dressed in a green silken top and flower brocade vest – couldn’t have been more endearing and motherly during our conversation. She even introduced herself by whispering in my ear, "Hello, I'm Carrie Fisher's mother."

Reynolds was a font of information about the Golden Age of Hollywood and her role within in it. She began discussing her first days in show biz as if it was yesterday.

"The first thing I did when I got my contract was my ears. Stuck straight out like "Dumbo." Jack Warner changed my name from Mary Frances but I was gonna fix my ears. I was paid $65 a week. My ears cost $248. They use glue, they'd stick it behind your ears and they'd turn on the hair dryer and hold your ears like that. And now you're doing a scene and you hear 'Riiiip!' and they'd yell, 'Makeup, pin back Debbie's ears!'" Then she stopped. "That was my beginning. Now I'm playing mother roles."

One of the funniest parts of our long conversation was her reference of her daughter, Carrie, a bit about their relationship, and how Fisher introduced the topic of Brooks’ Mother.

As for why Reynolds didn't attend the premiere of her daughter's screenplay debut, Postcards From the Edge, she said, "I would've been a little embarrassed since everybody thought that was us.” Regarding working with Albert Brooks, Reynolds leaned in conspiratorially and said, ”One midnight the phone rang and it was Carrie. She said, 'Mother you have to come to L.A. to read for Albert.' I said, 'Albert who?' She said, 'Ya know, Albert, mother, Albert Brooks, he's a big star.' I hadn't kept up with the movies. I just thought he was my daughter's date.”

Of the countless interviews I have done in my career, my meeting with Debbie Reynolds will always stand out as one of the nicest and most charming conversations.

Posted on Thursday, December 29, 2016