I was recently saddened to learn that the dance studios the late Debbie Reynolds built in North Hollywood in 1979 — Debbie Reynolds’ Legacy Studios — would be closing and is set to be demolished. She wanted her legacy to be the encouragement of dance for everybody. Sadly, it appears her dream has not been realised. When I heard the new, it was like losing Debbie all over again.
My association with Debbie Reynolds began when I wrote to her as an 11-year-old, having seen her in the movie Two Weeks with Love. In the film she performed the hit song ‘Aba, Daba Honeymoon’ with Carleton Carpenter. I was attracted to the energy she exuded on the screen and even more so after seeing her in I Love Melvin with Donald O’Connor. I very carefully composed my letter to Debbie. At the time I had a very bad stammer and had absolutely no confidence in myself, so I expressed my concern about wanting to be an actor when I grew up but didn’t know how because of my stammer etc. I found the address of MGM Studios from the Australian offices of MGM and posted my letter never truly expecting to hear from her, but I lived in hope.
About six months later a letter arrived from Hollywood, which my mum carefully placed on my pillow for me to find when I returned home after school. I was totally in shock when I saw it and carefully opened the envelope to find three handwritten pages from Debbie Reynolds. I read and absorbed every word. She told me that she found my letter charming and then gave me advice on how to possibly gain confidence and thereby improve my stammer. She said that she was never ever nervous before a show and felt she came alive on stage. She also said to stay in touch, which I did infrequently over the years.
In 1978 I received a note saying that Debbie Reynolds was coming to Melbourne with her full show from Las Vegas and even though I was living in Sydney at the time she asked if I could make it to Melbourne. Debbie would arrange for tickets for me and for me to meet her after the show. Of course, I told her I would be there. I went to the airport to see her arrive, but was too nervous to make my presence known. A couple of days later I attended her opening night with seats in the front row and after the show I was escorted backstage. She was surrounded by several VIPs when I arrived, so I waited my turn. Debbie was tiny — 5-foot 1 inch — and looked very much as she looked in her movies. Finally, it was my turn and after an enormous hug and chat she signed a copy of her book with a charming inscription and said to stay in touch because she was looking at returning to Sydney the following year.
When Debbie did return, I was lucky enough to tour with her for a month as she moved around Australia and New Zealand. We spent many late nights together and she would regale us with the most wonderful stories of her life during the heydays of Hollywood.
In 2008, my partner and I brought Debbie to Perth to appear in the musical Irene at His Majesty’s Theatre. She stayed for almost a month and her rider stated that she would only rehearse from 9am to 5pm and needed a chauffeur. However, when she arrived, she was happy to travel in our little Mazda car and almost every day she worked the exact same hours as the rest of the cast, which were often until very late at night. Debbie was the matron of honour at the commitment ceremony Sacha and I had on Australia Day in 2008, and when we married in March she was very present in our thoughts.
The iconic Debbie Reynolds’ Legacy Studios is scheduled for demolition by the buildings owner, who purchased the building from the Reynolds’ estate. Todd Fisher said his mother always said dancing made her happy. Debbie even purposely made prices affordable so that more people could dance there.
The studio allowed some of Hollywood’s biggest stars to rehearse, including Madonna and Cher. Michael Jackson rehearsed ‘Thriller’ at the studio, and John Travolta and Olivia Newton John worked on ‘Grease’, and that’s just a tiny sampling of its Hollywood history.