Thursday, April 18, 2013

Unsinkable Debbie Reynolds

I stayed awake the whole night through reading Unsinkable: A Memoir. Thanks to Debbie Reynolds and Dorian Hannaway for giving me such enjoyable insomnia. But describing Unsinkable is not easy. Is it a thriller? A modern Book of Job? A humorous showbiz romp? A behind-the-scenes Hollywood exposé? A heartfelt love story? I think the answer has to be “Yes” to all of the above.

In this candid memoir, Debbie (now 81 years young) pulls no punches as she looks back at the ups and downs of her personal and professional life. Of course, her millions of fans know a great deal about Debbie because she’s been entertaining us – either on film, television or in live shows -- for over six decades. And she’s even joked openly about her bad luck with three husbands. But Unsinkable includes many intriguing surprises – and some quite shocking ones. For example, I did not know that Debbie actually feared someone might kill her at one point in her life. That part of her memoir comes across as more chilling than many a thriller I’ve seen lately on the big or small screen. And although I realized Debbie was having trouble trying to create a museum for her awesome collection of movie costumes and memorabilia, I had no idea how much that project cost her -- both emotionally and financially.

Remarkably, no matter how serious the problem, Debbie soldiered on – just like the character she plays in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, her favorite role. Writing about one dark point in her life, Debbie explains, “I thought about all the hard fights I’d had in my life and career and remembered that I love to work. I love to perform and make audiences happy. They make me happy, and it’s all joy.” As someone who’s seen Debbie’s live shows, I can vouch for how happy she makes her audiences.

Preserving important movie costumes and memorabilia ranks as another love of Debbie’s life. Unsinkable takes us though her trials and tribulations related to that goal. And they are absolutely heartbreaking! But, clearly, love for daughter Carrie Fisher and son Todd Fisher comes across as the most important thing for Debbie – and she dedicated this book to them.

Because I’m a practicing movie addict, my favorite section of the book is Debbie’s personal tour through every one of her films – from June Bride (1948) to Behind the Candelabra, scheduled for release this year (2013) and in which she portrays Liberace’s mother. Her amusing anecdotes concerning directors, fellow actors and the way she feels now about each movie are absolutely priceless! I’m also impressed by the beautiful photos included in this wonderful memoir.

How does Debbie sum up her remarkable journey? “In many ways, my life has been like a fairy tale. I kissed a lot of frogs, but I got a prince and Princess Leia. After thrilling triumphs and some terrible setbacks, I’m still here. I hope we all live happily ever after!” Amen to that, Debbie.

(Unsinkable: A Memoir is published by William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. It’s available on

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Thursday, April 04, 2013

Roger Ebert Remembered

Like so many movie fans, I’m very sad about Roger Ebert’s passing. He was one of the finest film critics ever published -- and also a great guy! I love to read his movie reviews. They never seem formulaic, and he put so much of himself into everything he wrote. In fact, Roger and his work helped motivate me to become a film critic.

My husband and I had the good fortune to meet Roger several years ago at the Telluride Film Festival during the screening of The Mystic Masseur. This film focused on one man’s burning desire to become an author. "Put my picture on the cover," Ganesh, played brilliantly by Aasif Mandvi, insists to the publisher of his first book, a catechism about the Hindu religion. While discussing the movie with Roger after the screening, I mentioned to him that Larry and I identified with the main character because we just finished co-writing a romantic memoir. “Put your picture on the cover just like Ganesh did,” he advised us. (I believe Roger followed his own advice and made sure his photo was seen on many of the terrific books he wrote.)

Roger deserved the various honors he received, which include a Pulitzer Prize for film criticism and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

No doubt about it, Roger Ebert will be missed. My heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and fans.

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