The Unsinkable Debbie Reynolds

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First aired on Q (04/09/13)

Debbie Reynolds was just 19 years old when she filmed the above scene from the Hollywood musical classic Singin' in the Rain in 1952. Her role in that film catapulted her to Hollywood stardom, and her acting career has since spanned six decades, with iconic roles in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (which earned her an Oscar nomination), How the West Was Won, and even her own eponymous sitcom.


But she became just as well know for her tumultuous personal life, including three divorces, two from husbands who sent her into bankruptcy. Her first marriage, to Eddie Fischer, resulted in one of the biggest love triangles in Hollywood gossip history, when Fischer left Reynolds for none other than Elizabeth Taylor.

These stories and more are chronicled in Reynolds's compelling new memoir Unsinkable. She spoke with Jian Ghomeshi on Q earlier this week about her book and the many ups and downs of her career.

Modestly, Reynolds says she started her acting career by being in the right place at the right time. At 16, she entered the Miss Burbank Beauty Contest because she wanted the free scarf and blouse. But the studio talent scouts thought she deserved more than some free swag, and she won both the crown and a studio contract. At the time, could she ever have imagined where her career would take her? "I didn't plan on showbusiness at all," said Reynolds. "I wanted to be a gym teacher, and I was just studying in school really hard to get a scholarship...but I entered this local beauty contest as a joke...I knew I wouldn't win the contest, but everything was for me, it seems."

After watching the video above it might be hard to believe, but when Reynolds was first cast in Singin' in the Rain, she didn't know how to dance and Gene Kelly didn't even want her in the role. "Gene Kelly's great, he also scared me to death," she said. "He scared me so badly I couldn't NOT keep up with him and I worked like a dog and my feet was very hard to learn to dance in six months with Gene Kelly and Donald [O'Connor], but it was wonderful, it turned out great."

Suddenly, Reynolds was "America's Sweetheart." But her personal life wasn't quite so gilded, and she's very frank about the reason why. "I just don't make good choices in men," she said. "That's just not part of me, I'm afraid."

Unfortunately, Reynolds' bad luck with men has always been quite public, and she doesn't shy away from these events in her memoir. "I don't mind sharing. A lot of people want to know the problems we've had and how we got through them because it helps their lives sometimes," she said. And she keeps a good perspective on the balance of good and bad in her life. "I've worked all these years -- 65 years -- and I've just loved every minute of who could ask for anything more?"

Check out a few more classic Debbie Reynolds moments below:

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