How Debbie Reynolds Rose to Accidental Stardom

January 26, 2015 6:18 AM

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Mary Frances Reynolds wanted to be a gym teacher. She grew up a ball-playing, tree-climbing tomboy from a church-going family in Burbank, California. A chance decision to enter a local beauty contest at age 16 and the surprising victory that ensued led to a contract with Warner Brothers, a name change (to Debbie, although she would have preferred “Patches” or “Saucy”) and a long onscreen career, for which she’ll be honored on Sunday, Jan. 25, with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Reynolds did not grow up singing, dancing or acting—the three talents for which she’ll be recognized this weekend—but she worked tirelessly to develop them. Beginning with her brief stint at Warner Brothers as a teenager, she regularly put in ten-hour days honing all three. She appeared in one music...

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