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Reynolds: 'What can you not like about Virginia?'

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Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival Grand Marshal Debbie Reynolds waves to the crowd during Saturday's parade. Rich Cooley/Daily

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By Alex Bridges - abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Betty White lands all the acting parts now, says fellow actress Debbie Reynolds.

But Reynolds, star of classic movies such as "Singin' in the Rain," remains a Hollywood fixture.

Reynolds spoke to the media Saturday morning before entering the Grand Feature Parade that afternoon. The 79-year-old native of El Paso, Texas, served as the Grand Marshal for the 84th Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival.

"I guess I was just lucky," Reynolds said of being picked to appear in the parade. "Maybe I drew the short straw or something like that."

Some of Reynolds' contemporaries such as the late Elizabeth Taylor also have served as special guests in the festival.

"Most of them are my friends, and most of us in show business know each other and we go to different festivals and different occasions where we follow each other," Reynolds said. "Every year they have somebody different."

Reynolds lived in Roanoke for seven years with her third husband, Richard Hamlett, now divorced. Reynolds said she doesn't talk about Hamlett.

"Well, I love Virginia," Reynolds said. "I think Virginia is a beautiful state ... beautiful trees, beautiful trees, winding roads, friendly people. What can you not like about Virginia?"

She returned to Virginia recently to film her latest feature film, "One for the Money," slated to open in January. Reynolds said she plays a grandmother in the movie with Katherine Heigl. Reynolds noted that in the early days of her career, actors would change their names to make them shorter or easier to pronounce. The actress, who stumbled into the business "by accident," was born Mary Frances Reynolds.

"I never expected to be in movies," Reynolds said.

Talent scouts tapped Reynolds after she won a contest in Burbank, Calif., where she had moved at age 7. Shortly after winning the contest, Reynolds went to MGM Studios and made "Singin' in the Rain" in 1952.

Reynolds has starred in about 50 feature films and numerous TV shows. She played a recurring role in NBC's "Will & Grace" as Bobbi Adler and lended her voice to episodes of cartoons such as "Family Guy" and "Kim Possible."

Asked what movies of which she felt most proud which younger generations should see, Reynolds instead said "Star Wars." The original three-part series of films star her daughter, Carrie Fisher, who Reynolds had with her first husband, Eddie Fisher.

"The Unsinkable Molly Brown," for which she received an Academy Award nomination, remains her favorite film she made. Reynolds has starred with numerous well-known actors.

"[Gene Kelly] was a wonderful man," Reynolds recalled. "He was a great dancer and a very strong man. It was his way or the highway, so you worked very hard, and he was very nice to me. I was very young and didn't know very much and so he was my teacher you might say."

Reynolds remains active, works 42 weeks a year and visits a couple of states each month "because that's where theaters are."

"That's what I spend my time doing now rather than making movies or television," Reynolds said. "I don't do those anymore because they want young people and there are not a lot of parts for older people. Betty White has most of those parts."

Reynolds has lived through good and bad times.

"I think what you have to think about always is staying on a high point, even when you hit a low point," Reynolds said. "You just need to hit it for a while and then swim really hard and get back on shore."

Her plan to open a museum to house her collection of thousands of Hollywood memorabilia did not reach fruition and now she hopes to sell the items at auction June 18 in Los Angeles.

"I think that a star always stays a star," Reynolds said.

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