Unsinkable: A Memoir by Debbie Reynolds with Dorian Hannaway, Morrow, 306 pages ($28.99). It is, of course, no fair to Dorian Hannaway, that we might wish the ideal co-writer for Debbie Reynolds’ memoir to be not her but rather Reynolds’ daughter Carrie Fisher, one of the funniest women in the world (as well as one of the more troubled, for all her jokes about being – quite literally – selected for the Los Angeles Times’ “Bipolar Woman of the Year”). Hannaway, we’re told, is a 30-year friend of Reynolds as well as a former director of late-night programming for CBS. What a book we might have had if Reynolds’ co-writer had been the brilliant daughter who gleefully announces to audiences of her one-woman show “Wishful Drinking” that she comes from a family of “blue-blooded white trash.”
Even so, it’s hard not to be fond of a book which begins by telling us about a newly married Reynolds trying to get hold of her daughter by phone in London only to have no luck. Given her daughter’s substance abuse and psychiatric problems, that is no small issue. She pleads with the London hotel to go to her room to check on her. No way, they say. How do they know she really is Debbie Reynolds? So, Debbie tells us, she called up her pal in London, Ava Gardner, who promised, “I’ll sure as hell take care of it.” (“Ava had handled everyone from Frank Sinatra to bullfighters in Spain. I was confident that one London Concierge would be no match for her.”) No, Carrie hadn’t overdosed but she was found unconscious and needed the supervisory care – and medical connections – Gardner could muster at short notice, which was considerable.
Anyone interested in Reynolds’ life from her point of view (for Carrie Fisher’s POV see almost everything she’s written, especially her novel “Postcards from the Edge”), you get it all here with every blue-blooded white trash detail you could possibly want. (For instance, after Carrie Fisher was born, Debbie and Eddie seldom had sex.) Rather more important for all movie scholars and fans, though, is the precious first-person testimony of the kind of genuine Hollywood grandee who could call up Ava Gardner and get her to do the most personal of family errands. “Unsinkable” indeed. – Jeff Simon