On tour with Debbie Reynolds: the feisty and fit actress speaks out about an all-too-common problem—overactive bladder

On tour with Debbie Reynolds: the feisty and fit actress speaks out about an all-too-common problem—overactive bladder

Patrick Perry

“I love the road, greasepaint, and roar of the crowd. I love perfoming live,” Debbie Reynolds, as fit and feisty as ever, told the Post while on tour in Canada. “I am onstage two hours singing, dancing, and doing impressions in a variety show. It keeps you on your toes. You better be in shape, or you won’t make it through the show.”

One of America’s most enduring stars of screen, stage, and song, Reynolds stepped into the spotlight at age 17 and has remained center stage ever since. Last year marked the 50th anniversary’ of the Hollywood musical classic Singin’ in the Rain, which essentially made a star of Reynolds, then 19. The perky, wholesome newcomer landed her first leading role opposite dance icon Gene Kelly and established hoofer Donald O’Connor. Handpicked by MGM mogul Louis Mayer, Reynolds at the time was a plucky young contract player, armed with a beauty title, a few minor-role credits, and one major deficit–she couldn’t dance. Enduring weeks of grueling tap lessons to meet the exacting standards of Kelly, the spirited starlet relied upon her natural athletic and acrobatic skills to master the film’s dazzling choreography, dancing her way into film history.

“Singin’ in the Rain and childbirth were the two hardest things I ever had to do in my life,” Reynolds later said.

When offered the star-making role, Mary Frances Reynolds–Jack Warner christened the 16-year-old starlet “Debbie” when Warner Brothers placed her on contract in 1948–was apprehensive about the reaction of her conservative parents back home in the Texas panhandle.

“I had no singing or dancing training,” Reynolds remembers. “I was a sports enthusiast and wanted to be a gym teacher. But none of my family was in show business. When I told him about the offer to star in Singin’ in the Rain, my father said, `Why would they want you? You have no singing or dancing training.’ I said, `Daddy, I don’t know why they want me, but if they do, don’t you think I should do it?’ He said, `I think it’s OK with me.'”

After the box office hit, Reynolds entered Hollywood’s inner circle, and her career took off. She starred in over 30 motion pictures, including what many consider her most memorable role–the Oscar-nominated performance in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. The little Texas tornado later carved out a new career as a Las Vegas headliner and international touring sensation.

Throughout her celebrated career, the always-outspoken and health-conscious Reynolds has tackled issues that she believes are important, including breast cancer screening awareness and bone-density testing for osteoporosis.

Most recently, Reynolds launched Standing Ovations, a consumer-education campaign to raise awareness of overactive bladder. After suffering for years with overactive bladder, the actress stepped forward to share her personal experience with the disorder, hoping others suffering with the problem can find answers as well.

“Overactive bladder affects you because it defects you,” she explains. “The condition makes you redirect the way you plan and live your life. I suffered with the symptoms of overactive bladder for years, too embarrassed to talk with my physician. I want people to feel empowered to seek help.”

The condition seriously affected the way the entertainer ran her life and career.

“As a busy performer, it really slowed me down. If you have an overactive bladder, overactive means exactly that,” Reynolds stresses. “You are not in control of the problem; the problem controls you. Before seeking treatment, I scheduled my life around the overactive bladder. I was embarrassed to speak up, so over time I developed ways to cope, like avoiding long car trips and making sure I knew the location of the nearest rest room.”

Self-consciousness and fear are the most common barriers to effective treatment and can cause people to withdraw from family, friends, and social interaction.

“People do not need to be frightened. Instead of staying home and hiding out with a problem, discuss it with friends or others with the problem,” Reynolds says candidly. “Many people with overactive bladders won’t go out. If you invite them out, they won’t go. They really don’t know what to do about the problem.

“Many people wonder how my life works out to be so normal,” she continues. “It is because I went to the doctor and sought help, and I wanted to be the `mouth’ to encourage others to do the same.”

For Reynolds, admitting a problem existed and seeking professional help led to a solution.

“I encourage anyone who thinks they may have overactive bladder to talk to their doctor because effective treatment is available,” advises Reynolds. “Years ago, there wasn’t any help. Today, they have answers. You can get your life back on track–that’s important.”

Reynolds’ physician recommended Detrol LA, a prescription medication that helps control involuntary contractions of the bladder muscle–the cause of the strong, sudden urges. Drug therapy is often coupled with behavioral technique and bladder training, which help individuals gain even greater bladder control.

As for Reynolds’ future, the star plans to take a couple months off to spend time with her granddaughter and preserve her most precious asset–her health. While the energetic, outgoing star projects the glamour and glitz of show business, she always prefers home life over Tinseltown’s social circuit.

“I’m not a party person because I am always working and do not really care to stand around at cocktail parties,” she admits. “If it’s a dinner party for a few friends–six, eight, or ten–that’s as much as I want. I would rather read a book or play Ping-Pong with my granddaughter.”

Another passion is finding a permanent home for the Hollywood Motion Picture and Television Museum to house Reynolds’ huge collection of movie memorabilia that she has been amassing for over three decades–the largest of its kind in the world. The collection includes Judy Garland’s gingham dress from The Wizard of Oz and the billowing “subway skirt” that Marilyn Monroe wrestled with in The Seven Year Itch. Over 3,000 costumes and memorabilia are available from films of the silent era through the 1970s, including entire sets from Planet of the Apes, Hello, Dolly!, Citizen Kane, Singin’ in the Rain, and, of course, The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

If you’re curious about the location of the permanent home for these Hollywood treasures, so is Reynolds. Her son Todd Fisher, the general manager of the nonprofit foundation, oversees the collection while mother and son explore funding to build a permanent museum. Reynolds herself has spent millions collecting, preserving, and housing the impressive historical collection, but convincing Hollywood of its importance to the moviegoing public is another matter altogether.

“It is so hard to get this museum accomplished,” admits Reynolds. “The industry doesn’t care about its history or preservation. But the public loves their movie stars–Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Bette Davis. Today, it’s Tom Hanks and many others. Where can fans see their favorite star’s costumes, film clips, and everything else from their movies? What’s wrong with preserving the past?”

While Reynolds certainly cherishes memories from the past, the future is clearly her focus. Who needs retirement when you have work to do? And who needs to change gears when you’ve made it to 70 with humor, health, and stardom firmly in tow?

“I am eccentric and want to stay that way,” the unsinkable Reynolds proudly declares. “I plan on becoming more eccentric every year.”

Do You Have Overactive Bladder?

Overactive bladder affects more than 17 million Americans. The condition is not a natural part of aging, nor does it affect only senior women. The condition occurs when contraction of the large muscle of the bladder–the detrusor muscle–happens too frequently. Symptoms of these contractions include:

* Urgency–strong, sudden urges to urinate.

* Frequency–desire to go to the bathroom more than eight times during a 24-hour period and two or more times a night.

* Urge incontinence–wetting accidents due to sudden, unstoppable urges to urinate.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Saturday Evening Post Society

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group