Sunday, August 07, 2016

Make 'Em Laugh: Short-Term Memories of Longtime Friends

Hi everyone,

Debbie Reynolds with Gene Kelly in
Singin' in the Rain
Last Christmas, my sister surprised me with the book, Make 'Em Laugh: Short-Term Memories of Longtime Friends by Debbie Reynolds and Dorian Hannaway. Debbie Reynolds is probably best known for two things, costarring in the 1952 classic musical Singin' in the Rain and being the mother of Carrie Fisher (a.k.a. Princess Leia). I love her for both reasons, though I've never followed her career. In fact, I think Singin' in the Rain might be the only movie of hers that I've seen in full! Am I forgiven since I've seen Singin' in the Rain at least 785 times, know it by heart, and will keep on watching it? (That's what happens when you grow up as a fan of Gene Kelly.)

I know of Debbie Reynolds more from her daughter, who famously alluded to their relationship through the mother and daughter characters in her book (and film adaptation of) Postcards from the Edge. She also spoke of her mother's lovable quirks in her one-woman show Wishful Drinking.  

I was a little disappointed that, in this book, Debbie Reynolds doesn't discuss Gene Kelly or Singin' in the Rain – which showcases her first major film role as ingenue Kathy Selden. I'm sure she's already done that in her other books and is probably tired of talking about it by now. On the other hand, I loved reading about someone I knew so little about from the start. 

A bigger fan might get more out of this book, as I breezed past talk of her films that I didn't recognize. That didn't happen often, however, since this book focuses more on her personal experiences with short stories about her many adventures and friends. Though not told in any particular order, her stories range from first getting noticed after winning Miss Burbank at age 16 to receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actor's Guild at age 82. 

In between, she weighs in on some fellow comedians of her time, like Jack Benny, Milton Berle, and Phyllis Diller. She recalls getting the royal treatment from various princes around the world as well as being seated next to Prince at the Oscars in 1985 (when he won one). Of course, she also weaves some great Hollywood tales.

One time, she packing a rowdy bus full of Hollywood's own royalty, including Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, David Niven, Gary Cooper, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Jimmy Stewart, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Donald O"Connor, to attend a Judy Garland concert. On The Tonight Show, instead of answering Jack Paar's unwanted question about her love life, she attacked him, pulled him under his desk, and tossed various articles of his clothing over the top as the audience roared. Another time, she demonstrated what Girl Scouts learn about fire safety by toppling on to guest Regis Philbin and rolling him around on the floor. While emceeing an event, she spontaneously jumped into the pool in front of her – ruining her handmade evening gown – just to liven up the party. It's true, Debbie Reynolds will do almost anything for a laugh.     

Because I've always watched classic movies, I recognized most of the Golden Age film stars and entertainers mentioned in this book. I loved reading about her relationships with Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Lana Turner, and Elizabeth Taylor. I appreciated, though, how she helped put things into context for other readers who may be unfamiliar with all the names she drops. For example, she compared the Gabor sisters to the Kardashians and suggested checking out George Burns and Gracie Allen's TV shows on YouTube. 

Most of all, I love that the voice and personality of Debbie Reynolds comes through in this book loud and clear. Maybe I have seen Singin' in the Rain too many times, but I can hear her on these pages. True to the title, she made me laugh out loud at times. After expressing her shock about receiving brash commentary on her chest from some Hollywood heavyweights, she reflects, "I guess it's flattering to have had Groucho Marx and others admire me that way, because now I live in Beverly Hills and my boobs are in San Diego." Speaking of her parents, she quips, "My parents were happily married for 57 years. They didn't speak for 42 of them, but that's all right." 

Make 'Em Laugh is a light, quick read. Even if you're not a fan, Debbie Reynolds will keep you entertained with her vivacious personality, admirable perseverance, and infectious enthusiasm. Give this book a try and it might warm your heart too. 


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