Debbie Reynolds (born Mary Frances Reynolds; April 1, 1932) is an American actress, singer, dancer, businesswoman, and film historian.
Her breakout role was portraying Helen Kane in the 1950 film Three Little Words, for which she was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer. However, it was her first leading role in 1952 at age 19, as Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain, that set her on the path to fame. By the mid-1950s, she was a major star.
Other notable successes include The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953), Susan Slept Here (1954), Bundle of Joy (1956 Golden Globe nomination), The Catered Affair (1956 National Board of Review Best Supporting Actress Winner), Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), in which her rendering of the song “Tammy” reached number one on the music charts. In 1959, she released her first pop music album titled Debbie.
She starred in How the West Was Won (1963), and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), a biographical film about the famously boisterous Molly Brown. Her performance as Molly Brown earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Her other notable films include The Singing Nun (1966), Divorce American Style (1967), What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971), Mother (1996 Golden Globe nomination), and In & Out (1997). Reynolds is also a noted cabaret performer. In 1979, she founded the Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio in North Hollywood, which still operates today.
In 1973, Reynolds starred in a Broadway revival of the musical Irene and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Lead Actress in a Musical. In 1969 she starred in her own television show The Debbie Reynolds Show, for which she received a Golden Globe nomination. She was also nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award for her performance in A Gift of Love (1999) and an Emmy Award for playing Grace’s mother Bobbi on Will & Grace. Reynolds is known for her role as Aggie Cromwell in Disney’s Halloweentown series. In 1988, she released her autobiography titled, Debbie: My Life. In 2013, she released an updated version titled Unsinkable: A Memoir.
She is a noted businesswoman, having operated her own hotel in Las Vegas. Reynolds is also a collector of film memorabilia, beginning with the landmark 1970 MGM auction. She is the former president of The Thalians, an organization dedicated to mental health causes. She continues to perform successfully on stage, television and film. In January 2015, Reynolds received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. In August 2015, it was announced Reynolds would be the recipient of the Academy Awards Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
Reynolds was born Mary Frances Reynolds in El Paso, Texas, the daughter of Maxine (née Harmon; 1913–1999) and Raymond Francis Reynolds (1903–1986), who was a carpenter for the Southern Pacific Railroad. She has a Scottish-Irish and English ancestry. Reynolds was a Girl Scout and a troop leader (a scholarship in her name is offered to high-school age Girl Scouts).
Her family moved to Burbank, California, in 1939, where she was raised in a strict Nazarene faith. At age sixteen, in 1948, while a student at Burbank High School (not Burroughs High as has been misreported), she won the Miss Burbank beauty contest. Soon after, she had a contract with Warner Bros, and acquired a new first name. Her older brother Bill Reynolds graduated from Burbank High School in 1947.
Reynolds was the 1955 Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year. Her foot and hand prints are preserved at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California. She also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6654 Hollywood Boulevard for live performance and a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars dedicated to her. In keeping with the celebrity tradition of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival of Winchester, Virginia, Reynolds was honored as the Grand Marshal of the 2011 ABF that took place from April 26 to May 1, 2011.
In November 2006, Reynolds received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from Chapman University (Orange, California). On May 17, 2007, she was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Nevada, Reno, (Reno, Nevada) where she had contributed for many years to the film-studies program.