Debbie Reynolds Starred in Hollywood’s Greatest Love Triangle — and How She Forgave Elizabeth Taylor for Breaking up Her Marriage

 

With Debbie Reynolds’ death on Wednesday, Hollywood has lost a true legend of the Golden Age. At the height of her career, Reynolds was known as America’s sweetheart — and her fame often outshone the parts she played.

In fact, one of her most famous roles came during an offscreen drama which involved a love triangle seemingly ripped from a movie script.

Back in 1958, Reynolds and her husband, famed crooner Eddie Fisher, were among the most glamorous couples in Hollywood. The only other duo that came close to their star power also happened to be their best friends, Elizabeth Taylor and her husband, producer Mike Todd.

Reynolds had known Taylor since they were classmates together at MGM. “I went to MGM when I was around 17, and Liz was there too, but she was already a star,” Reynolds previously told PEOPLE.

 

“We went to school together on the lot, when she was in between films. I was just a beginner, and she and I were not in any manner alike, but we got along very well because I was in awe of going to school with Elizabeth Taylor. And if anyone said they weren’t, then they were lying. Or blind.”

The two remained close friends after school, and their husbands hit it off as well. In the mid-’50s the two couples were inseparable, and when Taylor and Todd married in 1957, Fisher was Todd’s best man and Reynolds was Taylor’s matron of honor.

But everything changed after Todd died in a 1958 plane crash. Fisher took it upon himself to comfort his best friend’s stunning young widow. As Reynolds later put it, Taylor “liked enough to take him without an invitation.” Fisher and Taylor became an item, leading to Fisher’s widely publicized divorce from Reynolds in 1959 and marriage to Taylor just a year after Todd’s death.

After the divorce, public sympathy went to Reynolds, who was left to raise the couple’s two young children, Carrie and Todd, as a single mother. “When he left, I raised the children. He never sent any money, so I found it a little scary,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds went on to marry a wealthy businessman named Harry Karl, who would later steal her fortune to pay off his gambling debts, and Taylor left Fisher, who’s career was floundering, for Richard Burton.

The former best friends did not speak for years, but Reynolds later told PEOPLE that she put the blame mostly on her former husband. “I felt you can’t make a man leave, you can’t make him do something he doesn’t want to do,” she explained. “He obviously chose to leave, didn’t he? She didn’t lasso him. She was just beautiful Elizabeth Taylor. And he wanted her, and he wanted to be her lover, so he left and he was. He was the selfish one. She just gave him what he wanted.”

 

Fortunately, the two old friends were able to reconcile before Taylor died in 2011. The reunion happened by accident, with both actresses embarking on a cruise without knowing the other was onboard. As Reynolds told it, she first learned they were shipmates when she saw an inordinate amount of luggage being loaded onboard. “I said, ‘Who has all that luggage?’ And they said, ‘That’s Elizabeth Taylor’s luggage.’ ” When she got the news, Reynolds said, “I almost changed my mind and didn’t go.”

Once onboard, the two sent each other notes and “she came to the stateroom and we had drinks, and we had dinner together.” While Reynolds did not remember any apologies being exchanged, she felt ready to put the drama to rest. “At that time, in my cabin, before we went to dinner, we both made our little . I said, ‘Why in the world would you want him anyway?’ She said, ‘Well, I don’t know why I did it, and I certainly was wrong. But look what I have now!’ I said, ‘Well, lucky you!’ And that’s how that got over.”

 

Not only did they get over their differences, Reynolds and Taylor even went on to costar together in a TV movie called These Old Broads, written by Reynolds’ daughter, Carrie Fisher. “It was just fun. It was like girls getting together in a high school reunion or a class party,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds was also able to speak with Taylor not long before Taylor died in 2011. “She was very ill. She was feeling really miserable, just trying to survive, to rise above it … She expressed how scary it was. We talked about that for a while, that it’s really hell getting older. We were complaining to each other about that. Like two girls would.”

 

Reynolds joked that her men after Eddie Fisher were no prizes either. “I had another person after that who was a louse and another husband after that who was another louse. So I’ve had my share of louses,” she told PEOPLE. “So it wasn’t all Elizabeth’s fault. I had much more pain to go. I had many more bumpy paths to go along the way.”

Ultimately, Reynolds credited her faith with helping her find forgiveness. “I’m very religious. I believe that things happen and you have to go along with them. You don’t have to be angry and become an ugly person. You don’t have to become what the the people are who are attacking you. Love blinds all. I just had to grow up and realize that.”

 

WATCH: Debbie Reynolds’ Legendary ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ Moments

One of the last icons of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Debbie Reynolds, died on Wednesday at the age of 84 — just one day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, died after suffering a heart attack.

Reynolds, who was among the top actors of her generation, left an enduring mark on cinema, beginning with her breakthrough role as Kathy Selden in the classic 1952 musical Singin’ in the Rain, starring opposite Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor.

At age 19, Reynolds stole the show playing a chorus girl with a voice of gold, who dubs over the voice of actress Jean Hagen’s character, Lina, while stealing the heart of Kelly’s Don Lockwood. It was the role of a lifetime, propelling her to fame in the mid-1950s.

“Good Morning”

“All I Do Is Dream of You”

“You Were Meant For Me”

“Would you?”

“You Are My Lucky Star”

Reynolds, who starred in The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953), Susan Slept Here (1954) and Bundle of Joy (1956) after her success in Singin’ in the Rain, reflected on the role a few years ago in an interview with the American Film Institute.

“The character was a lot like me, Debbie, at the time,” she said.

Noting that she was then just beginning her acting career and had never danced professionally, she added, “I was just lucky that they put me in that part that suited me … If the part is you and you’re not afraid — and I wasn’t afraid … I felt it was me and I really just marched straight ahead and I wasn’t frightened of the huge task.”

Selena Gomez Collaborating with Paulina Rubio on Upcoming Duet

Good news Selenators: Selena Gomez has new music on the way!

Mexican pop diva Paulina Rubio recently announced that she’s collaborated with Gomez, 24, for a single on her forthcoming album.

“My new album is like another member of the team, or the family. It will be a true warrior, has something from all genres, from band to pop, collaborations of DJ Snake and Selena Gomez. I tried to keep a key element: That the music is danceable,” Rubio, 45, revealed to Vanidades magazine.

The mother of two has already released three singles from the next album – “Si Te Vas”, “Mi Nuevo Vicio” and “Me Quemas” — and has slated its release for 2017.

Earlier this month, Gomez was pictured in the recording studio with songwriters Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels, sparking rumors of a new music project.

In November, the Revival songstress made her return to the spotlight at the American Music Awards with a raw and tearful speech after seeking professional treatment for her emotional health.