Legendary actress Debbie Reynolds doesn't plan on retiring anytime soon. Starting her career at 16 for Warner Bros., she then moved to MGM, landing her parts in movies from Singin' in the Rain to The Unsinkable Molly Brown, for which she she received an Oscar nomination. She has continued to perform in more than 50 films, and has had television roles such as Grace's mother in Will & Grace, which earned her an Emmy nod.
She brings her one-woman show to OakBrook Terrace, where she will present clips and stories of her lengthy and varied career.
Nunn talked with Reynolds one on one about all of this and more.
Windy City Times: Hello, Miss Reynolds. You have been entertaining crowds for six decades, I read.
Debbie Reynolds: That's for sure. "Here she goes again…"
WCT: And out on the road, still.
DR: Oh, yeah. I get bored if I stay at home. I like to entertain. Today, I wouldn't want to go to New York and begin a play. In order to be in one place, you have to do a play. That is six shows a week and something I don't want to do anymore. I love the Drury Lane because I always worked there for Tony DeSantis. Did you ever meet him?
DR: He was a great character and wonderful guy. You live in Chicago. Did you see my daughter Carrie Fisher play there?
WCT: I did.
DR: Goodnow we are getting somewhere.
WCT: You have been a supporter of her work.
DR: Well, I think she learned something from me, don't you think? Anyways, I am coming out there on Sept. 17 to do a matinee show and then an evening show then I am doing another matinee show on the 18th. Matinees are really good because older people like them; then they don't have to drive at night. [Sings] "I'm on my way for a matinee!"
WCT: Do you have past clips in your show?
DR: Yes, I do for people like you who have never seen me my whole life. "Debbie Reynolds: Is She Still Alive?" will be the title of this interview, I bet. George Burns always said, "I am going to stay on the stage until I die, then have myself stuffed like Trigger!"
Phyllis Diller was so funny right until the end. I saw her the week before she died when I brought shepherd's pie to her. We had dinner together and I loved her to pieces. She was always funny.
WCT: She definitely was a character.
DR: My show is film clips, impressions; I do Katharine Hepburn, Mae West. I sing a lot of songseven a country section. I do Broadway tunes, of course: [Sings] "I'm still here!" I have been in the business for 65 years so I have a lot of stories. I talk about Jimmy Stewart and working with Frank Sinatra. I worked with all of the greats, from Gene Kelly to Fred Astaire.
Some people call my act vaudeville but I call it "in concert."
WCT: It sounds like a variety show.
DR: It is a variety show and it is like what Bette Midler does and Liza, too. Most of us aren't doing it anymore.
WCT: I prefer the old-school acts.
DR: Entertainers sing and dance. It is a varietythat is what vaudeville means. These days I am fortunate to have the movie clips. I do a whole section of mistakes. It is just amusing. It has James Cagney and Bette Davis, all of the greats. That is what I care aboutgetting the audience laughing. I want the audience to forget their troubles and be happy.
WCT: I heard you have a huge movie collection.
DR: I have collected my whole life. I have the largest private movie collection in the whole world. I just had an auction two months ago. It was the largest of its kind. I had the Marilyn Monroe white dress. It sold for $5 million. I had the Audrey Hepburn ascot dress where she says, "Move your bloomin' arse!" I had 5,000 costumes.
WCT: Was it hard to let these go?
DR: I tried to get a museum built for years. Hollywood is not interested in itself for preservation.
WCT: That's a shame.
DR: It is a dreadful mistake but I was just exhausted from all of the years of collecting. It is a huge investment so Todd, my son, and daughter Carrie both wanted me to sell it. I had spent all of my money on the collection. I was always buying. Some things I just kept for myself, like Charlie Chaplin's derby. I have a pair of the ruby red slippers. I kept those.
WCT: Well, I hope so! Speaking of friends of Dorothy, when did you realize you were a gay icon?
DR: Over the years many of the boys that have worked for me as dancers have been gay. The creative people were all gay people, from producers to writers. To me, they were just family. I have a gay boy that takes care of me and lives with me. He's an angel. He cooks for me and works in my dance school. I have had this dance school for 25 years to teach young people how to dance. They want to learn hip-hop, not tap dancing, these days. It is not my favorite thing but it is fun to watch.
WCT: You have a book coming out next year?
DR: It will be finished in December. If the publishers are happy, it will be out in February. It is about the end of my life. I wrote a book about the beginning of my life, but then my life became more interesting than the first part! The only thing missing was Elizabeth Taylor. I didn't have another scandal for them like that. I did reveal many things, so I will probably be sued by everybody!
WCT: Don't say that.
DR: I don't care. I just wanted to get it off my chest.
WCT: It is called Unsinkable?
DR: Yes, because I am not down yet. I will be going on tour for the book so you will see me again. Bring a gay friend with you out to my show at the Drury Lane.
WCT: I will.
DR: Or if you come by yourself, that will be gay enough! [Both laugh.]
Reynolds reigns over the Drury Lane, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, for three shows Sept. 17-18. Singin' in the Rain arrives at the same venue on Nov. 8.
Visit www.drurylaneoakbrooke.com or call 630-530-8300 for ticket information.