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Unsinkable Debbie Reynolds Surfaces Again

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The latest news from the up-and-down life of Debbie Reynolds is . . . up!

Reynolds, whose Debbie Reynolds Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas is seeking reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, says that she has a partner--time-share financier David Siegel--and that he’ll take over the management of the hotel, which opened in 1993, and bail the still-operating facility out of debt.

“The judge will rule in two or three weeks on it,” Reynolds says in a phone conversation from Laughlin, Nev. Her new partner, she adds, is looking to add 660 rooms to the complex while she continues to run the casino, theater and nonprofit museum that houses her collection of Hollywood memorabilia. “It’s a very fine offer,” she says.

One can almost hear “I Ain’t Down Yet,” the Meredith Willson song from Reynolds’ 1964 movie “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Reynolds, who has gone through a well-publicized string of financial and marital problems, appears Friday and Saturday with the Pacific Symphony at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

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“Life is not easy,” she offers, “but the challenges that are given to you are not insurmountable. You fall down for a couple of days and then move along with your life and what you can make of it. I’ve always felt I had to persevere. I’m a religious person and have always had the faith that if I work hard enough, I can work my way out of problems.”

The 65-year-old actress was born in El Paso, Texas, and raised in Burbank. At 16, she won a local beauty contest that resulted in a screen test for MGM. Her first film, “The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady” was followed by “Three Little Words” (both 1950) with Fred Astaire and Red Skelton. In 1952, she starred in “Singin’ in the Rain” opposite Gene Kelly.

Her highly publicized marriage to and divorce from singer Eddie Fisher were followed by her 1960 marriage to shoe magnate Harry Karl. In 1985, she married real estate developer Richard Hamlett. Her second and third marriages proved to be personal and financial disasters.

“I have poor taste in men,” she says. “Most of my problems have come from the men I’ve married. It was an enormous mistake to marry at 51. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be in the situation that I’m in.”

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Then her Molly Brown persona kicks in. “Still, I think you should follow your heart. I’m not a bitter person. I’d never sink to that.”

Reynolds, who has appeared in more than 30 films (she’s in the current Kevin Kline comedy “In & Out”), faced a major hurdle in the late ‘60s when studios stopped making the kind of musicals and light comedies that had been her bread and butter. That work “disappeared because corporate business took over show business. I think people would have continued going to musicals if the story lines were made to be a little more real. So I went off to Las Vegas; I did plays to make a living.”

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Reynolds has spent an average of 42 weeks a year touring and performing at her casino, where she usually appears Monday through Friday. “I will always work because I want to, but financially I’ve had to work. But I love what I do, so that goes hand in hand with the choices in my life.”

She says her appearance with the Pacific Symphony will be different from the variety show she takes on the road. “We’ve been working [for] a couple of months on the arrangements, adding new songs that would be more appropriate for the symphonic crowd. There’ll be more music and less comedy. But I’ll still bring variety to the show. People always want a laugh and some nostalgia.”

Reynolds says she has no thoughts of retirement. “I love show business and singing and dancing. I want to go on forever like George Burns. I want to be like Trigger,” she says with a laugh, referring to Roy Rogers’ ride, “stuffed and put on display in a museum.”

* Debbie Reynolds appears with the Pacific Symphony at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa; Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. $22-$51 ($14 student/senior rush). (714) 755-5799.


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