on my classic film blog.
Unsinkable: A Memoir by Debbie Reynolds
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In 1988, Debbie Reynold's autobiography Debbie: My Life was released. It depicted the often times tumultuous life of the perky and vivacious movie star who became famous with her roles in films such as Singin' in the Rain (1952) and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964). At the time of that book's publication, Reynolds was newly married to Richard Hamlett. Little did she know that more trials and tribulations were waiting around the corner.
Unsinkable: A Memoir picks up in the timeline of Debbie Reynolds life when she married Hamlett in 1984. Reynolds describes her tumultuous marriage to Hamlett, the messy divorce that followed, the rise and fall of her Las Vegas hotel, her daughter Carrie Fisher's emotional and physical problems, her relationship with her son Todd and the repeated disappointments and financial hardships she endured in trying to create a museum for her vast collection of movie memorabilia.
The book is divided into two parts. Part One follows Reynolds life from 1984 to 2011. Part Two kicks off at 2012 and dips back into time following her movie career from 1948 until 2013. It's mostly a continuation of her first autobiography but she does include plenty of information about her early movie career and her troubled marriages to Eddie Fisher and Harry Karl.
Reading Unsinkable was quite an interesting experience for me. Debbie Reynolds is very candid. Some readers might be a little uncomfortable with some of the things she reveals. I don't think I'll ever look at Tony Randall the same way after reading this book. But that very open and sharing nature is just Debbie Reynolds' style. Her personality definitely comes through, whether the writing is mostly hers or that of her co-wrieter Dorian Hannaway. Reynolds also makes some big revelations including the fact that she thinks her third husband Richard Hamlett tried to kill her.
Debbie Reynolds spends a lot of time in this book discussing her passion for movie memorabilia and how she treasured the costumes and props she purchased or collected over the years. In 2011, Reynolds was facing financial difficulties and after years of trying to create a museum for her memorabilia she made the controversial decision to sell the pieces at auction instead. The most famous piece was the white dress that Marilyn Monroe wore in the subway grate scene in The Seven Year Itch (1955). Reynolds spends a lot of time talking about the memorabilia, her attempts at creating the museum, her regrets and how it pained her to auction off all those pieces. She seems genuine enough but sometimes I wondered if she was trying to seek validation from her readers and her skeptics.
By Part Two, I wasn't sure if I would find much value in this book. Her stories were interesting and I was especially intrigued to read about her very complicated relationship with Elizabeth Taylor. However, one chapter into Part Two and I discovered the real value of the book. Starting on page 183, Reynolds goes back to 1948 to her very first movie and reminisces about (almost) each and every movie she made up until her most recent one Behind the Candlelabra (2013) in which she plays Liberace's mother (with whom she was good friends in real life). This part was the most interesting to me. She shares her personal experiences and memories from each of those films. This is what separates a biography from an autobiography in my opinion.
This book has its bias. Reynolds is not afraid to pass judgment on certain people in her life and with some of her over sharing I wonder what she is hiding as well. I tried to take most things in the book with a grain of salt. With that said, Debbie Reynolds is quite charming so it's very likely she'll win you over with her candid style.
So what do I really think of the book? If it wasn't for that movie-by-movie rundown in Part Two, I wouldn't have liked the book at all. That really saved it for me. I would recommend reading Unsinkable if you are very interested in Debbie Reynolds as an actress and a woman and definitely if you had read her first book. It's also for those of you who are curious about Debbie Reynolds' decision to sell her memorabilia and want to know her side of the story.
Thank you so much to William Morrow for sending me a copy of Unsinkable for review!