Debbie Reynolds' Greatest Roles (That Weren't Aggie Cromwell)

Debbie Reynolds' Greatest Roles (That Weren't Aggie Cromwell)

Remembering the iconic actress
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Occasionally, an actor will be typecast by one standout role, leading to an inevitable downward spiral. They are not allowed to grow as performers or prove their merits, but are both stymied by and confined to their proverbial wheelhouse. There is, however, a happy medium between a one-trick showhorse and a perfectly versatile entertainer; the actor who is so representative of their trope that they can make an entire career of it. Shirley Temple will always be the child, John Wayne will always be the cowboy, and Debbie Reynolds, the musical star who passed away on December 28th, will always be the fresh-faced, all-American girl.


Reynolds, even in her later years, brought a youthful vitality to every role she played. She made no cringe-worthy attempts to cling to her youth, but rather let her inner child radiate outwards in a way which, though occasionally grating, was thoroughly entertaining and believable. Her death, only one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher's, is both tragic and wholly representative of the notoriously tempestuous relationship between the mother and daughter; Reynolds, the consummate performer, made the grand exit, overshadowing Fisher, the sardonic intellectual.

Carrie Fisher (1956 - 2016) and Debbie Reynolds (1932 - 2016)

Fisher's Princess Leia achieved a rare kind of cultural iconography, and her notorious bouts with bipolar disorder and substance abuse, coupled with her razor sharp wit, intellect, and candidness about her own problems make her mother's legacy, public persona, and filmography seem even more dated and vaguely gauche, yet Reynolds was undeniably a first-rate entertainer in the old-fashioned, vaudevillian sense. Fisher was the acerbic actress and the devastatingly funny author, Reynolds was the "hoofer," the kind of triple-threat entertainer who was more concerned about making sure you got your money's worth than making you think. And while it is easy (and common) to dismiss her as a performer of all flash, no substance, she leaves behind a number of roles which together form a legacy of genuine, unquestionable talent.

10. Doris Mann in "Postcards From the Edge" (1990)

I know, I know, this isn't a Debbie Reynolds role, but only in the most technical sense. In the film adaptation of Carrie Fisher's semi-autobiographical novel, Shirley MacLaine's overbearing, attention-hogging mother is so reminiscent of Reynolds that, over time, the two have become irrevocably linked. MacLaine plays this exaggerated role with obvious relish, and it isn't any great stretch of the imagination to picture Reynolds using these lines or basking so obviously in the public adoration which Mann regularly receives.

9. Sister Ann in "The Singing Nun" (1966)

In this quasi-autobiographical account of Jeanine Deckers (whose 1963 song "Dominique" became an international sensation), Reynolds plays the cloyingly sweet titular nun who (spoiler alert - oh who the hell am I kidding, you're never going to watch it) renounces her fame to work with needy children. Despite the efforts of heavy hitters/histrionic workhorses Agnes Moorehead and Greer Garson, the film overall is treacly and inconsequential, but Reynolds offers a decidedly feel-good, spirited performance.

8. Jane Hurley in "The Catered Affair" (1956)

In 1955, "Marty," a brilliant screenplay by that late, great genius Paddy Chayefsky, won a slew of prestigious awards, including the Palme d'Or and an Academy Award for Ernest Borgnine's role as the titular Bronx butcher. This film, also set in the Bronx, based on another teleplay written by Chayefsky, and again starring Borgnine, is ultimately an exercise in futility. The incessant feuding between Borgnine and Bette Davis fails to register on an emotional level, invariably striking the viewer as shrill and superficial. This, coupled with Reynolds' trademarked apple-cheeked charm, leaves the audience with no choice but to sympathize and connect with the epicenter of this ongoing battle; their daughter, Jane, a tangible symbol of hope for the Hurley family (and for the film overall). Reynolds carries this load well and is a perfect balance to the heavily-dialected shrieking of the two Academy Award winning leads.

7. Adelle Bruckner in "What's the Matter with Helen?" (1971)

From the early 1960s to the early 1970s a vast swath of former A-listers, for one reason or another, ended up starring in cheap horror movies. "Helen" stands out among all of these, and among every horror film in general, for having the worst advertising campaign in Hollywood history; Reynolds' character's lifeless body, featured on every poster, completely ruined the "surprise" ending. And yet, despite the distinct lack of thrills, Reynolds' portrayal of what is essentially a corrupted, delusional version of her own public persona is enthralling (given the viewer is familiar with her body of work).

6. Lilith Prescott in "How the West Was Won" (1963)

The grand Hollywood epic is a long-dead art form (excluding certain notable revivals, all of which are few and far between in the modern age) which was already on its last legs by 1963. "How the West Was Won," however, is by no means inhibited by the antiquated mode, which is largely due to the immeasurably talented cast; Gregory Peck, Eli Wallach, John Wayne, Agnes Moorehead, Jimmy Stewart, Carolyn Jones, and Carroll Baker are but a few of the outstanding performers which makes this such an incredible film, and Reynolds' ability to keep pace with these actors (who are traditionally taken more seriously) is a testament to her serious talent. While her role as Lilith the showgirl doesn't exactly force her into unknown territory, Reynolds (very smartly) plays to her strengths and proves herself to be more than the usual lovesick teenagers she found herself playing.

5. Tammy Tyree in "Tammy and the Bachelor" (1957)

Speaking of Reynolds playing lovesick teenagers, in what is arguably the role which cemented her status as America's Sweetheart, Reynolds makes the most of what is essentially a two-dimensional part. She plays a Mississippi girl who lives with her moonshiner grandfather and, against the backdrop of the fine ol' South, employs the full gamut of folksy language, from "reckon" to "yonder" to "kin," all with a syrupy-sweet twang. While it may not be a milestone in American film history, Reynolds plays her part to the hilt with sincerity and charm.

4. Kathy Selden in "Singin' In the Rain" (1952)

When, at the end of the film, it is revealed that the young Kathy Selden has been dubbing over the great star Lina Lamont's crass Brooklyn voice with her own, Gene Kelly's character introduces her as "the real star of the film." The film, a multilayered musical satire regarding the fickleness of Hollywood, has gone on to be regarded as one of the greatest American movies of all time, and Debbie Reynolds, in her first leading role as the squeaky-clean ingenue, truly was the film's real star. She was sweet, but unlike later venture not overly saccharine. She was iron-willed, yet not in the tomboyish way which would mark some of her other iconic roles. Most importantly, she demonstrated her ability to sing, dance, and act concurrently, paving her own way to superstardom.

3. Barbara Harmon in "Divorce American Style" (1967)

"Divorce American Style" is an inherently genius film, and not only in terms of Debbie Reynolds' movies. It's the kind of film you would expect of Carrie Fisher rather than her mother, a vicious, surprisingly-modern satire that sinks its teeth into the sanctity of marriage and the agony of divorce. Commonplace grotesqueries are exaggerated to naturalistic and resonant effect (see Dick Van Dyke's dogged attempt to avoid a subpoena, the expert camera work when Reynolds and Van Dyke realize they've emptied their joint safe deposit box and savings account, respectively, and the sheer comedic genius of the scene in which Reynolds' first attempts to date after the divorce [featuring a pre-"Happy Days" Tom Bosley]). Though she is supported by a supremely talented cast including Bosley, Jean Simmons, Van Johnson, Lee Grant, and (my favorite '60s novelty lounge act) Miss Pat Collins the "Hip Hypnotist," Reynolds on her own is superb as a kind of perverse distortion of her usual girlish roles, a Cinderella post-happily ever after. The fact that she wasn't nominated as so much for a Golden Globe still remains a glaring travesty in the annals of film history.

2. Molly Brown in "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" (1964)

If you've seen any of Debbie Reynolds' obituaries during the last few days, the epithet "unsinkable" has been a recurring feature. This adjective, previously affixed to the long-dead Titanic survivor Molly Brown, was equally applicable to the actress, and, because this part garnered her first, last, and only Academy Award nomination, it's only fitting that this is the role so commonly associated with her. In it, she plays Molly Brown, the wife of the miner/engineer J.J. Brown. After discovering what turns out to be the richest gold mine in the world, the pair become fabulously wealthy, and are summarily snubbed by Colorado's fledgling elite (second and third generation wealth who look down upon the nouveau riche Browns). It's a typical ugly duckling story (Reynolds even refers to herself as such through the [godawful] first fifth of the film), but a touching film nonetheless. While not as strong overall as "Singin' In the Rain" or "Divorce American Style," this film marks the peak of Reynolds' career, the culmination of her talents in one engaging, endearing performance and, in typical Reynolds terminology, a "knockout."

1. Herself

In 1958, while consoling a recently widowed Elizabeth Taylor over the untimely death of her husband, the film producer Mike Todd, Eddie Fisher (Todd's best friend, Debbie Reynolds' husband, and Carrie's father) left America's Sweetheart for the raven-haired beauty, effectively knocking Sputnik off the front pages of America's newspapers and turning Elizabeth Taylor into public enemy number one (my own grandmother's eyes flashed with anger when she recently recounted the event to me). This story, a precursor to the drama which engulfed Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, and Angelina Jolie, is remarkable in that it pitted the sultry, savvy Liz against the sweet, unassuming Debbie - and Reynolds won. She may have lost her husband - Liz ended up cheating on him with and marrying her Cleopatra costar Richard Burton a mere five years later- but she gained international sympathy, a reward sweeter than any spouse.

Reynolds was a formidable woman who waged a valiant, singlehanded war to preserve Hollywood's illustrious history. She demonstrated a deep respect for the rich heritage of the American film industry, and because she was a first-rate performer and actress, she played a unique role in the cultivation and conservation of filmographic memorabilia and history. She was a star in every sense of the word and filmdom has sustained a tragic blow with the death of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.

Icons of the Silver Screen, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher in 1973

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I'm A Woman And You Can't Convince Me Breastfeeding In Public Is OK In 2019

Sorry, not sorry.

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Lately, I have seen so many people going off on social media about how people shouldn't be upset with mothers breastfeeding in public. You know what? I disagree.

There's a huge difference between being modest while breastfeeding and just being straight up careless, trashy and disrespectful to those around you. Why don't you try popping out a boob without a baby attached to it and see how long it takes for you to get arrested for public indecency? Strange how that works, right?

So many people talking about it bring up the point of how we shouldn't "sexualize" breastfeeding and seeing a woman's breasts while doing so. Actually, all of these people are missing the point. It's not sexual, it's just purely immodest and disrespectful.

If you see a girl in a shirt cut too low, you call her a slut. If you see a celebrity post a nude photo, you call them immodest and a terrible role model. What makes you think that pulling out a breast in the middle of public is different, regardless of what you're doing with it?

If I'm eating in a restaurant, I would be disgusted if the person at the table next to me had their bare feet out while they were eating. It's just not appropriate. Neither is pulling out your breast for the entire general public to see.

Nobody asked you to put a blanket over your kid's head to feed them. Nobody asked you to go feed them in a dirty bathroom. But you don't need to basically be topless to feed your kid. Growing up, I watched my mom feed my younger siblings in public. She never shied away from it, but the way she did it was always tasteful and never drew attention. She would cover herself up while doing it. She would make sure that nothing inappropriate could be seen. She was lowkey about it.

Mindblowing, right? Wait, you can actually breastfeed in public and not have to show everyone what you're doing? What a revolutionary idea!

There is nothing wrong with feeding your baby. It's something you need to do, it's a part of life. But there is definitely something wrong with thinking it's fine to expose yourself to the entire world while doing it. Nobody wants to see it. Nobody cares if you're feeding your kid. Nobody cares if you're trying to make some sort of weird "feminist" statement by showing them your boobs.

Cover up. Be modest. Be mindful. Be respectful. Don't want to see my boobs? Good, I don't want to see yours either. Hard to believe, I know.

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I Didn't Choose To Be A Dance Major, It Chose Me

How my passion became my purpose

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I don't remember the exact moment, but I do remember the process. I remember moments in time and the way joy has manifested itself into my life. Perhaps this is the meaning of life—a slow growing journey of finding yourself through experiences and delightfully long conversations with people we care about, long nights filled with laughter, early mornings with dew beneath our toes, waves of utter joy, followed by waves of somber; it's all just part of it. And within these waves and moments of our lives, we begin to see with clarity—a slow but steady process. Clarity occurs when the fog is lifted. It's when you find that thing you're passionate about, and you do it relentlessly. This is the art of becoming.

So, I don't really remember when I became a dancer. I suppose it's been a lifetime of becoming. I can't even really say that it's a choice. I don't think it is. I know that I was born to dance. And this has nothing to do with how I look or anything like that. But it has everything to do with how I feel when I dance. It's this sense of sheer release, and to be able to get to that point of really, truly not having a care in world; this is how you know you're in the process of becoming. It's in the moments where I'm the most lost—the moments where I've really given myself over completely that result in the greatest rewards, usually in the form of self-knowledge. This is clarity.

I have not chosen to become a dancer, but inevitably dance has so gracefully chosen me. And with great appreciation, I've accepted the invitation. I've since made the mindful choice to immerse myself in this art form, because to me this is how joy has chosen to manifest itself in my life. Through movement, and love of music, and love of creating, this is how I've chosen joy.

It recently dawned on me that dance is what we as humans use to declare our vitality. It's an appreciation of being alive. And more so, it's a celebration: of being alive, of our bodies, of human contact, but mostly just of life. We as humans dance to celebrate life.

So with this joy that I've been so lucky to find, I am compelled to study dance. And not just take classes, and not just take notes, but to really study—to really understand what it means to be alive, and to feel gratitude for every ounce of my life.

This is why I'm a dance major.

So before you question me, and perhaps tell me that my major is useless or is not setting me up for a successful life, maybe consider that I've chosen a life of joy. I've chosen to be passionate and throw myself into gaining a greater kinesthetic awareness, a more profound appreciation for music, and for art, and for culture, and just life in general.

I have chosen to celebrate my life, and celebrate what my body allows me to do every day. And through my choices, I've begun to master the art of becoming.

Author's note: The theme of "becoming" was subconsciously inspired by Michelle Obama.

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