As movie fans mourn the passing of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, the Reel Dad and his son Jonathan take a look at what made these women so special for so many.
Carrie Fisher: Much more than Princess Leia
by Jonathan Schumann
It’s hard to articulate what Carrie Fisher meant to me. And it’s for every reason beyond her Princess Leia iconography.
Through her writing – acerbic, dry, deadpan, knowing – she probed social truth and proved that humor has the most impact when it has stakes and isn’t afraid to co-mingle with sadness. She shared her journey from celebrity progeny to space princess to drug addict to mental health advocate with generosity and her trademark wry sensibility. In the process she not only became the patron saint for the overly verbal and socially anxious, but also opened up the national dialogue around addiction and mental illness. Cinnamon-bun hairdos are great, but that’s a true legacy to be proud of.
I met Carrie at a screening of Bright Lights, a new documentary about her relationship with mother Debbie Reynolds, at the New York Film Festival this fall (it will air on HBO next year). We were seated next to each other at a reception before the screening and became fast friends. Early in the evening, she lost an earring. Seeing this as an opportunity to become a permanent fixture in her entourage, I made it my mission to find it, which I did. It was as if I had saved her life. She immediately started treating me like someone who even vaguely belonged at that fancy evening (I absolutely had no business being there). We talked a great deal about her best lines – “If my life weren’t funny, then it would just be true, and that’s unacceptable” from Wishful Drinking – and her dog Gary, for whom she fashioned a Fendi bracelet to act as a dog collar (now that’s Hollywood). It’s an evening I’ll never forget, and one that feels a bit more profound, and slightly melancholy, given Fisher’s death last week.
Debbie Reynolds: She ‘Ain’t Down Yet’
by Mark Schumann
As she sang in her 1964 musical, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Debbie Reynolds refused to accept that she was ever down. Despite a roller-coaster career, and a series of personal and financial challenges, the 84-year-old icon defined the Hollywood superstar until her death last week. And she leaves us with a rich collection of film performances.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Reynolds was 19 when she was cast opposite Gene Kelly in this musical about the early days of talking movies. From her first moments, she is magical as a young woman with life and talent to share and rich determination to “make good” in a tough business.
How the West Was Won (1963)
Seldom in her 65-year movie career did Reynolds pursue dramatic roles. This epic about the settling of America gives her the chance to reach below the surface of the character to share the depth and grit of a woman determined to overcome the obstacles she faces.
The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)
Many still complain that Reynolds lost the 1964 Oscar to Julie Andrews for Mary Poppins. Debbie commands the screen as she lets a tough woman age while revealing her vulnerability. For people who think musicals can only be light, take a close look at her work.
What’s the Matter With Helen? (1970)
Who would have guessed that a horror movie – about two women who run a dance school in 1930s Hollywood – gives Reynolds the chance to deliver a thrilling portrayal? She breaks the heart as a woman who wants to do the right thing in a tough situation.
After a long absence from the screen, Reynolds scores an Oscar-calibre performance in this comedy from Alfred Brooks. That she was snubbed by the Academy still confuses; her performance is vivid in its fresh approach and rich with its comic timing. What a delight.
Rest in peace, Debbie Reynolds. You will live with us forever in movies never age.
Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds: Look beyond their signature roles
by Mark Schumann
Any time we want to experience Debbie Reynolds’ determination to be “unsinkable” – or Carrie Fisher’s razor-sharp observations of life – we can go to the movies.
DVDs and online streaming make it easy to revisit the ladies’ signature roles as well as some of their overlooked gems. They have a lot to offer. Take a look.
Yes, she is remembered for her iconic portrayals in Singin’ in the Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. They define the actress and the entertainer. Still, there’s more to Debbie Reynolds’ work on film. Here are a few films to check out.
Susan Slept Here (1954)
After Singin’ in the Rain, Reynolds could have easily been typecast in musicals. She proves, two years later, how much more she can bring to the screen with her delicious portrayal of a young woman in trouble with the law who finds herself offering a Hollywood screenwriter firsthand research. Reynolds is precise in her humor and layered in her portrayal. A delight.
The Tender Trap (1955)
A year later, Reynolds more than holds her own opposite Frank Sinatra in this widescreen comedy from MGM. Sinatra is at his most suave as a theatrical agent with good times on his mind. Little does he know that he will meet his match with singer and actress Reynolds who has specific ideas of how her life should progress. Celeste Holm is also on hand for the fun.
The Rat Race (1960)
After scoring a hit in Tammy and the Bachelor and surviving the Elizabeth Taylor scandal, Reynolds proves what an effective dramatic actress she can be in this moving story of young people struggling their way through show business. With Tony Curtis a solid costar, Reynolds is exceptional as a model and dancer who begins to question if dreams can come true.
Divorce American Style (1967)
After her Molly Brown triumph in 1964, Reynolds made another musical – The Singing Nun –before venturing into this edgy (for the 1960s) romantic comedy costarring Dick Van Dyke. Reynolds uses all of her comic and dramatic gifts to bring to life one woman’s struggle to adjust to life after mid-life change to life. She is magnetic and memorable.
Yes, she will always be known as Princess Leia. We remember every moment of these performances because she so inhabits the role. Still, there’s more to Carrie Fisher’s work on film.
Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
No, Carrie is not one of the sisters. Those roles are essayed by Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey and Oscar winner Dianne Wiest. Instead Fisher shows her sharp comic teeth as April, the ambitious singer, actress, caterer and romantic who chases the same man as her best friend Holly (Wiest). Fisher’s natural comic sense and Woody Allen’s words make an ideal combination.
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
As Meg Ryan’s saucy best friend, Marie, Fisher nearly walks away with the film in a delightful performance of wit, passion and humor. While Ryan may rely on her personality, Fisher gets to the core of Marie’s insecurities to create a full look at how to manage high-level romance in Manhattan in the 1980s. The portrayal that makes us wish there had been, and could be, more.
Postcards from the Edge (1990)
Though she doesn’t appear in this film adaptation of her best-selling book, Carrie Fisher’s spirit shines through every frame. She proves what an able screenwriter she can be as she translates her observations from the book to a narrative for the screen. And she gives Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine wonderful material to create indelible performances.
Wishful Drinking (2010)
This delicious video capture of Fisher’s one-woman Broadway show offers a primer on why so many people were saddened by her death. The show reveals – as she tells stories, makes confessions and articulates curiosities – the special way her creative path traveled and the unique connection she could create with an audience.