At the peak of her career, she was one of several actresses titled as "America's sweetheart", the archetypal girl-next-door. (Others included Doris Day, June Allyson and Jane Powell.) Best remembered for her work in Hollywood musicals, she appeared in the genre's defining moment, Singin' in the Rain, as well as many other notable successes.
Born Mary Frances Reynolds on April 1, 1932, in El Paso, TX, she entered the film industry by winning the Miss Burbank beauty contest in 1948, resulting in a contract with Warner Bros. However, the studio cast her in small roles in only two films -- 1948's The June Bride and 1950's The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady -- and she soon exited for the greener pastures of MGM, where she first appeared in Three Little Words. A more significant turn in 1950's Two Weeks With Love garnered Reynolds strong notices, and soon she was touted as the new Judy Garland, with a role in 1951's Mr. Imperium also on the horizon.
Though star Gene Kelly initially opposed her casting in his 1952 musical Singin' in the Rain, Reynolds acquitted herself more than admirably alongside the likes of Donald O'Connor and Jean Hagen, and the film remains one of the greatest Hollywood musicals ever produced. A series of much less distinguished musicals followed, among them 1953's I Love Melvin, The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, and Give a Girl a Break. On loan to RKO, she scored a major success in 1954's Susan Slept Here, and upon returning to MGM she was awarded with a new and improved seven-year contract. However, the studio continued to insert Reynolds into lackluster projects like the health-fad satire Athena and the musical Hit the Deck. Finally, in 1955, she appeared opposite Frank Sinatra in the hit The Tender Trap, followed by a well-regarded turn as a blushing bride in The Catered Affair a year later. At this time also came the much publicized romance and eventual marriage to male vocal superstar, Eddie Fisher. Their whirlwind courtship became a national event and even produced a top hit single called "A Man Chases A Girl (Until She Catches Him)".
Soon after, she teamed with by then husband Eddie in the comedy Bundle of Joy. In 1957, Reynolds starred in Tammy and the Bachelor, the first in a series of popular teen films which also included 1961's Tammy Tell Me True, 1963's Tammy and the Doctor, and 1967's Tammy and the Millionaire. Their was also a Top Ten Hit Single Record for Debbie called "Tammy." Her other well-received films of the period included 1959's It Started With a Kiss, 1961's The Pleasure of His Company, and 1964's The Unsinkable Molly Brown, for which she earned an Academy Award nomination. In 1959, Reynolds' marriage to Fisher ended in divorce when he left her for film star Elizabeth Taylor. The effect was an outpouring of public sympathy which only further increased her growing popularity, and it was rumored that by the early '60s, she was earning millions per picture. The couple's children also went on to showbiz success: Daughter Carrie Fisher became a popular actress, novelist, and screenwriter, while son Todd became a director.
By the middle of the decade, however, Reynolds' star was waning. While described by the actress herself as her favorite film, 1966's The Singing Nun was not the hit MGM anticipated. Its lackluster performance at the box office finally convinced the studio to offer her roles closer to her own age, but neither 1967's Divorce American Style nor the next year's How Sweet It Is performed well, and Reynolds disappeared from the screen to mount her own television series, the short-lived Debbie Reynolds Show.
In 1971, she appeared against type in the campy horror picture What's the Matter with Helen?, but when it too failed, she essentially retired from movie making, accepting voice-over work as the title character in the animated children's film Charlotte's Web but otherwise remaining away from Hollywood for over a decade.
Reynolds then hit the nightclub circuit, additionally appearing on Broadway in 1974's Irene. By the 1980s, Reynolds had become a fixture in Las Vegas, where she ultimately opened her own hotel and casino, regularly performing live in the venue's nightclub and even opening her own museum of Hollywood memorabilia. In 1987, she reappeared in front of the camera for the first time in years in the TV movie Sadie and Son, followed in 1989 by Perry Mason: The Case of the Musical Murder.
In 1992, Reynolds appeared briefly as herself in the hit film The Bodyguard, and a small role in Oliver Stone's 1993 Vietnam tale Heaven and Earth marking her second tentative step toward returning to Hollywood on a regular basis. Finally, in 1996 she accepted the title role in the acclaimed Albert Brooks comedy Mother, delivering what many critics declared the best performance of her career. The comedies Wedding Bell Blues and In and Out followed in 1996 and 1997. She continued to work in animated projects, and often allowed herself to be interviewed for documentaries about movie and dance history. She made a cameo as herself in Connie and Carla, and in 2012 she had her most high-profile gig in quite some time when she was cast as Grandma Mazur in One for the Money.Reynolds won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Catered Affair (1956).
She has received various nominations for awards including: an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy for The Debbie Reynolds Show (1970), a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Mother (1996) and an Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, for her role of Bobbi Adler in the sitcom Will & Grace (2000). In 1996 and 1997, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy, in the American Comedy Awards.
Her foot and hand prints are preserved at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California. She also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for live performance and a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars. In November 2006, Reynolds also received a college "Lifetime Achievement Award" from Chapman University (Orange, California). On May 17, 2007, she was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Nevada, Reno, (Reno, Nevada) where she had contributed for many years to the film-studies program. Reynolds last CD was a Christmas Record with the late Donald O'Connor entitled "Chrissy the Christmas Mouse". It received rave reviews. ~ special thanks to fandango.com and Jason Ankeny, Rovi