Actress and singer Debbie Reynolds was born Mary Frances Reynolds, on April 1, 1932, in El Paso, Texas. Reynolds, who got her start in beauty pageants before being discovered by a Warner Bros. film scout, made her cinematic debut in a modest part in 1948’s June Bride, followed by a more noticeable role in musical The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady (1950). Signing with MGM later that year, she showcased her flair for impersonation in Three Little Words, in which she portrayed 1920s vocalist Helen Kane.
Known for her boundless energy and pert demeanor, Reynolds’ most memorable turn was in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), in which she offered a spirited performance opposite Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. Parts in lighthearted fare followed, including The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953), Athena (1954) and The Catered Affair (1956). The following year, Reynolds secured a place at No. 1 on the pop charts with the sentimental ballad “Tammy” from the popular romantic film Tammy and the Bachelor, in which she starred opposite Leslie Nielsen.
In 1964, Reynolds won the respect of her peers with her title role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, for which she received an Academy Award nomination. After starring in the short-lived television sitcom The Debbie Reynolds Show (1969) and the campy feature What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971), Reynolds did not act in films for the next two decades. Instead, she turned toward stage work, spending the next few years performing in Las Vegas nightclubs and on Broadway, where she received a Tony Award nomination for the 1973 revival of Irene. After a recurring role on the TV sitcom Alice, Reynolds returned to Broadway, where she replaced Lauren Bacall in the lead role of the musical version of Woman of the Year (1983). In 1989, Reynolds began to tour nationally with a stage production of The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
Reynolds returned to feature films in 1992, with a cameo appearance in The Bodyguard followed by a supporting role in Oliver Stone’s Heaven and Earth (1993). In 1996, she headlined her first film in 25 years, when she was cast in the title role of Albert Brooks’ endearing comedy Mother. Currently, Reynolds has a recurring role on the hit NBC sitcom Will & Grace.
Reynold’s sunny film persona belied a life behind the scenes that was filled with stress and unhappiness. In 1955, she wed singer Eddie Fisher, but was embroiled in a media scandal when it was revealed that he was having an affair with actress Elizabeth Taylor. The couple had two children, Todd and Carrie (an accomplished actress and writer), before divorcing in 1959. The following year, Reynolds married shoe mogul Harry Karl, who funded his gambling habit with most of her money. Burdened with his debt, Reynolds filed for divorce in 1973. In 1985, she wed real estate developer Richard Hamlett; they divorced in 1996.