Debbie Reynolds & Carrie Fisher: Their Iconic Film Roles

Photo Credit: Pinterest Carrie Fisher. Debbie Reynolds. Two brilliant, iconic, witty and multi-talented women died this week, and our hearts are broken. First, we were stunned when we heard that Princess Leia had passed away shortly after suffering a heart attack mid-flight. Then we went into shock again, when we heard that Hollywood screen legend and Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, passed away the very next day.

Both had valiantly faced their struggles on and off screen. Reynolds dealt with not only gamblers who had losing streaks but romantic triangles on and off screen. Fisher battled mental illness and drug abuse in the real world, and power-mad emperors, troubled friends and even neighbors whose hobby was murder onscreen.

Both had played nuns. Reynolds as the lead in “The Singing Nun,” and Fisher as one in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.” Different eras. Different types of nuns. Yet both women played tough nuns.

Both actresses have left a body of work that will inspire generations of women to follow their dreams, believe in themselves when no one else will and to always, always follow your dream.

Debbie Reynolds

Was Debbie Reynolds a proto-feminist? Looking over her film roles, you would have to say, “Yes.” The actress/singer/dancer whose career spanned 50 years and more than 60 movies. Whether playing a widow who bravely moves to the semi-lawless West of 1911, where she knows no one, for a job and a better life for her children (“The Second Time Around,” 1961), or an entrepreneur who opens a dance school in the 30s (“What’s the Matter with Helen?” 1971), Reynolds played women who didn’t follow society’s tropes. They spoke their mind, they worked and they believed in themselves.

Here is a roundup of a few of her iconic roles.

“Singin’ in the Rain” (1952)

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Just 19, Reynolds was cast as co-lead playing against veterans Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly. Reynolds plays Kathy Selden, an aspiring actress who meets Don Lockwood when he jumps into her car to escape fans. Instead of cooing at Don Lockwood (Kelly) during their initial meeting, she tells him off for being pretentious. Through a series of wacky events (this is a musical, after all), Kathy ends up working with Lockwood and his friend and partner, Cosmo Brown (O’Connor), adapting a silent film into a talkie into a musical.

While Reynolds could sing and act, she didn’t know how to dance. Legendary actor and dancer Fred Astaire helped her learn her dance routines. Critics the world over consider “Singin’ in the Rain” to be the best musical ever created.

“Bundle of Joy” (1956)

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The movie is a remake of Ginger Rogers’s “Bachelor Mother.” Like Rogers, Reynolds played a department store employee. In an era where it was still rare for women to have a career, Reynolds is once again portraying a role that defies societal expectations of women. The airy plot consists of Polly Parish (Reynolds) finding an abandoned baby and taking care of it. Hilarity ensues (insert ironic tone here) as the baby is mistaken as hers (the horror of an unmarried woman having a baby!) and puts kinks in her budding relationship with the department store’s president’s son Dan Merlin (Eddie Fisher). Fisher was Reynolds’s husband at the time of filming, and she was pregnant with daughter Carrie during production.

“Tammy and the Bachelor” (1957)

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A romantic comedy where Tammy saves a downed pilot Peter Brent (Leslie Nielsen) that she and her grandfather (Walter Brennan) find in the swamp that is their home. When Brent recovers, he tells Tammy’s grandfather that if anything should happen to him, 17-year-old Tammy should move into his family home, plush Brentwood Hall, and live with his family. After Tammy’s grandfather is arrested for creating moonshine, Tammy does just that. No matter how Peter’s relatives try to change Tammy from a barefoot tomboy whose best friend is a goat, Tammy stays true to herself. A big kerfuffle occurs when Peter decides to leave the family home and farm. Tammy runs away upset with his choice, but Peter finds her, declares his love to her, renounces his previous decision and they live happily ever after. Hey, we’re working in the 50s. Her recording of the title song, “Tammy,” earned Reynolds a gold record, and was nominated for an Oscar.

“The Second Time Around” (1961)

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Starring against Steve Forrest (Dan Jones) and Andy Griffith (Pat Collins), Reynolds is Lucretia “Lu” Rogers. Set in 1911, Reynolds is a widow with two children. She travels from New York City to take a job in the somewhat lawless Arizona territory. Upon arrival, she finds out the job doesn’t exist and ends up as a farm hand for Aggie Gates (Thelma Ritter), a rancher. Lu exposes Sheriff Burns’s corruption, deals with two rivals for her hand (Dan and Pat), is elected Sheriff, gets engaged to Dan and (sadly for us) gives her sheriff’s badge to Pat.

“How the West Was Won” (1962)

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Back to the West for Reynolds! Her co-stars include James Stewart, George Peppard, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, John Wayne, Eli Wallach and Richard Widmark. An epic movie, it follows four generations of one family and the rise of the West from 1839 to 1889. In 1851, Reynolds as Lilith is a young woman who moves from the wilds of 1851 Ohio to sophisticated St. Louis to become a singer. There she encounters Cleve Van Allen (Peck). Not knowing that he is a professional gambler who has heard that she’s inherited a gold mine, she lets him pay court to her on the wagon train from St. Louis to her gold mine. Finding the mine worthless, Van Allen leaves her and Lilith goes back to singing. She finds herself singing on a riverboat, where she and Van Allen once again bump into each other. This time, he proposes and suggests they move to San Francisco, a city of opportunities, and she agrees. In 1889, a widowed Lilith sells off her possessions and moves to her ranch in Arizona.

“Goodbye Charlie” (1964)

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The movie received awful reviews — when it premiered, The New York Times stated it was, “a bleak conglomeration of whimsies and stupidities.” The premise may be flimsy, but having seen the movie, it is funny. Reynolds stars as Charlie Sorel and Tony Curtis is George Tracy, George’s best friend. Charlie is a womanizer who is shot by his latest conquest’s husband while on a boat. Falling into the ocean, Charlie miraculously turns into a woman. Now, the womanizer gets to see what life is like as a woman.

“Unsinkable Molly Brown” (1964)

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Another in a long line of wonderful musical performances by Reynolds. Born poor, she marries Johnny Brown (Harve Presnell), a miner who strikes it rich. The couple settles in Denver, but are not welcomed by the social set there. Upset, she travels to Europe alone, meets and dallies with a prince, then decides she misses Johnny and reserves a cabin on the Titanic so she can go home. On its maiden voyage, the ship sinks. Molly assists in rescuing many of her fellow passengers. On her return home, Johnny and the City of Denver welcome her as a heroine. Based on a true story.

“What’s the Matter with Helen?” (1971)

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This is Reynolds’s only thriller/horror movie role. Adelle (Reynolds) and Helen (ShelleyWinters) are two mothers whose sons are accused of murder in Iowa. After being attacked by a crowd, the two decide to move to Hollywood, change their names and create new lives for themselves. Adelle opens a dance studio. While she is busy creating a new life for herself, she doesn’t realize that Helen is descending into madness. The more confident and happy Adelle becomes, the more unhinged Helen’s behavior becomes. Everything spirals out of control. Helen murders Adelle’s pet bunnies, then murders Adelle.

Carrie Fisher

In “Star Wars,” Carrie Fisher may have played a princess, but she was also a commander. Whilst she was the only lead good guy without a lightsaber, she held her own against villains. Throughout much of Fisher’s film career, even when she wasn’t the lead, she played the voice of reason; the sane, smart one while others flailed around in either their love or work lives. And so many times she stole the scene and the movie.

Here’s a brief overview of some of her smart-as-a-whip movie roles.

“Shampoo” (1975)

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Still a teen, Fisher’s first role was Lorna, the daughter of one of George’s (Warren Beatty) many clients. Lorna teases and tortures George about his profession, then seduces him. For the first time in the film, serial womanizer George has the tables turned on him. While she didn’t have a lot of screen time, Fisher made a huge impression on moviegoers.

“Star Wars” (1977)

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As Princess Leia, Fisher is a tough commander, strategist, a sparky love interest to Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and compadre to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). The moment the world laid eyes on her, she became an icon embedded in our collective consciousness. Princess Leia is a pop culture icon who has shown up everywhere from Liz Lemon’s idealized wedding day wear to a children’s role model the world over.

“The Return of the Jedi” (1983)

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Captured by Jabba the Hut, Leia is forced to wear a golden bikini and chains. Then she killed him with it. ‘Nuff said.

“The Blues Brothers” (1980)

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Known only as “Mystery Woman,” Fisher finally gets her firearm, and attempts to blow everyone away.

“Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986)

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As April, Fisher partners up with Holly (Dianne Wiest), and the two actresses try to make a go of it as caterers. Holly’s inefficiency makes April step up to the plate. April not only takes over the business, but Holly’s love interest too. Ouch.

“When Harry Met Sally…” (1989)

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Fisher may have been the second banana in this Meg Ryan/Billy Crystal love fest, but as Marie, Sally’s best friend, she not only navigates her out of disaster, she also delivers the best lines of the movie, including the now classic, “Tell me I’ll never have to be out there again,” to her on-screen boyfriend Jess (Bruno Kirby).

“The Burbs” (1989)

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This was the second time Fisher was paired with Tom Hanks (“The Man with One Red Shoe”). As Fisher’s husband in the film, Hanks is convinced that their nextdoor neighbors, the Klopeks are serial killers. Fisher keeps talking him off the ledge.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015)

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Now General Leia Organa, she is reunited with her love Han Solo (Harrison Ford), loses him and her son Ben, now Ren (Adam Driver), and continues to fight for freedom and the safety of the republic. 

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