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Exclusive Taped Interview With Debbie Reynolds

This exclusive interview with Debbie Reynolds was taped by Fred Robbins, nationally known radio and TV personality whose syndicated celebrity interview show, “Assignment Hollywood,” is heard weekdays from Coast to Coast.

FRED: Debbie, it’s been a long time since we’ve talked together.

DEBBIE: Freddie, it certainly has. How do you feel?

FRED: I’m fine. The last time I saw you, you had Carrie with you.

DEBBIE: I know, but she’s at home this time, because she has to stay home and take good care of Todd now.

FRED: How do they get along together?

DEBBIE: Oh, terrific! She’s older. You know, Carrie is five; she’s the little girl. And Todd is three-and-a-half. So she’s sort of the motherly type, and she takes care of him. They get along perfectly.





FRED: Is there any competition between them at all?

DEBBIE: No, because ever since Toddie was first born, I always had Carrie help me with Todd, so she never had any kind of a jealous situation. Maybe the first two or three months, but after that, when she would help me feed him and help me take care of him and love him and rock him and all of that, why there never has been a problem. I don’t think there ever will be. They’re very close. Todd is very tall, Carrie is a little short—everybody thinks they’re twins.

FRED: What are some of the things that Carrie says about her little brother?

DEBBIE: Oh, she just introduces him around: “This is my little brother, Todd. I’m his sister Carrie. I’m five and he’s three.” You know, she goes through the whole autobiography—how old they are, what they like to wear. Oh, she just loves him, and she kisses him, and she takes him for walks—and she’s a little mother, and he’s strictly boy, you know. He puts up with her mothering him now, because he’s very young, but he doesn’t like the way she throws a baseball at all, he thinks that she’s a real feminine nothing; and she thinks he’s not too good with dolls, so that’s all right. It goes both ways. He loves her, too. For little kids, for their ages, they get along beautifully.

FRED: Have your children ever seen you in pictures or on television?

DEBBIE: One time my mother took Carrie to see “The Mating Game,” which was a couple of years ago—here—as a matter of fact. We were in New York and my mother didn’t have anything to do one afternoon, so she took Carrie to see the movie. Well, in the movie I fail out of a hayloft onto a haystack. Well! Carrie let out such a yell, the whole theater heard her: “Mommie! You fell down! Mommie’s hurt! Mommie’s hurt! Get her out of the hay!” And she got so upset that my mother took her out, and we decided that probably it was the best thing that they didn’t see me on the screen. because they really cannot understand how I got up there, and why can’t I get down, and why can’t I sit beside them. They can’t understand the image. Like, I was in Miami last week at the game down there—the football game—and I was at half-time with this little girl from the March of Dimes, and I told the children: “Now, Mommie’ll be on at halftime, so watch me in California,” which they did. And then I phoned Carrie a couple of hours later—and asked: “Did you see Mommie?” And so she said: “Yes, but how do you get out of that box?” They think I’m in the TV box permanently, you know, squashed inside it. She also wanted to know why I was with another little girl. She was not too happy about me being with another little girl.

FRED: Actually, then, they’re a little too young to understand what it means for their mommie to be in motion pictures or on television. How will you explain it to them eventually?

DEBBIE: Well, they know that Debbie Reynolds is my working name. They go to the studio with me every so often. I don’t make it a practice, because I don’t think it’s healthy for them to be there—the sound stages you know are inside, and I like the children to be out in the fresh air. And they understand all about my work but they cannot understand that big figure up there on the screen. But they understand that I’m Debbie Reynolds—that’s my working name. And at home I’m Mommie and Mrs. Karl, and my mommie—my real mommie—calls me Mary Frances, which is my real name, and my brother calls me Frannie. My little girl’s always kidding me, because she always says: “Mommie, how come you have so many names?”

FRED: Who’s taking care of them now?

DEBBIE: Oh, they’re at home with the nurse, who’s a wonderful woman. But my mother’s there every day. She always goes to see them, or they spend Saturday and Sunday with Mother, driving her crazy. They love to go to Mother’s house, because it’s on—well, our house is right on a Street, but there are more children on the Street where my mother lives, and they walk up and down, they run up and down the sidewalk, you know. It’s more family-like where my mother lives.

FRED: What do the kids do around the house, Deb?

DEBBIE: Oh, get into all sorts of trouble (laughs) ! No, they are just like any other two children; they just play and they color and they like to draw. And they love music, so Rudy, my accompanist, plays for them, and every day we put on a show, you know. Carrie says “Oh, it’s my turn.” Then Rudy plays da-da-da-da-da-da, so Carrie comes out, and then she says: “Ladies and gentlemen, for my first number . . (laughs) And then she sings a song like “Jingle Bells.” And then Todd comes out, and he just takes a bow. He won’t do anything; he just takes a bow. You have to applaud for nothing. And they have a lot of fun, just like two normal children.

FRED: Is there going to be a problem raising the children in the limelight? What kind of problem does that present?

DEBBIE: Well, only when you take them out on a tour do you find a problem, because people fuss over them like, “Oh, Carrie, you’re so cute.” And then she goes home and looks in the mirror, and she says, “Oh, I’m so cute.” So then I have to spend about an hour saying, “Well, if you’re not nice inside, you’re never cute; and the only reason they say you’re cute is because you have a sweet smile and you’re sweet inside. And that’s the reason; and if you ever change and you stop being a nice girl, they’ll say, ‘Oh, isn’t she unattractive.’ ” But I don’t have a lot of problems because I don’t take the children anywhere. They stay at home. We live a very normal—probably people would say dull—life. I think it’s not. but then that’s my opinion. Naturally, when I go shopping, or sometimes when I take them to Disneyland or something like that, I do have a problem because of me. So I can never go alone; I always have to take a nurse, or my mother. or some girl friend who can go ahead and take the children on the rides; and I’ll sign the autographs and do what I have to do. But I try to keep the children away from that. I can’t take them to a circus because they can’t enjoy it like normal children. So I won’t go. I hate to stay home, but that’s something you just have to learn to accept. It’s difficult. but the children understand. I always make up an excuse, like I have to go to work, or I have to go work for my charity. I would like to be with them. but that’s one of the penalties of show business.

FRED: Deb. you’ve done a remarkable job with your children. And how beautifully you’ve come through the crisis in your life! And I want to ask you what reflections you have on this period of life? What did it do to your philosophy of life, for one?

DEBBIE: Well, naturally, anybody who has problems reaches a rather stale point, a point where you think you can’t really think, and you feel that you can’t do anything right, and the things you want to do you shouldn’t do. So you have to think ahead. You have to think, “Well, what would I do two years from today?” or “What would I say two years from today?” And also, it depends on what type of a person you are. I happen to be quite religious, and I happen to have a lot of faith. Whatever faith you are, that’s the right one as long as you have some faith. So whenever you do meet a problem, if you meet it with faith in your heart and the right kind of an attitude and you have compassion for others instead of wanting to do evil back, or harm back or hurt somebody, you’ll get through. You have to treat the whole situation, not as if it were happening to you, but as if the situation were turned around. You have to be very compassionate and very kind and very forgiving. It’s the most difficult thing to do, of course. You have to—well, I would always say, “What would God do? How would He think?” Now, probably people will say, “Well, that’s a little corny, Debbie.” Well, that’s the way I believe, and so that, when you ask me that question, that’s the answer that I give you. And that’s what carried me through my particular problems. And everybody has problems, and everybody has much worse problems than you do. Also, you have to think about that. You know—I may have a problem; that man may not have any legs; or that little girl may have a bad heart, or may have rheumatic fever, may have muscular dystrophy, may be a mentally disturbed child. I mean, every problem is bigger than your own, so that’s the way you have to think.

And I feel that if you really have faith in your heart, and you live the right kind of a life, and you live by the Ten Commandments, and you live your life as you would want others to live for you and you treat others as you would want them to treat you, that you will find happiness. And, as you can see, what I’m saying is true, because I have found great happiness in my life today, more than I ever had before, more than I knew could exist. And I never dreamt that possible. I mean, if you’d said that to me two years ago, I would’ve said, “Well, Freddie, I’ll never remarry; I’ll never be happy again as far as being married is concerned.” And yet, look at all I have; look at the wonderful joy and happiness that I have in my life. So life is never down. It may be for a while, but you have to look ahead, and you have to have great faith. And if you do, and if you have that, then everything will work out.

FRED: Do you feel that that experience in your life made a woman of you? Would you say that? Would you say every girl needs something in her life, some kind of serious happening, whether it’s a busted love affair, or perhaps the death of a parent or some kind of crisis in her life to make her finally grow into womanhood?

DEBBIE: No, I don’t feel that. I feel that perhaps it might make you mature more quickly, but there’re a lot of young women who never have to have a dramatic happening in their lives to make them mature. They are just more mature than other girls. I happen to have been a very young girl. and probably very immature. And so, by my having a problem, it increased my maturity much more quickly than I believe it would’ve happened. By having a problem, I had to assume a lot of responsibilities and unhappiness that I had never thought possible and that I had never experienced before. So, yes, it did mature me very quickly; and I don’t say that’s the right way. In fact, I don’t think it is the right way, because you have to grow up too fast, and for a while you go through a rather bitter period and an unhappy period and you have nothing to look forward to. But I don’t say that you have to have an unhappiness in your life to make you mature, because that’s not true. You simply have to have the right kind of a heart, you have to have the right kind of thinking and you have to be intelligent, that’s all.

It did help me. And it helped me, in many ways now, to recognize great happiness. Sometimes it’s very good when you experience an unhappiness, because then when you do find a great happiness, you’re all the more able to taste the sweetness of it, whereas before you would never have fully appreciated the kind of happiness that you do have. You probably would never have recognized that particular man, because maybe he wouldn’t have been as attractive, not your dreamboat; but instead, you now see qualities that you never before recognized. And that comes through maturity and experience.

FRED: Would you say that the worst part of this whole experience was the fact that it was all in the glare of publicity? Would it have been easier to live through if you were a private person?

DEBBIE: I do feel that if you are in the limelight, it makes it more difficult. Naturally, it’s very hard when you read all your personal feelings and all the personal happenings in your life in big red print and big black print. Naturally, it’s much easier if the individuals involved can sit down and say—maybe they can’t talk, maybe they’re too emotionally involved—but they can sit down with another individual that’s not closely involved, so they’re not emotional about it, and the problems can be solved—and quietly and respectably and with great dignity. And, unfortunately, when things are picked up by the press, and if they’re carried away and if they become very nationwide and they sell papers or they sell magazines and such, there’s nothing you can do, and it’s carried out of your hands. It’s very difficult, and it’s very sad and it’s miserable—to say the least. I guess that’s the penalty of being in the business: It makes everything difficult.

FRED: Do you ever really get used to living in that glare?

DEBBIE: Oh, yes. I mean, there’re so many wonderful advantages of show business—there are more advantages than disadvantages. Or why would we be here, Freddie? You’re in show business, too. I love show business, and I enjoy my work. The hardest thing is the non-privacy of the business, and not being upset by the fact that everybody knows everything you’re doing. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t he working; because, obviously, they wouldn’t go to see you, they wouldn’t turn you on—they couldn’t care about you. But, now, it’s a wonderful feeling inside to know that a lot of people really like you and enjoy you and are concerned about you. And I find that very warming—I find it rewarding and warming and comforting and I feel very fortunate, and I feel very lucky to have that. And I’ve made a lot of wonderful friends—not all in show business. I mean, a lot of people whom I’ve met from being in show business whom I never would’ve met otherwise because I wouldn’t have traveled, or I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet these people.

So I say that show business is a wonderful, wonderful business—and especially for a girl. I never, in my wildest dreams, thought that I would go to Europe or Mexico, or travel all around the world, or meet kings and queens, and have a lovely car and a lovely home and clothes, that I could just walk in and buy a dress. I never could do that. I never had a dress; I never bought a dress. My mother made my clothes. There’s nothing wrong in being poor. We were not poor, but we certainly couldn’t walk into a store and buy a dress. I never had a store-bought dress until I came into the movies. And my first dress that was ever purchased was eight dollars. To me eight dollars might as well have been eight hundred.

FRED: One of the great things about you, is the fact that you’ve always retained that wonderful small-town quality, which is so endearing, along with great fame and wealth and prominence and success. And I adore it, and I think it’s a wonderful quality to always have. I’m glad that you kept that.

DEBBIE: There are many people who haven’t had a lot of material things, and suddenly, they are able to have a lot of things they’ve always dreamt of having. Now, a lot of these people get things and they don’t appreciate them. You know, they say: “Well, I should have it, I deserve it.” Well, that’s not the right attitude. How beautiful it is to be able to have something and appreciate it; because you can look back at when you didn’t have it, and now you do have it—and isn’t it wonderful! I think it’s a great joy. And the only thing I pray is that this doesn’t happen to Carrie and Todd. They have a room of their own, which I never had, and it’s so beautiful, and it’s so cute. And Carrie has darling clothes, and Todd has beautiful clothes. Well, are they going to be able to appreciate them? Because they’re going to always have it. I mean, they can’t compare it with anything. Do you know what I mean?

And the only thing that I can think of to do, we have done. We’ve adopted certain families that have very little. The children take them clothes and gifts, and we know them and we go to see them, and they’re very good friends of ours. So my children, when they come home from that home—where there’re four children in one bedroom and the parents have a little tiny room. and they have meat once a week, and such—Carrie and Toddie look at their room and they say, “Oh, boy, Mommie, aren’t we lucky to have our own room?” And that’s the only way I can think of to compare them, because naturally I can’t take them to live there, because we’re fortunate enough to be able to live where we want to live, you know. But a comparison helps people keep a value, keep their senses on a level and not go floating around in the clouds, thinking we’re all wonderful and this is going to last forever. Because I don’t believe that all of this can last forever. If you lost everything tomorrow, you should still be happy inside.

FRED: How do you explain the situation with Liz and Eddie to the kids?

DEBBIE: What I tell them is very simple. The children are very well adjusted to the fact that there’s naturally a separation. But you know, Freddie, you’re an old friend of Eddie’s, and of course have known him for many, many years. He always traveled a great deal—you know, he was in Vegas, he was in New York, and so forth. So, you see, Todd was only five months old when his father left. So of course he doesn’t really miss his father to a great degree, because he was never around Todd. Naturally, he knows him and he loves him, but he doesn’t have an ache in his heart, because Eddie was always gone when he was very young. Todd’s three-and-a-half now, you know; he’ll be four. And as far as Carrie, she had a very difficult time for a while, but now she’s very well adjusted, and she adores Harry—and she loves her father, too. But you see, Eddie has three lovely children with Elizabeth, and they need him as much as Carrie and Todd need me. Do you know? They have no father. Well, the boys do have Michael Wilding. But Michael is traveling everywhere. In other words, they need Eddie very much. And that’s a wonderful thing, to be needed. And that’s what he is—needed in that family. as Harry is needed in our family now. So we have, both of us, two wonderful, full, complete lives. And the children are very well adjusted and extremely happy, because they have a man in their life, someone who adores them. Harry only thinks of them. He never plans on going anyplace unless it’s good for the children, or where the children would like to go. And he’s really a remarkable man, and he adores the children.

FRED: Does Eddie write to the kids?

DEBBIE: Yes, he does, from Rome. I mean, he writes a little letter and I read it to them, and they send him pictures. You know, I take pictures with my little Brownie, ’cause I’m a terrible camerawoman. All I can do is push a button, and that’s all. If I have to focus in the distance, I’m dead. So I push a button, and I get darling pictures. Oh, no, Eddie is always kept very well aware. I’ve always . . . I firmly believe that if you’re going to be a parent, you must be a good parent for both parents. And the children love their father—I see to that. They, God bless ’em. they say the prayers for him, and they’re very well aware of their father—and always will be, because if they don’t have respect for their father, how will they be able to be good parents?

FRED: You know what’s a good idea? What I do with my kids—we exchange tapes back and forth. They have their own little tape recorder, and I have the same one—and we send tapes back and forth like letters.

DEBBIE: That’s a cute idea. Maybe I’ll do that. I certainly have enough tape. I’ll tell you.

FRED: Debbie, what an inspiration you should be for people all over America! People see a girl on the surface—on the screen or on television—and they don’t know what depths this little person has inside her.

DEBBIE: Oh, well, I think that they couldn’t possibly know you intimately; they only know you as the character on the screen; so naturally they don’t know you personally. I do feel that the people who are my fans, or enjoy me or like my work, I feel that they do know me. I feel that they are my friends.

FRED: The mail that you must’ve gotten during this period, huh!

DEBBIE: Yes, it was—it was tremendous. But it was very rewarding, and it comforted me a great deal.

FRED: Do Carrie and Todd ever see Harry’s kids?

DEBBIE: Oh, no, because his children are much older, you know—ten and eleven. But they talk on the phone; they like each other very much.

FRED: Hey, I keep reading in magazines that you’re going to have another baby.

DEBBIE: Oh, Really?

FRED: Yeah. I think you ought to straighten us out on that.

DEBBIE: (laughs) Well, I’m not going to have another baby any time soon— that I know of! (laughs)

FRED: But there will be some additions eventually, you hope, huh?

DEBBIE: Oh, we hope so. I hope so. We want to—I’d like to have four children. I have two, so I have two to go.

FRED: How do you look at your career at this point, Deb? How do you consider it? What part of your life does it play now?

DEBBIE: Well, it’s always played a secondary part since I was first married. My career works around my children and my husband. Whenever I can work, I do. But if the children have something to do, or if Harry’s going to be out of town, if he has to go on a trip, well then naturally I’m not going to work, I’m going to go with him. I worked a lot last year —much too much. I worked eight months, every day, from four o’clock in the morning till about seven at night. You know, just so mad, just so frantic. And this year I’m going to make one picture, that’s all, just one film. And I have a lot to do—we just bought a house, and we’re furnishing it, and it’s very exciting for me and it’s great fun for me. And my career is fun now for me. Well, it was always fun for me, Freddie—it never mattered to me, it was never life or death with me. My career was always a matter of having great fun. Naturally, it paid my bills. But if I hadn’t liked it I would never have done it, no matter what money it brought me, or what fame or whatever it did bring me. I would never have done it had I not liked it.

But I love to work. I enjoy it, and I especially love comedy. You know I love that. That’s my first love, to be a good comedienne; that’s what I work at doing. And not everybody considers me a good comedienne, or a comedienne—you know, they consider me an ingenue, which I don’t consider myself any more—and I hope soon to prove that to everybody—that I’m a comedienne. I think that the main point in my career now is to prove that I can do comedy as well as anybody else; and in fact, sometimes, for most people, a lot better than some entertainers.

FRED: What does money mean to you?

DEBBIE: Well, money buys tuna fish, money buys chocolate cake, and money buys chocolate ice cream, and it buys a steak once in a while and a little roast beef—and that’s all. Money is a means to an end. Money you have to have; you have to eat. And it’s not good to walk around stark naked, you know; you have to have something on your back. Well, that costs money. And if you have a nice little car . . . or a little car—I used to have a ’32 Chevy, never ran, you know, made all the noise in the world, sounded like an old truck—that costs money. A little money, but still money. Money, to me, is important because it’s necessary. But a lot of money is simply a luxury and a great privilege in life, as long as you don’t abuse it and as long as you don’t become grasping and greedy, which I am not with money. I enjoy it. I don’t . . . I’m rather thrifty, you know. You’ve known me for a long time. I’m conservative. I’m not a spendthrift, and I never will be. No matter how much money I might ever have, or how little, I would still not spend a lot of money. It’s just all against my upbringing. I go to the sales; I go to the market when they’re having specials on chicken, and all that. That’s just my nature.

FRED: What do you want for yourself?

DEBBIE: What do I want for myself? Well now, that’s a very unusual question. I really don’t know exactly what you mean by that. Help me out!

FRED: What dreams are there unfulfilled. as yet?

DEBBIE: Absolutely none. I have more than I ever dreamt of in life. Everything that I did dream about when I was a kid was a silk blouse or a nice pair of shoes or a steak—a big steak—or a new car or a mink stole or a diamond ring. All my dreams are true. I have two beautiful children, and they’re so cute. I have a wonderful husband; I have a lovely home; I have work that I enjoy; my mother and father are healthy and adorable, and I love them very much. I have a sweet brother and Harry’s family is very wonderful, and we all get along. Now, what more in life could a girl want? Of course, I have a lot of things that I want to do. I mean, they are not dreams of mine; they are ambitions of mine as a woman—or, like you, being a man. I want to learn French, I want to learn the piano, I would like to go to cooking school—as funny as that sounds. Those things I would like to do to improve myself. I don’t consider that a dream, however; I consider that to be educational. I’m now studying a lot about art because I have a lot of art appreciation, shall we say, in me, you know. I would like to start collecting art and pictures and so forth, and naturally I don’t know anything about it, and so I’m starting to read and study. And I want to go to college. I want to take a class in college, mind you, I don’t want to go to college, because I was lucky to get to high school, much less go to college. I was an A student, but I never had the opportunity to go to college. I would like to take a lyric class. I love to write lyrics.

FRED: What do you think of the twist?

DEBBIE: Oh, I think it’s fun. I think it gets rid of all your inhibitions. Now, for instance, there’re a lot of people very nervous all day—work, all tied up, tension, can’t express themselves. Maybe they’re inhibited or very shy or . . . certainly not exhibitionists. But it’s absolutely amazing that anybody and everybody gets up and does the twist, and they get rid of all their mad at the boss, or the boss gets rid of all his mad at the employees, and they just have a marvelous time.

FRED: Deb, I think the young mothers of America would like to have some advice about raising children from one of the most adorable and one of the most resilient mothers of America.

DEBBIE: Raising children? Well, I feel that there’s only one lack in this fast era were living in. We don’t know if we will be with our children. Will they live till tomorrow? Will we live till tomorrow? So it’s a very frightening age that we’re living in, and I feel that we have drawn away from our religions too much. I feel that we should give our children a very fine religious background, so that they have great security within, so that they cannot at any time in their lives know such intense fear that they can’t seek love of some kind. You see, if they love God and they have their own religion and a great faith and peace within, then no matter what may happen around them, they can find some serenity of some sort, some peace of mind, some little hope— because they will believe. But we have to teach them that. My mother and father taught me that, and I hope to teach Carrie and Todd that. That’s what I would like to transmit to the children. Because had I not had that upbringing, I would not have the happiness that I have today. Because if we’re not happy inside we can’t possibly give anybody else happiness, nor can we be truly, truly happy.


Debbie’s in M-G-M’s “How The West Was Won,” and “My Six Loves,” Par.






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