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Reynolds continues tales of show business, life

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‘Unsinkable — A Memoir'

Author: Debbie Reynolds

Publisher: HarperCollins, 306 pages, $28.99

By Susan Wloszczyna
Saturday, April 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

After three rocky rides on the marriage-go-round — the most infamous being her first, which ended when Eddie Fisher split to wed Elizabeth Taylor in the late '50s — Debbie Reynolds' male companion of choice these days is of the canine variety.

“I am sharing a bacon sandwich with my dog,” says the Hollywood legend as she nestles next to Dwight, her fluffy 6-year-old Coton de Tulear. “Whatever I'm eating, he wants. He just stares and his eyes glisten.”

The onetime MGM ingenue wowed film audiences while still in her teens alongside Gene Kelly in 1952's “Singin' in the Rain” and created the role of the backwoods sweetheart in 1957's “Tammy.” Now, she also has quite a treat in store for her legions of fans: “Unsinkable: A Memoir.” The continuation of her 1988 autobiography details both the heartaches and triumphs of the past several decades.

Reynolds, who turned 81 on April 1, spoke from her Beverly Hills home, which is a driveway away from daughter Carrie Fisher's abode.

Question: How are you feeling? You had quite a heath scare last fall when you had a bad reaction to a new pill and were hospitalized. On top of that, you reveal in the book that your kidneys almost failed and you suffered a type of mini-stroke.

Answer: Five months ago, I was really sick. I found out one kidney was only 20 percent working. That is not what it's supposed to be. I can't drink anything. No liquor. None of the enjoyments of a loose life. I was a good girl and doing what they said. Then I took the wrong medication. I hadn't felt well for four years, but I kept on working. I only know one thing — you never quit your job. You finish your job no matter how bad you feel. I took a Lyrica, and overnight, the pain went away for two days. But then I blew up. I was allergic to it. Then I had a kind of mini-stroke. You just leave your body for a while. You can't talk or write. I was out of business. I am feeling better now. I am fine on the telephone. You don't have to worry about hair and makeup.

Q: At the end of your first memoir, you were basking in the glow of finally finding your Prince Charming, declaring your third husband, real-estate developer Richard Hamlett, to be “brave, loyal and loving.” But he not only cheated on you with other women, he made bad investments and money deals on your behalf, which led to the loss of your Las Vegas hotel and forced you into bankruptcy. What happened?

A: I was stupid — really dumb. Three strikes and you're out. I've never been able to judge men properly. He had a girlfriend for years before me and saw money signs when he married me. I'm not good in math or marriage. It really hurt me so much. Eddie and this one. (Her second was to businessman Harry Karl) I started to doubt myself, but I feel more clear-headed about it now. I am happy to be by myself. I'm not going to marry again.

Q: How is Carrie doing? She made headlines recently after suffering a bipolar-disorder episode while performing on a cruise ship in late February.

A: I would have loved to have seen the whole show. There were a couple things on Twitter, and it was funny as hell. Her secretary, who was with her, told her not to take the dog out onstage because it might do something, and of course, it did. She was so far out of it, she didn't know what was going on. She had a break, an attack. The dog (pooped), she picked it up and sang a song about it. It is a collector's item. She is the poster girl for mental health.

Q: There are several revelations in your book about your relationship with Elizabeth Taylor, who died in 2011, that you haven't discussed before. That you two were together in New York City on 9/11 after attending a concert in honor of Michael Jackson and how she got her ex, John Warner, to arrange for a plane to take you to the West Coast so you wouldn't miss doing a show. And that she left a sapphire bracelet, necklace and earrings to you in her will.

A: I feel if people do you a favor, you shouldn't brag about it. That is why I waited. She had her good side. It wasn't all Eddie and Elizabeth. At least once she got over her sex drive.

Q: It is impressive how involved you are in social media. You tweet (@debbiereynolds1), you have a Facebook page for your book and a new eBay store to sell pieces fromyour collection of Hollywood memorabilia.

A: I tweet, yes, when I have the time. It gets kind of busy, though. There is a new thing in my life, a store. The website opened (recently), and we sold 13 costumes. A Mitzi Gaynor costume went for $4,000. We will put out more. I have tons of clothes from Eva Gabor and Agnes Moorehead. They are priced pretty high because they are so old and come from classics. My son, Todd, thinks I should put up more things people can afford, like posters.

Q: You were part of the last great wave of movie musicals. Are you happy that the genre seems to be making a comeback?

A: It comes from TV, shows like “Glee.” Musicals should always make people happy, lift you out of your problems. It takes producers with guts to make them. I haven't seen “Les Misérables” yet. I saw the play in New York, and it brought me down. I don't need that. I believe that when I go to the theater, I want to laugh myself silly.

Q: You play Liberace's mother in HBO's “Beyond the Candelabra” (airing May 26) opposite Michael Douglas as the colorful entertainer and Matt Damon as his young lover. How was that?

A: I knew Mrs. Liberace. Lee (Liberace) and I were good friends. We worked across the street from one another — he was at the Hilton, and I was at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas. After work, around 2:30 in the morning, we would get together. We would have a lot of fun. He wanted to laugh and enjoy the young boys. I miss him a lot. He would call me up and say (she puts on his voice), “Debbie, we are going to dinner with Tom Jones. We are wearing white. All white.” I would wear all my jewelry, and he would pick me up in a limousine. We would go see Tom Jones, and all these women would be rushing around, and Tom would say, “You come back later — I'm with my pals Tammy (a reference to her movie role) and Lee.”

Q: How did Douglas do as Liberace?

A: Michael did a good job portraying him. That voice is hard to imitate. He did the piano matching really excellently. But he is not as much of a bon vivant as he could have been. They could have gone further. He looks cute like Lee. But you won't recognize me at all as his mother. I knew she was from Europe and had to have a certain feel. I have a very small nose. Lee had his fixed, but hers wasn't. When I met with the director, Steven Soderbergh, I had all my hair under a gray wig, and he couldn't find me. I waved like an old hooker at an old folks home. He started to laugh. I think he was slightly amused.

Q: In your book, you say, “In my heart, I'll always be a Girl Scout,” especially after earning 47 out of 100 merit badges. Are you really still a Girl Scout? And do you have to sell those cookies?

A: I registered as a Girl Scout, and I want to die as the world's oldest living Girl Scout. I've been one for 70 years. I don't have to do anything about it. It is such a good program, and it helped me in my youth.

Susan Wloszczyna is a staff writer for USA Today.

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