Ruta Lee: Debbie Reynolds’s brave face masked private pain

ruta-lee-debbie-reynoldsLOS ANGELES: Veteran actress Ruta Lee paid tribute to screen icon Debbie Reynolds on Sunday, praising her lifelong friend for a showing a brave face to the world despite her private anguish.

The “Singin’ in the Rain” star — who died in December, a day after her daughter, “Star Wars” legend Carrie Fisher — endured a rocky private life which included three disastrous marriages that cost her millions of dollars and brought public humiliation.

“She never showed the world the difficulty she was in,” said Lee, 81, at a tribute to the star on the final day of the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood.

“There were times… when Debbie and the children slept in the car. And I was so close to her, but was not aware, to be able to say, ‘come, I have room in my house, bring the kids, we’re fine.'”

Reynolds is best remembered as sweet but shy voice artist Kathy Selden in “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952) and holding her own despite being cast opposite tap-dancing superstar Gene Kelly, who was more than twice her age.

Off-screen, she was known as the wronged party in one of Hollywood’s most notorious scandals, when her husband, singer Eddie Fisher, left her for her friend and fellow screen icon Elizabeth Taylor.

In another turn of misfortune, Reynolds’s second husband, shoe magnate Harry Karl, gambled away most of her savings.

Her third marriage to real estate developer Richard Hamlett in 1985 wasn’t much more successful, ending in divorce in 1996.

To support the family, Reynolds performed at her casino in Las Vegas, where she housed a Hollywood memorabilia collection until it shut in 1997.

“She never let you see the down side of anything and lord knows there were lots of down sides, and Debbie was the first one to say she had lousy taste in men, but good taste in girlfriends,” said Lee.

“The girlfriends she kept for life. She tapdanced her way out of a $6 million debt when she was left by the shoe magnate.”

The documentary “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds,” which aired on HBO in March, chronicled Reynolds’s at-times rocky relationship with her daughter.

The pair — who were 84 and 60 when they died — were reconciled years ago, however, and were so close that they were even living as next door neighbors in the same Beverly Hills compound.

“They entertained so many millions of people that were deeply moved and touched by them and the ultimate gift that they gave us was that love between them,” Reynolds’s son and Fisher’s brother, Todd Fisher, told the audience at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre.

“I think when they were together there was a message that went beyond the art, a life message to us all that said to us make sure you take that moment to be able to hug, to say that goodbye.”