When I heard that Carol Burnett and Debbie Reynolds have new memoirs out this month, I imagined writing about their mutual love of fashion designer Bob Mackie.
Because if every sequin and bugle bead from the Mackie gowns they own were laid end to end, they'd stretch from Burnett's hometown of San Antonio to Reynold's of El Paso.
Turns out there's more grit than glitter in Burnett's Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story.
Part of the tale takes the form of emails exchanged by the beloved comedienne and her daughter, actor and musician Carrie Hamilton, during Carrie's 2001 pilgrimage to Carol's childhood home. Burnett's parents were alcoholics, and she and her half-sister were raised in poverty by her maternal grandmother. She has shared those details before, but they take on new import as Hamilton searches for her family roots after kicking a multi-year drug habit.
Hamilton died of lung cancer at age 38 in 2004. It's hard not to feel frustrated grief for a life cut short as you read her unpublished story, "Sunrise in Memphis," which Burnett has included here. It's a fitting tribute to a relationship as resilient as the women involved.
The family of Debbie Reynolds had financial issues too, but there the resemblance to Burnett's childhood ends. In Unsinkable: A Memoir, "America's Sweetheart" recounts how close to her parents she managed to stay throughout her famously public romantic upheavals. (For those of you just waking from a 60-year nap, Reynolds's first husband, Eddie Fisher, left her for Elizabeth Taylor.)
Like Burnett, Reynolds has covered her early years before - specifically, in Debbie: My Life, published in 1988. And like the doughty dreadnought her book title suggests, Unsinkable blasts away at targets she deems deserving of her aim, notably her sleazy third - "and last" - husband, Richard Hamlett. Financial chicanery by the latter forced Reynolds to sell her priceless collection of Hollywood memorabilia in 2011.
After bringing us up to speed on her life since Debbie - including the brief rise and fall of her eponymous Las Vegas hotel - Reynolds delivers the juicy stuff in the second half of Unsinkable, an anecdotal filmography that touches on personal trauma, too: During her curious second marriage to gambling-mad shoe magnate Harry Karl, we learn, Reynolds suffered two stillbirths.
In the end, both women underplay their most hurtful heartaches. There's a reason I didn't say "downplay" there: These Texans are too honest to shun the truth, but too tough to let tragedy steal the show.
What would you title your memoir?
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