Monday, August 24, 2009
Debbie Reynolds: Grandma on the Go
This feature by Nina Hämmerling Smith appeared in Guideposts magazine.
Back in the golden age of moviemaking, Debbie Reynolds was the sweetheart star of classics like “Singin' in the Rain” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”
Now, at 77, Reynolds is still at it, touring the country with her one-woman variety show. It's full of song, dance and laughs, including impressions of Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn and Zsa Zsa Gabor.
But perhaps her favorite role is one closer to home: being a mother and grandmother.
She lives "ten steps away" from her daughter, writer-actress Carrie Fisher, and 17-year-old granddaughter, Billie Catherine Lourd, who calls Reynolds "Aba Daba"—as in "Aba Daba Honeymoon," the song she popularized in the 1950s.
"They can never ignore me," Reynolds jokes, "because I'll lie on the driveway…Grandma always receives a hello, otherwise I won't get out of the way."
Reynolds enjoys being with her granddaughter, but she knows when to butt out, too. "You can be a part of their life without interfering," Reynolds advises. "If you try to influence too much, you can get in the way."
Billie has learned a lot from her grandmother, including, when she was a child, how to play jacks and other "games that my mother and my grandmother played with me," says Reynolds.
"I think that's the way it should be, that each generation has the experience of different ages around them."
According to Reynolds, Billie, like her show-business vet mother and grandmother, has a talent for performing. "She is a very nice pianist, plays the guitar and the drums, and has a wonderful, lovely voice," says her very proud grandma.
But Reynolds never pressed the idea of performing on Carrie, and she's certainly not doing so with Billie. Nonetheless, she says, "I think sometimes God gives you a talent and he has a plan."
Following God's plan is something Reynolds learned from her own childhood in Texas. "I was raised in religion," she says. "My grandfather was what they called a lay preacher. He'd go to different homes and lay his hands on and read the Bible to the sick. We went to tent meetings and revival meetings.”
“My life is based on faith. The most important thing is to have faith and believe in the wisdom beyond your years," she adds.
Reynolds admits that her granddaughter keeps her young. In return, Reynolds shares her considerable insights and life experience.
"I've always been very outspoken if I feel that there's some advice or knowledge I can share," she says. "After all, I should know something of value at my age."
Though Reynolds loves being home with her family, she wouldn't give up performing for anything. "I love the audience," she says. "The audience has been with me 60 years and I hope they'll continue on till I take my final bow."
Nina Hämmerling Smith is an editor and writer based in Weston, CT.