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Out & About / Ventura County | pop scene

Still Trouping

Veteran performer and workaholic Debbie Reynolds makes a road stop Saturday night at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.

October 27, 2000|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Miss Burbank of 1948 is still doing encores more than a few years after the fact.

Debbie Reynolds, who made headlines in the Valley more than half a century ago, will make her Thousand Oaks debut Saturday night at the Civic Arts Plaza. An eternal trouper on a never-ending road trip, Reynolds is the consummate performer.

One of her memorable quotes pretty much sums up her career: "I do 20 minutes every time the refrigerator opens and the light comes on."

Mary Frances Reynolds signed a movie contract shortly after winning that beauty contest, and became a star of '50s musicals, including the classics "Singin' in the Rain" and "Tammy and the Bachelor."

Later, she became an endearing comedian, appearing in such films as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" and "The Singing Nun."

The mother of a princess (Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia of "Star Wars" fame), Reynolds has never stopped performing, maintaining an unbelievable touring schedule.

Her next big project will be "These Old Broads," a made-for-TV movie to be shown early next year. The unsinkable Ms. Reynolds has been around and has stories to tell. Here are a few of them:

How often do you go on the road these days?

I'm on the road always 50 weeks a year. I travel and work what is called "the vaudeville circuit," which means variety like we always did in the old days. You know, vaudeville still exists--we just don't read about it in Hollywood, but we're on the road, those of us that still do an act.

What is the secret of survival on the road?

The difficulty is the travel, because of the air situation--flights canceled, delays and problems. Show business is very easy, but it's not like the old days, because you didn't have so much air traffic. It's just very difficult to survive touring. Everybody complains about it--it's called burnout, and a lot of the groups will just give up going out on tour because it's just so hard to be able to get from one place to another. It took me 12 hours to get where I am now, which is just south of Chicago, and my last venue wasn't that far away. So the road is hard in that way, but the performing end is the fun of it.

Fifty weeks? That's amazing.

The people still crave live performances, which they don't get because of television. In the old days, Jack Benny would hit the road. Danny Kaye would hit the road along with Sammy Davis, Betty Hutton, Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli. Ann-Margret was on the road. Mitzi Gaynor was on the road. Now most of them are gone or choose not to tour anymore, because of the difficulty of travel. If I could travel by train everywhere, I'd be really happy, but it's not practical and not financially possible. You do three shows a week. So you do a show, then travel, which takes a whole day, then another show. Three shows is about all you can do in a week.

It sounds a lot like work.

Well, it is work. I just finished a film called "These Old Broads" with Shirley MacLaine, Joan Collins and Elizabeth Taylor. It was a lot of work--14 hours a day. It'll be on ABC during February sweeps week. My daughter Carrie wrote the script along with a girl named Elaine Pope. Carrie was heavily involved in the plot of this, and a lot of it is almost the truth. Of course, if we had Clint Eastwood's money, we would've made it a theatrical feature.

How did the song "Tammy" change your life?

It took me into the recording business. I had never made records before. I was very young--I was at MGM and that was a Ross Hunter Universal Picture. They had me sing the title song, "Tammy," and it was a hit in the rock 'n' roll era--in the Elvis era--so it was a shock to everyone. It's a very pretty song and everyone requests it, of course, and I'm very lucky to have had it.

So you haven't forgotten the words to that one?

No, I don't think so. I do a variety show. I do impressions. I do Barbra Streisand. I do Bette Davis. I do Cher, and I even throw in Dr. Ruth, because she's funny.

How did the studio system prepare you for your career?

We had to learn it all, because that's the way it was in those days. You did whatever you were told to do whether you were in a musical or a drama. I was in "The Catered Affair,' which was a heavy drama;then I was in another movie,singing "Abba Dabba Dabba" about a monkey. You went from ridiculous, silly things to serious things in those days and you had to be prepared for all of it. We took about eight hours of lessons a day--speaking, ballet, tap, jazz, speech, singing--everything. Esther Williams always said that it was our university--we just didn't get a degree.

How much training did you have to do for "Singin' in the Rain"? You were not a trained dancer before that movie came out, but you certainly were afterward.

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