'Singin’' with Debbie Reynolds for 65 Years - NBC 10 Philadelphia

'Singin’' with Debbie Reynolds for 65 Years

The 65th anniversary of "Singin’ in the Rain" offers a chance to celebrate Carrie Fisher's mom, a force all her own.

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    'Singin’' with Debbie Reynolds for 65 Years
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    Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds stand under an umbrella in publicity portrait for the film 'Singin' In The Rain', 1952.

    The recently aired HBO documentary, “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds,” presents a bittersweet portrait of a complicated relationship between a mother and daughter who are different, yet alike – a duo inextricably linked in life and, now, death.

    As Fisher put it: "My mother really wants me to be an extension of her and sometimes to a great degree... I know what my mother feels and wants." 

    The Reynolds-Fisher parallels extend to fame. Both were just 19 when they filmed movie classics, set a long time ago, that made them stars: 1952's "Singing in the Rain" and the first "Star Wars" installment in 1977.

    Both films mark major anniversaries in 2017, with the 65-year-old "Singin’ in the Rain" getting special theatrical showings Jan. 15 and Jan. 18, as part of TCM’s Big Screen Classics series. The screenings offer an opportunity to see the young Reynolds at her finest, long before she became better known to some as Princess Leia's mother.

    "Singin’" pairs Reynolds with two older male (human) co-stars: Donald O'Connor in the platonic, brother-like role, and Gene Kelly as her partner in bickering and eventual love interest.

    They're united by a common goal: leaving the silent movie business in the late 1920s and creating the world of big movie musicals. It's not exactly destroying the Death Star, but the quest propels the plot from one great song-and-dance number to the next.

    Reynolds shines as the bright and bold Kathy, brimming with the energy of youth and a confidence that belied her years.  She managed to more than keep up with her expert hoofer co-stars in the buoyant "Good Morning" sequence, which formed an memorable troika with O'Connor's acrobatic "Make 'em Laugh" spectacular and Kelly's iconic, elegantly athletic (and soggy) take on the title tune.

    Unlike her daughter, Reynolds went on to other major starring roles, from "Tammy and the Bachelor" to "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" to "Mother." But like her daughter, she endured her share of scandal (Eddie Fisher leaving her for Elizabeth Taylor), and she never found a part that quite matched her breakout film.

    The 40th anniversary of "Stars Wars" is coming up this year, along with a new installment that might represent Carrie Fisher's final, non-CGI-enhanced bow. The Dec. 27 death of 60-year-old Fisher, followed by the passing the next day of her mother at age 84 bodes to add to the already huge interest in the film series.

    But before the latest intergalactic frenzy takes off, there's chance to see on the big screen how, a quarter-century before "Star Wars," Debbie Reynolds emerged as a cinematic a force all her own.

    Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.