Thursday, December 29, 2016


Six years ago I spent the day with Debbie Reynolds at her home in Coldwater Canyon to interview her for her forthcoming concert tour of England. This is the article that appeared in the Daily Telegraph. 

Every day, in her ranch-style home in a canyon not far from Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, Debbie Reynolds swims in her indoor pool, lifts weights and hangs upside down for 15 minutes.

     It is all part of the 77-year-old
actress’s vigourous preparations for a forthcoming 15-city concert tour of England which will culminate in ten dates in London, her first performances there for 35 years.

    While most of her contemporaries from Hollywood’s Golden Age are either chronically infirm or dead, Debbie Reynolds still works 42 weeks a year, singing, dancing, doing impressions and telling anecdotes from her seemingly inexhaustible fund of memories of her legendary career.

    “I’m fit, I have good genes and my family have lived long lives and so far my health is excellent,” she says. “I’m feeling really well and I’m still being booked everywhere so I’m very blessed to keep working. Yesterday I had six hours of tests just to be sure I’m ready for a tough tour like this. We’ll be travelling by bus. We start in Norwich and we’ll do a show, get on the bus, go to the next theatre, do another show and so on. It’ll be like the old days…bus and truck.”

   A trim, petite Debbie Reynolds, looking 15 years younger than her age, had greeted me at the gate of the six-acre compound where she and her daughter the writer-actress Carrie Fisher live in separate homes but share a common driveway and custody of a fluffy white dog named Dwight. As she led the way into the house, chatting as she went, it was easy to detect traces of the charm, energy and girl-next-door looks that made the actress-singer-dancer so popular on screen during the youthful innocence of the post-World War 11 era.


    Dwight curled up next to her on the couch in her memorabilia-filled living room as she poured tea and reminisced about her 60-plus years in showbusiness. Listening to her is like being taken on a tour through Hollywood’s heyday: Parties with Frank Sinatra; dance routines with Fred Astaire (they made two pictures together), Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor (Singing In the Rain) and Bob Fosse; a Western with John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart; good times, bad times; successes and scandals.  

with Carrie, named after Cary Grant
   Framed photographs line the walls and take up every available surface: Sinatra (he signed it to Sweetie), Cary Grant (she named her daughter Carrie after him), Astaire, Katherine Hepburn, Judy Garland, family photos and, on what she calls her “MGM Wall,” are signed photographs of all the actresses who were under contract at MGM the same time she was.

   Every picture evokes a memory.  “Bette Davis was a close friend. She loved to have a good time. People thought she was a big drinker but I only knew her as a social drinker….Lana Turner and Ava Gardner were my special friends at MGM….. Esther Williams lives just a few blocks down the road and she’s having a hard time right now. I go over and see her…. Jane Powell lives in New York and is doing really well but I don’t see her nowadays and Leslie Caron and I were very close when we were young but she lives in France and I don’t see her now.

  “I made A Catered Affair with Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine when I was 21 and some of us gave him a surprise birthday party last week at a friend’s house, which was difficult because he wants to know everything that’s going on. He’s 93 now.”


    As she talked she occasionally sang snatches of songs from a 1940s medley she will be including in her U.K. concerts, along with dead-on impressions of Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis and Jimmy Stewart. “I grew up with these people and I started doing impersonations because their voices fascinated me.”

    She likes to say that her long career began by accident, because she wanted a free blouse. Born Mary Frances Reynolds in Texas, she moved with her family to Los Angeles when she was seven-years-old. “We were very poor and I entered a talent contest as a young teenager because if you entered, even if you didn’t win, they gave you a free blouse,” she recalled. “I entered and there were talent scouts there and they changed my name to Debbie and I was given a film contract. So in 1949 I started a new life, and that was when I entered the fast lane.”


   It was the era of handsome leading men and squeaky-clean, virginal women and the perky Debbie Reynolds fitted right in. She was cast mainly as a young adult in the throes of puppy love in light, cheery comedies and musicals such as 1957’s Tammy and the Bachelor----whose theme song Tammy gave her a hit single which spent five weeks at No. 1--- and Singing in The Rain. That image came in particularly useful in snaring the public’s sympathy when, in the biggest Hollywood scandal of the 1950s, her then-husband, the crooner Eddie Fisher left her and their two children, Carrie and Todd Fisher, for Elizabeth Taylor.    


   “That was a difficult time,” she recalled with a smile. “But Elizabeth and I talked about that a long time ago and got over it when we did a picture together called These Old Broads which my daughter wrote. We talked about a lot of things at that time and we still talk sometimes although we don’t see each other much. She isn’t feeling in good health these days but she’s trying to take care of herself which is most important at our age---do what we can and be as happy as our health allows and that’s what she does. She has a small group of friends and a lot of fans.”

     As the studio system disintegrated and new sexual mores surfaced, Debbie Reynolds reinvented herself, switching her focus to television and then to nightclub and theatre stages. “I was doing musicals and there was a demand for Lena Horne and Judy Garland so I put an act together too and it went over quite well,” she said, adding, “and it has for all these years.”

     She was one of the few females, along with Shirley MacLaine and Phyllis Maguire, whom Frank Sinatra allowed to join his Rat Pack parties when she played Las Vegas. “I loved to party with the Rat Pack, they were so much fun,” she said. “All they did was have a good time. We’d get off work at 2 in the morning and hang out at a club and listen to other performers. Sammy Davis, Frank Sinatra, Louis Prima, Keeley Smith---we were always in the lounge, singing. I loved Frank Sinatra. He was a great guy. He was a party fellow and a very good friend. If he liked you it was forever and if he disliked you, I wouldn’t want to be there.

  “When we worked together on The Tender Trap I was engaged to marry Eddie Fisher and Frank took me to lunch and said: ‘Sweetie, don’t get married. Don’t marry a singer. We’re nice guys but we’re not good husbands.’ I gave it a lot of thought but Eddie was a darling boy and at the time I loved him very much. I was very young and of course Frank was right. I shouldn’t have married him because he left me for Elizabeth.”

   He wasn’t the only man to let her down badly. Her second marriage, to businessman Harry Karl, lasted from 1960 to 1973 but his gambling and bad investments landed her in deep financial trouble while her third marriage, to property developer Richard Hamlet, was even more of a disaster. She was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1997 because a small hotel and casino they had bought in Las Vegas failed resoundingly. 

   “He turned out to be a crook and a swindler,” she said without apparent bitterness. “I suppose it happens to many women but unfortunately it had already happened to me before. Harry Karl cost me about $50 million which was the biggest hurt of my life until my third husband tried to top that. I’ve been very unlucky in the love department so I’ve eliminated that from my vocabulary. I have so much to do and so much I want to accomplish but it seems that whenever I marry, my husband seems to take it away from me.”

    Despite years of partygoing and nightclub life Debbie Reynolds remains a moderate drinker and insists she is nothing like the heavy drinking character played by Shirley MacLaine in Postcards from the Edge, which was written by her daughter Carrie (who was portrayed by Meryl Streep) and which many thought was based on Reynolds’ and Carrie’s relationship.  “I love to get up and entertain at parties and I love to sing and get on the piano and Shirley put a lot of my traits in the part, but I don’t have the disease of alcoholism, thank God,” she says. “I don’t drink hard liquor, just wine. To me it’s a social thing. I could never drink vodka the way she did in the movie. I don’t even like vodka.”

      Debbie Reynolds recently returned from a six-week stint in New York while Carrie was on Broadway with her one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, which takes satirical jabs at Hollywood. Carrie, who became famous around the world as Princess Leia in Star Wars, has had serious problems for most of her adult life. “Carrie’s a manic depressive and she was an addict but she’s under medication and she’s bi-polar and she has a lot of mental health issues, but she takes good care of them and we have good doctors and psychiatrists,” she said. “She’s always in treatment and will be until the day she dies. It’s a continuing problem.”

  Her son Todd, who lives on a ranch near Santa Barbara, is helping her achieve her 40-year dream of creating a permanent Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Motion Picture Museum to house her massive collection of Hollywood props, sets and costumes, most of which she acquired when she bought the MGM collection in 1970, but which she continues to add to. “I just bought Audrey Hepburn’s dress from the Ascot scene in My Fair Lady,” she said.

   She had the collection briefly on display at the Las Vegas hotel and casino she owned and despite losing a small fortune and having to declare bankruptcy she managed to hold on to the memorabilia. Negotiations are now underway for it to go on permanent display at Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, near Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park.

   Debbie Reynolds is constantly on the go. She has a chain of dance studios, is active with the Thalians, a charitable organisation she founded 50 years ago, and is frequently on tour with her act around America’s casinos and nightclub circuit. The week after we spoke she was due to appear at a place called Jackpot, Nevada. “It’ll probably take two trains, a car and mule train to get there but I’ll make it,” she laughed.

    The last time she played the London Palladium she had 25 people with her and took over a floor at the Savoy Hotel. “I’d been at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas and I had to come to England by boat because I had a 30 foot high staircase I danced down and I had four backup singers,” she recalled. “I had a huge act then. No one can do that anymore because no one can afford it.”

   This time she will have her hairdresser, road manager, three piece band, a sound engineer and a lighting engineer. She has pre-recorded a 24 piece orchestra to accompany her and will bring her own curtains to drape the stage. “I’m a woman and I like the stage to be pretty so I travel with my own curtains. Instead of having big set pieces for the stage I would rather drape it.”

   As well as singing, dancing and doing impressions, she will introduce clips from her most popular films, including Singing In The Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown and will sing a duet with an on-screen Sinatra.

   If she has any regrets it is that although she was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of the Titanic survivor Molly Brown in The Unsinkable Molly Brown, she was not given the role in James Cameron’s Titanic (it went to Kathy Bates.)

   “You could never get Molly Brown down,” she said. “She said, ‘They tried to sink me but no one’s ever gotten me down yet.’ And that’s the way I feel about my life. There have been a lot of mishaps and a lot of difficulties along the way but it’s been a wonderful life and I never let anything get me down.

   “My children are all grown, my life is my work and I intend to work until the good Lord takes me to another place.”

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


A cuddle with Carrie
 So sorry to hear the sad news of the death of Carrie Fisher. A true child of Hollywood, she was the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher and grew up surrounded by the trappings of stardom.
  She was 2 when her parents separated in a much publicised divorce when Fisher left her mother for Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor was Mike Todd's widow, the best friend of Eddie Fisher. Carrie later described the incident as an "unpleasant experience."
   Fisher made her Broadway debut in 1973 at the age of 15 in the revival of "Irene," starring her mother. The success of the show meant she had to drop out of Beverly Hills High School. Fisher never ended up graduating from high school.
 In 1978, her acting career again interfered with her education. This time, it was the role of Princess Leia in Star Wars that would cement her status as cult icon and earned her legions of fans.
  The then-19-year-old actress had an affair with the then-married Harrison Ford, who was 34 at the time and played Hans Solo in the movie.
 In 1983, with the release of the Return of the Jedi and her fame at its peak, she married Paul Simon but the marriage only lasted a year.
 After the original "Star Wars" films, Fisher's acting career never again reached the same heights, though she continued to work steadily in film and television.
Aside from acting, Fisher was a gifted writer. Her first novel, "Postcards from the Edge," a semi-autobiographical satire of her drug addiction and relationships, became a bestseller in 1987. The book was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine and Dennis Quaid in 1990. Fisher herself adapted it into a film script. She was one of the top script doctors in Hollywood, though she stopped revising scripts in 2015.
 In her personal life, Fisher publicly dealt with drug addiction and bipolar disorder. She said she started taking drugs as way to self-medicate.
"Drugs made me feel more normal," she told Psychology Today in 2001. "They contained me."

  When we talked last year she was in good form and we cuddled and reminisced about a mutual friend, the wonderful screenwriter Charles Bennett, her next-door neighbour for many years in Coldwater Canyon.
Carrie as Princess Leia
  Charles, who died in 1995 aged 95, wrote several of Alfred Hitchock's films and was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay for Foreign Correspondent.
   I used to visit him regularly and sit at his bar for the "cocktail hour" he observed every day at 5pm.
   When I reminded Carrie of this she nodded knowingly. "Yes," she said. "Charles used to drink a lot."
  Czrrie suffered her heart attack while flying home from London where she was promoting her latest book, "The Princess Diarist."
Carrie, who was 60, is survived by her mother; daughter Billie Lourd; brother Todd Fisher; and half-sisters Joely Fisher and Tricia Leigh Fisher.
Carrie with Gary on the red carpet
 Glad to hear that Gary, the beloved French bulldog Carrie adopted three years ago to settle her nerves has a new home with Carrie's daughter, Scream Queens actress Billie Lourd.  Gary accompanied Carrie on red carpets and sat-in for on-camera interviews, quickly becoming a fan-favorite.

Thursday, December 22, 2016


   Will Smith is not one of those precious celebrities who claim to dislike their fame, complain about being recognised in the street and who hide from their fans.
   On the contrary, the ebullient Smith goes out of his way to accommodate anyone who wants to talk to him, get his autograph or take a "selfie."  
  In fact, he tells me when we talk in New York, "I LOVE being famous. I love it that I can’t walk down the street without people recognising me. It’s a beautiful experience when everybody recognises you. I can see for some people it would make them unsafe but it makes me feel completely safe because it means that somebody will always help me, no matter what."
  He would be wise to make the most of his fame while he can because his resume is becoming heavy with far more misses than hits. 
   His latest movie---and the reason we talked---is Collateral Beauty, a mawkish holiday "drama" which racked up an abysmal $7 million on its opening weekend and is yet another box office disappointment after the science fiction flick After Earth and last year's crime dramedy Focus. Even Concussion, which was expected to land him an Oscar nomination, did not fare nearly as well as expected and brought no awards.  It is becoming a familiar story for Smith, who was once a big box office name, carrying hits like 1996's Independence Day and 1997's Men in Black with his sheer star power. 
 So what has changed?
  "Will Smith is in a serious transition mode, from Blockbuster Saviour to Mr. Joe Regular," Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations, tells the Wrap.  "He doesn't diversify much anymore; he pretty much plays very safe roles and unfortunately his fan base isn't what it was." 

Sunday, December 11, 2016


Dev Patel and I first met at a party in Toronto just after the premiere of Slumdog Millionaire, the movie in which he starred and which kick started his career.
  In the ensuing eight years he has co-starred in the two Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies, Chappie, The Man who Knew Infinity and the TV series The Newsroom, among others..
 Now he is being tipped for an Oscar nomination for his starring role in Lion, the true story of an Indian boy adopted by Australian parents who, as a man, sets out to find his real mother. 
A few years ago!
 We met up again the other day at a luncheon party at the British Consul-General's home in Los Angeles where  Dev, a likeable, easy-going Londoner from Harrow who has now moved to Los Angeles, told me about a bizarre experience he had on his latest movie, Hotel Mumbai, which will be released next year.
  Dev was with the rest of the cast and crew at the wrap party when the Australian director, Anthony Maras, somehow caught his hand in a fan and lost part of his thumb. While his hand was being temporarily bandaged and an ambulance was summoned Dev borrowed a flashlight and scoured the floor under the table until he found the top of the thumb which he wrapped and which was dispatched to the hospital with Maras.
  Unfortunately because the thumb had been sheared off to the bone the top could not be reattached.
  "It was terrible," Dev told me. "Anthony was in a lot of pain but he was a real trooper."
   Nothing so dramatic happened on Lion, although Dev and the crew spent six weeks' filming in India which was eventful enough.
   Now he is embarked on a gruelling promotional tour which to his dismay included having to make a speech to guests assembled at the British Consul-General's home.    

Thursday, December 8, 2016


  I first met Sienna Miller at a party by the pool at the ViceroyHotel in Santa Monica when she was an unknown 21 year-old who had just arrived in California from London. 
  Now, 15 years later, she is a major star living in New York with her four-year-old daughter, having split up last year with the girl's father, actor Tom Sturridge.
A few years ago
  In the intervening years she has had a series of turbulent romances which have frequently landed her in the tabloids. Her hard-partying lifestyle, her night-clubbing, her on-off affair with Jude Law, her fling with Daniel Craig while ostensibly still with Law.....her private life and bohemian chic style totally overshadowed her acting abilities. 
  She had brief romances with Rhys Ifans, Hayden Christensen and model Jamie Burke and was the subject of more negative press when she embarked on a highly public affair with Balthazar Getty who was married at the time with four children. The scandal was fuelled by photos of Getty kissing a topless Miller aboard a boat off the coast of Italy. The much publicised affair caused Getty to split with his wife and led to Miller suing the British tabloid that published the photos. 

   Through it all she continued to turn in well received performances in movies such as Factory Girl, American Sniper and on the Broadway stage as Sally Bowles in Cabaret.

   Most recently starring with Ben Affleck in Live By Night, she is currently dating Bennett Miller, who directed her in Foxcatcher.
   Despite her tempestuous and often troubled love life, she tells me: "I still believe in love. I think being an inherently romantic person has meant that most of the changes in my life have happened as a result of love, for better or for worse. And I think those experiences really reshape you in ways that add depth and gravitas and wisdom and sadness. I have cut off my hair at the end of a relationship. And I have relocated. I'm hopelessly romantic."
    So what type of man turns Sienna on? "I like my men in a suit with a gun," she jokes. Then more seriously she tells me: "I like my men to be clever. Not necessarily well-educated, but thoughtful and bright. If I'm not learning I get really bored. So intelligence has always been the thing that I've found most attractive in a man."

Thursday, December 1, 2016


Affleck in Manchester by the Sea
  With Casey Affleck the hot favourite to win both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for his role as a troubled janitor in Manchester by the Sea his publicity machine is working overtime to counter old  sexual harassment allegations which are threatening  to upset his awards campaign.
  Affleck has been the leading contender since January’s Sundance Film Festival but scrutiny is growing over two settled claims of inappropriate behavior and unwanted advances on the set of his 2010 directorial effort, I’m Still Here.
  The Wrap reports that some media outlets have asked why so little attention has been paid to them, noting that Affleck has received friendly profiles, but that Nate Parker’s Oscar chances for “Birth of a Nation” were badly wounded by heavy coverage of a rape case in which he was acquitted in 2001. No one is saying the cases are identical: Parker’s was criminal, while Affleck’s was civil. And Parker’s accuser took her own life, years after he was found not guilty.

 In one case filed against Affleck he was accused of calling women “cows,” and producer Amanda White claimed that he constantly discussed his “sexual exploits” during filming and that at one point he directed another crew member to show her his penis, despite her objections. She also alleged that Affleck once attempted to get her to stay in a hotel room with him, and when she said no, he “grabbed her in a hostile manner in an effort to intimidate her into complying.” 
  In the other,  cinematographer Magdelena Gorka said Affleck joked that she should have sex with a camera assistant, and that she once woke up to find Affleck in bed with her wearing a T-shirt and underwear, stroking her back, his berath reeking of alcohol. The actor vehemently denied all of the accusations and counter-sued. 
 A representative for Affleck, 41, who separated from his wife earlier this year, declined to comment on the matter, except to say that the cases were settled to the satisfaction of both parties and the lawsuits were dismissed.
 Affleck’s performance in Manchester by the Sea has been almost universally admired, and represents a leading man return for him since his Oscar-nominated performance in 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
  Several stories pondered whether the disparity in treatment of Affleck and Parker is a matter of race: a fevered obsession over the latter’s rape case immediately overshadowed press surrounding the release of Birth of a Nation.
 Affleck, meanwhile, was honored at the Telluride Film Festival
and the honors keep coming.


  It's always a pleasure seeing Nicole Kidman, whom I first met 21 years ago on Batman Forever. A lot of water under the bridge si...