Monday, January 16, 2017

Unsinkable: A Memoir by Debbie Reynolds

Reviewed by Christy

            Debbie Reynolds would’ve been the first to tell you that she had terrible taste in men. But that is truly an understatement. Reynolds’ first marriage was to Eddie Fisher who famously left her for their friend Elizabeth Taylor. Her second marriage was to a millionaire named Harry Karl. That marriage lasted for over a decade before Reynolds discovered that Karl was a gambling addict who had blown through his fortune and hers. She was left completely broke and spent years paying off the debts. She vowed to never marry again.

            Unsinkable begins where her autobiography, written in the 1980s, left off: with the marriage to her third husband, Richard Hamlett. Against her better judgment, she accepted his marriage proposal after a year together. The couple went on to buy a hotel with the hopes of creating a museum inside to display Reynolds’ beloved costumes and props collection. The museum never materialized, and Hamlett did his best to drain more money out of Reynolds in the process – all while throwing money at various girlfriends. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Reynolds and her rotten luck with men. But I can’t help but wonder how a woman in her then-50s could so easily fall for a man’s shallow charm – especially a woman like Debbie Reynolds who had dealt with her fair share of snake oil salesmen in the romance department. (Her daughter, Carrie, would later incredulously joke that Eddie was “the good one”.) But, ultimately, I think Reynolds just had a dangerous mix of naiveté and optimism.

            She also discusses, sometimes with too much detail, her attempts to finally create that memorabilia museum she so desperately wanted. I was surprised to discover that she came incredibly close to creating a museum in nearby Pigeon Forge. It was fun to read Reynolds’ thoughts on the little tourist town (“a wonderful community”; “the people there couldn’t have been nicer”) and her excitement at being so close to Dollywood.  Deals were made, and a building was even built but unfortunately the Great Recession ruined those plans as well. Reynolds eventually decided to sell off most of her collection and use the money to retire in comfort. It was a difficult decision because she loved every item but she was getting older and though she loved to perform, the physical toll was getting worse.

           Reynolds also discusses her children, Carrie and Todd Fisher. At times she was a surprisingly lax mom, not blinking an eye when sixteen year old Todd brought a woman in her late twenties to the family hotel suite. The woman stayed for several days. But Reynolds loved her children deeply and made sure they knew that. Some of the passages are a little heartbreaking to read now that both Reynolds and Carrie Fisher have passed on. She talks about her agony as a mother of someone with a drug addiction and mental illness. She often worried if Carrie would make it. She states that she doesn’t think she could survive outliving her children. It was quite touching, although very sad, to read.

            Despite some of the hotel minutiae, I quite enjoyed reading this. It was a quick read that covered the gamut of emotions – I laughed, and I cried. She also briefly discussed her experiences on each of her films which I particularly liked. I thought it would be a little more comprehensive but I didn’t realize she wrote a more traditional biography many years ago. Reynolds’ humor and personality shine through, and I look forward to reading her other books.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful review, Christy. Debbie felt it necessary to record the many details of her attempts to found a museum for history's sake. It was an honor to have had her as a friend for over 30 years. I was especially honored when she chose me to write her books with her. She leaves us with a treasure of memories. There will never be another like out Debbie! Best - Dorian Hannaway