|LONGEVITY. Debbie Reynolds has come full circle.(Image by Xtra files)||
story by Christopher Richards /
Feb 08 2001
As far as legends go, Debbie Reynolds is pretty well it.
We’ve known her as everything from the wholesome, all-American girl in Singin’ In The Rain to the jilted young wife — damn that Eddie Fisher! From Las Vegas headliner to Princess Leia’s mom, she has finally come back around to being just that, Debbie Reynolds.
Straight talkin’, unsinkable and funny, along the way she’s had that certain special appeal that makes a gay boy’s heart go pitterpat.
Some of the luckier among us have encountered that certain something up close. Laurie Lynd, who directed Reynolds in the upcoming CBC movie of the week Virtual Mom, is just one such lucky boy.
Lynd was in bliss while directing Miss Reynolds.
"Right away she made a list of her own things that Pinkie [her long-time assistant] should have sent up from Vegas," he says, describing his first encounter. "And so a couple weeks later I got to go back to the Sutton Place for a Debbie Reynolds’ fashion show. Which is basically gay director heaven — sitting in Debbie’s suite, having her come out and, ‘What do you think of this outfit?’ and on and on for 10, 12 outfits. And it... was... heaven!"
Lynd is working in good company here, having joined the ranks of such luminaries as George Cukor and Sir John Gielgud, both of whom have quite literally gone to gay director heaven.
Reynolds’s gay Hollywood connections, although impressive, are something she never blinked at. And it wasn’t just the directors in Reynolds’s career who were gay. In her 1988 autobiography, Debbie: My Life, she recounts studio-arranged dates with Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter.
Even outside studio business, there were many gay people in her life. She describes a typical evening at friend Clifton Webb’s house: "Often I was the only female present in a group of six or eight, most of the men perennial bachelors," Reynolds says in an interview. "For me, these were brilliant weekends spent with the wittiest teachers. And I was their student."
Besides good times and sing-a-longs ’round the piano with Charles Laughton and Sir Noel Coward, there have also been some real-life gay connections for Reynolds. One such relationship was with her costumer, Bob O’Connell. O’Connell and Reynolds hooked up while she was in Irene On Broadway. Reynolds had just gone through a nasty break up and soon the pair was everywhere together.
"Ours was unlike a heterosexual relationship, of course. But in a sense, I thought O’Connell’s love was better," she says. "He was loyal. He was true. He was honest.... I just adored him."
When O’Connell fell ill with lung cancer, Reynolds nursed him until his death, and then scattered his ashes over the ocean from an airplane. There are worse ways for a person to go….
"People say, ‘What have you been doing lately Debbie?’" she says. "But I haven’t stopped working in 51 years!"
Watch the upcoming fruits of her labour, Virtual Mom, airing on the CBC on Sun, Feb 18 at 8pm. It stars and is written by Sheila McCarthy, whose own gay connection includes a career breakthrough in the lesbian perennial favourite, I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing.
Also coming up is These Old Broads, airing on ABC on Mon, Feb 12, which features Reynolds teaming up with Elizabeth Taylor for a down and dirty dish session of their mutual ex, Eddie Fisher.