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The Sunday Conversation: Debbie Reynolds

The actress talks about her latest film role, her memorabilia auctions and her tumultuous relationship with daughter Carrie Fisher.

January 22, 2012|By Irene Lacher, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Debbie Reynolds, with daughter Carrie Fishers dog Dwight, holds hats once owned by Harpo Marx (right) and Charlie Chaplin.
Debbie Reynolds, with daughter Carrie Fishers dog Dwight, holds hats once… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

At 79, Debbie Reynolds is unsinkable. She returns to the big screen as dotty Grandma Mazur in the Katherine Heigl comedy "One for the Money," opening Friday, and maintains a busy performing schedule. At her cozy Beverly Hills home, she talked about her famous family and historic Hollywood memorabilia collection, which she partly liquidated in two auctions last year.

Who's this?

This is Dwight. This is Carrie's dog. I'm the grandma. I'm a grandma in every way. I'm Grandma Mazur, I'm Grandma Reynolds. I won't say Fisher. I'll just say Carrie's mother. Carrie's dog is a Coton de Tulear, which is a fancy name for a dog, just an adorable little dog. Carrie left for the Bahamas today with her daughter, Billie Catherine. So Grandma is left baby-sitting with this little dog that I love.

I read that Billie inherited your talent for impressions.

Yes. I always call it "an ear." Some people are gifted at the piano, violin, trombone. Nanette Fabray, my girlfriend, plays a saw. So it could be a gift for sawing. You have to have a certain sound you can hear that nobody else seems to hear. Carrie doesn't do impressions. She has a great voice. She has Eddie Fisher's voice. See, I said his name. Carrie doesn't use her gift, her voice, yet. You don't know what her future will be.

Although I did see her one-woman show.

You heard her sing a little "Happy Days Are Here Again." But you didn't really see her do a concert. I hope I live to see her do that, but because I want her to, she hasn't done it. We have a definite daughter-mother relationship, not a roller-skating relationship. Some people just join hands and glide around the ring. We don't do that.

You both have strong personalities. How could it not be that way?

Great love, great love, but there's usually quite a difference of opinion. Which is fun and exciting and I'm looking forward to the day my daughter sings completely, where I really get to see her do a full act. That's what I'm looking forward to. If I live that long.

How can you tell she inherited her voice talent from her father and not from you?

I don't have a great voice. I have a good voice, a very good trained voice, 25, 30 years of training a voice so you know what songs you can sing and sing them well. I've been performing now for 63 years, so I know what I'm best at doing, whereas Carrie hasn't done that yet. She does a harder job at doing a stand-up, one-woman comedy show. That's harder to do than anything. Her talent is writing. She's intellectual but not snotty. She's really quite diversified and loves to travel. She wants to see the world, the round world, not just Pasadena. I used to take the bus to Glendale for 25 cents and thought that was an extraordinary trip, but we were a poor family. She was born differently and always had the good fortune to be able to travel.

But you still travel for work. How much do you travel?

Until this year, 42 weeks a year. I was in England 17 weeks [last year], and we did a bus-and-truck tour, where you take the bus, you do a show, you take the bus to the next place, you do a show, all over England.

You already have four engagements in March.

March we have four. April is my 80th birthday, and in April I have two engagements, and then I'm going to take two weeks off. There's a place I like very much to go back to. It's off Florida; it's Paradise Island.

That's the Bahamas.

Well, that's where Carrie went. She should have asked me if I'd like to go. My favorite place. I probably will go there, and I'll invite her to go, and she'll say, "No, I've been there, Mother, and I'm going to China." I predict that answer.

I imagine you know each other pretty well by now.

I don't think at all. As adults? I don't think you can predict a manic-depressive, bipolar person. I find it an everyday experience, you never really know what's going to happen. So it's kind of interesting. It's like learning to do impressions; you play it by ear. Life should be like that anyway.

Doesn't medication make it more predictable?

Controllable, not predictable. Controllable, livable, possible, which is very important. But not predictable. Some personalities are like that. The reason I did Grandma Mazur in the picture is because I thought she was very funny like that — unpredictable. I felt she was someone I could easily understand and easily play. It was fun to do. I just knew who she was.

She's not the lead, she's a small part, but she's the head of the mafia, in my opinion, so I treated her like that. I don't want a big part. I don't have the love nor the desire, you have to have a passion for your work. That's not my passion, to play a long, tedious memorization. My whole life was spent all day in the dark on a set. I did that for 27 years.

You've practically cornered the market on great dotty grandmothers.

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