Apr 1, 2008

From One Birthday Girl to Another

In a fate that even the MGM Publicity Department of yore would consider too uncanny to be real, April 1st marks the birthday of not one, but two of Tinseltown's brightest and most beloved stars: Debbie Reynolds and Jane Powell. Party on the set, anyone?!

Jane was born Suzanne Lorraine Burce in Portland, Oregon, on this day in 1929. She's probably best known for her role as Milly in the blockbuster Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), but Jane enjoyed over a decade of box office success as filmmakers found myriad means of incorporating her skill as a coloratura soprano into musicals of the day. Retiring from film in 1957 (she was not yet 40), she segued into stage performing, penned an autobiography in 1988, and currently lives in Connecticut. Next month will mark her 20th year of marriage to author and child actor Dickie Moore.

El Paso-born Mary Frances Reynolds - she was later christened Debbie by a studio mogul, but remained steadfast about retaining her true last name - came into being in 1932, and made her foray into film just sixteen years later. Her premiere movie under MGM's contract was the 1952 breakaway hit Singin' in the Rain, considered by many to be the greatest movie musical ever made, and Debbie instantly earned the title of America's Sweetheart, a role which she relinquished only after nearly a decade of film successes, a recording career, and the scandal that ensued when her 1955 marriage to crooner Eddie Fisher ended in a very public divorce. Being buoyant as ever, though, Debbie focused on stagework as the face of filmmaking changed to exclude her style of artistry, and after varied film appearances, television roles, entrepreneurial endeavors and the publication of her 1988 autobiography, my favorite girl is still in the spotlight today, actively promoting The Thalians, working to preserve the history of cinema's golden age, and frequently touring her one-woman show.

Being young, immensely popular and employed by the same studio, Jane and Debbie were often featured in films that were quite similar in style, content, and cast, and the pretty pair even co-starred together in a number of movie musicals, including Athena and Hit the Deck. Their best film together? 1950's Two Weeks With Love, a quaint comedy set in a Victorian-era vacation resort that features one of Jane's spectacular arias, an uber-romantic Ricardo Montalban, fireworks larceny, and an overly amorous Debbie, gorging herself on watermelon while admiring the spindly legs of a half-dressed Carlton Carpenter. Yeah. It's that good.

Hillary's Classic Cinema wishes a very happy birthday to two of its favorite ladies!

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