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Book Review: Debbie Reynolds' Messy Life Makes 'Unsinkable' Memoir Readable

Thompson on Hollywood By Aljean Harmetz | Thompson on Hollywood April 2, 2013 at 12:32PM

Written by Debbie Reynolds and Dorian Hannaway, “Unsinkable,” a memoir of Debbie Reynolds’ messy life after middle age overtook the bubbly teenager who spent decades starring in MGM musicals, is not a good book, but it’s worth reading.
Debbie Reynolds
Debbie Reynolds

And in June, 2011 the costumes and artifacts she had spent 45 years collecting were auctioned, with many of the best costumes sold to buyers from Japan, Korea, and Saudi Arabia.“Unsinkable,” which takes its title from her movie “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” is divided into two parts.  Part II simply recaps her career with comments from Reynolds on each of her movies.

The most affecting section of the book deals with Debbie Reynolds’ desperate attempts to find a home for her collection as she sinks deeper into the quicksand of debt.  Warren Buffet gives her this advice:  “Debbie, don’t sell the farm.”  She understood that Buffet was warning her that “by raising money for a museum to house the collection, I was risking the security I had after a lifetime of work.”

In default on a loan to build a museum in Hollywood, she owed $5.3 million.  Her children by Eddie Fisher, Todd and Carrie, urged her to sell. Throughout the pain of her third marriage, the tangle of lawsuits in Las Vegas, and the preparations for the auction, son Todd was her bulwark, the man on whom she could always count.

Molly Brown survived the sinking of the Titanic.  The collection was Debbie Reynolds’ lifeboat.  One costume, the dress that Marilyn Monroe wore as she stood on a subway grate in “The Seven Year Itch,” brought $4.6 million dollars.  Hundreds of other costumes sold for two or three or four times their estimated value.  The collection that Hollywood did not value had inestimable value for the rest of the world.  She was out of debt with money in the bank once more.

“I had saved the collection,” Debbie Reynolds wrote.  “And now the collection had saved me.”

This article is related to: Books, Debbie Reynolds, Reviews

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.