"I'm used to doing five things at once," Debbie Reynolds says. "I'm an Aries. I have energy."
It's a good thing. Reynolds, the consummate professional, has been hard at work since 8 a.m. and it's now 7:30 p.m. Awaiting her in another room of her North Hollywood home is the producer of the Thalians' 32nd annual charity ball (set for tonight). Reynolds is president of the Thalians. Also waiting is the gentleman who is helping her write her autobiography.
Before getting down to the business at hand, she sneaks in a few words with her housekeeper Mary about dinner. "I haven't had time to eat all day," she says, sitting scrunched up in one corner of her living room sofa. "I sent Mary to pack Carrie (daughter Carrie Fisher) for a seven-week trip. Carrie's writing a new novel, and I couldn't go to pack her. I've got this show for charity to do. To me, that's more important than packing."
So is talking about "Sadie and Son," her first film in 17 years that has satisfied her standards. "It's a very cute picture with a very good script," Reynolds says of her CBS telefilm, airing Wednesday at 9 p.m. She plays the unlikeliest of roles: New York police officer Sadie Rothman.
Pressured into early retirement in her 50s, Sadie rids her neighborhood of crime, becomes a local heroine and then rejoins the force. Along the way, she begins a romance with a local deli owner (Sam Wanamaker) and persuades her son (Brian McNamara) to become a policeman.
"I'm very fussy about what product I do," Reynolds says. "I don't like roles where the women are hookers or have bedroom scenes or use a lot of profanity. I'm from the old school. I've done 33 films I'm mostly proud of--some were silly, but when you're under contract you do the films you're told to do. Now I do what I want to do.
"This is not a silly movie. It's very realistic. Sadie is a woman in her 50s who doesn't want to retire. She's a strong woman, but without her work, her life is empty. She's always been a cop."
Although Reynolds researched as much as she could, nothing prepared her for the speed at which today's TV movies are shot. "I was working 18-22 hours a day," she says. "I don't know how I did it. The crew members were 21, 24, and they were sleeping on the set. I was supposed to look wonderful, be awake and learn miles of dialogue. I had no time to sleep."
Perfectionist that she is, Reynolds also decided to do her own stunts. "I've been a dancer for many years, and I exercise all the time," she explains. "If I'm going to do a job, I'm going to do the best I can. Anyway, the double didn't look like me. The worst thing in the film was having to run in cold weather on cement. That was very hard on my knees."
Reynolds has to take good care of her knees because they are her livelihood today. "I make my money from vaudeville," she says. "I tour 40 weeks a year. I love live audiences."
In fact, her schedule is so rushed because she is about to leave on a six-state song-and-dance tour with Donald O'Connor. Of her exhausting itinerary, she says matter-of-factly, "I'm 55 now. Pretty soon my legs are going to go and my body will get too tired. I give myself another two years, and that will be it for the road."
She pauses, then reconsiders. "Maybe I'll tour for 12 weeks a year."
Then what? "Years ago, the studios would plan ahead for us. Today, actresses have to produce their own product. For actresses who don't have multi-talents, it's a very difficult life. They have to wait for someone to decide they can play a certain role.
"I talk to all the girls today and they all have the same cry--lack of product. That's why they make movies for TV."
Indeed, that's why she made "Sadie and Son." "I wouldn't get a major motion picture. I should produce my own movies. I just don't have time to look for a product, package it and wait for two years to make it."
Reynolds' agreeing to star in "Sadie and Son" may be her way of moving back in front of a camera on a regular basis. There is talk of a series being spun off. "I didn't sign for the series," Reynolds notes, although she doesn't discount the possibility.
In the past she has starred in two series, "The Debbie Reynolds Show" (1969) and "Aloha Paradise" (1981), neither a success. "If I were to do another series," she speculates, "the more work the younger actors did, the better Debbie Reynolds would like it."
Another insurance policy is her autobiography, which she's been working on for seven months. Writing seems to be the new family business. Daughter Carrie Fisher recently published her first book, "Postcards From the Edge." It was dedicated to her mother and brother.
"I'm very proud of Carrie," Reynolds says. "I think it's fun. But Carrie's a novelist. I'm simply writing about my life, which I know very well. I sit for six hours and try to remember things accurately.
"I have lots of diaries from over the years, so I don't lack for material. I lack for time. I haven't learned the word 'no' "--except, she adds, "in dating, for one particular subject."