Debbie Reynolds doubts that daughter Carrie Fisher will be on hand for “Debbie Reynolds—The Auction Finale” this weekend. Carrie has managed to make a few appearances with her mom to promote the May 17-18 event in-between rehearsals and training for the new “Star Wars” feature that is reportedly just now beginning production in Abu Dhabi. But as far as standing around making cracks once the gavel goes down — as she did for the past auctions — “I don’t think so. She’s really busy with the movie,” Debbie says. “You can’t do every project. No matter how hard you try, you’re just one person. The most important thing for her is the new ‘Star Wars,’ and she’s working all day with trainers. She’s lost 40 pounds. She’s worked over six months on herself. She’s very trim now. It’s a huge project and she’s taking it very seriously.”
This weekend will likely mark the ending of the long, difficult saga of Debbie’s Hollywood memorabilia collection — a collection that she worked hard to get housed in a museum for movie fans. When efforts to create a Hollywood museum in Hollywood failed, she looked elsewhere — which eventually led to a venture to place the museum in Pigeon Forge, TN, also the home of Dolly Parton’s Dollywood. Unfortunately, hopes for the museum died amid funding problems and, ultimately, bankruptcy.
Items including one of Judy Garland’s “Wizard of Oz” dresses ($910,000) and Marilyn Monroe’s white “subway dress” from “The Seven Year Itch” ($5 million) were sold off in the first auction. But this weekend’s Finale, staged by Profiles in History as in the past, still includes several show-stoppers. There’s Orson Welles’ mink coat from “Citizen Kane,” for instance, and one of Charlie Chaplin’s bowlers, and a tuxedo apiece from each member of the fabled Rat Pack.
“I just hope they get it done. I hope I live long enough for them to get it all done,” says Debbie in a tone of voice somewhere between weariness and sarcasm. The Golden Age film icon, who is as much a survivor as the character she memorably portrayed in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” looks remarkably in shape and energetic at 82. And she is (perhaps with Carrie’s help?) very much attuned to what’s now. She popped up on “Extra” earlier this week sporting one of those ridiculous face visors recently seen on Oprah Winfrey and V. Staviano — a gag.
Another item up for sale this weekend is the only surviving three-sheet from Debbie’s beloved 1952 musical “Singin’ in the Rain.” That film does make her feel emotional.
“It’s very sad when you’re selling,” she says. “I thought all of this was sold in the second auction. I didn’t get the proper report. I was busy after the auction on tour. I still do an act and I still go around on tour, although now, this year I’ve pulled way back and I am not doing all the engagements I usually do. I usually work 43 weeks a year — I just work all the time. But I changed my mind; after doing so much and reaching a certain age I feel I should just relax and enjoy my life a little bit more. These auctions are hard but yet we’re doing them for a reason. I’d like to make sure the memorabilia goes to real collectors that will enjoy the objects that they buy.”
Although some of the objects have wound up in far-off locales — Japan, the Middle East, etc. — at least she can still take satisfaction in having literally saved some of them from destruction. Reynolds reportedly spent some $600,000 at the huge MGM auction of 1970.
“When I first started, you could afford to buy because people were just throwing some of these articles away,” she notes. Still, “In 50 years of collecting, I spent millions so now I have received millions back, but it’s not equal to what I spent.”
She is saving a few items that will be displayed at her North Hollywood dance studio, where the auction is also taking place. She’ll have dance costumes worn by Fred Astaire, for instance. That is despite her view that “young people have no idea who Fred Astaire was. Unless they’re taught, most young people don’t know Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant, or so many great people. It’s sad.”
As for what she will do next, Debbie says she’d like to travel across America — to some of the cities and towns “that I never got to see. You’d be at your hotel, then go to the theater, see any ghost floating around backstage, but never see the towns.”
Her status as a Hollywood legend complete with a long list of film and TV successes isn’t yielding on-camera work these days, Debbie makes clear. “Older women are not requested or asked,” she says. “I’m afraid there’s only one Betty White.”
Certainly the brightest spot in this cloudy time for Debbie is her family — including her daughter-in-law, Catherine Hickland. Her son Todd’s wife of 20 years, Christi, died of cancer, Debbie reminds. He wed Catherine a couple of years ago “and I am so happy to welcome her into the family. She and Todd have been killing themselves getting ready for this auction.”
She and Todd and Carrie have shared a special bond through the decades. “I’m their mother and I adore my children and they love me and we’ve gone through a great deal,” says the star, whose former mate, Eddie Fisher, left her for Elizabeth Taylor way back in 1958. “My first husband, their father, leaving and not ever coming back — it was very hard for both of them to lose their father without his passing on. He just passed on to another woman. He didn’t go exactly in the normal way,” she notes archly.
“They’ve always carried that burden. We’ve always worked alone. The three of us have been a team.”