Actress Beauty Tips #37: Exercising Debbie’s Way

This is the 37th installment of the classic actress beauty tips that I have read about and tested.

Comet Over Hollywood is no stranger workout videos. I grew up on Jane Fonda, Callan Pinckney’s Callanetics, and have even tried out actress Jane Powell’s Fight Back with Fitness.


Debbie Reynolds in the 1950s

But none of them are quite like Debbie Reynolds’ 1983 “Do It Debbie’s Way.” Reynolds’ Hollywood career began when she was 16 in 1948 playing a bit role in the Bette Davis film “June Bride.” In the 1950s, Debbie became one of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s top stars and she continued performing until her last film role in 2013. She passed away in 2016.

Debbie was unstoppable, energetic and unsinkable, and the fact that she jumped on the exercise video bandwagon isn’t all-together surprising. She was a dancer and was slim most of her life.

But her workout video isn’t quite the same as other videos you may be used to.

The always original and over-the-top Reynolds decorates her workout studio with a chandelier, a diaphanous pink backdrop curtain, and lights behind the curtain spelling “DEBBIE” in eight foot tall letters.

“My set, I hope you like it. Usually you would work out in a gym, but I was in MGM for years in musicals so I thought we would do it up sort of pink, not brown,” Reynolds said in the video.

Debbie Reynolds' glamorous workout set

Debbie Reynolds’ glamorous workout set

The music that plays throughout the workout is 1940s big band songs such as “In the Mood,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” “Serenade in Blue,” “You Made Me Love You,” and “Sentimental Journey.” (Odd, since Debbie wasn’t a big name during that era)

In her introduction, she says she bought other exercise tapes (in interviews she specifically mentions Jane Fonda), which she found to be too fast, so Debbie made her own video that is “stretched out and easy.” Because “no matter what shape you are, no matter what age you are, we could still look better.” At age 51, Reynolds said in a Nov. 1, 1983, United Press article that her exercise program is for overweight, middle-aged woman.

Debbie Reynolds in "Do It Debbie's Way." The woman on the end in the light blue leotard is Nita Talbot.

Debbie Reynolds in “Do It Debbie’s Way.” The woman on the end in the light blue leotard is Nita Talbot.

“My exercise video is for people who hate exercising as much as I do,” Reynolds said in the article. “But I’m a dancer and a performer, and I’ve got to stay in top physical shape. So exercise is a must for me…Anyone my age can do my exercises without killing themselves.”

Throughout the 90 minute video, Debbie demonstrates several standard exercises that were common in 1980s exercise videos (leg lifts, glute bridges, arm circles, crunches) in a watered-down fashion. I grew up on Jane Fonda workouts, which feel organized, choreographed and each set has a certain number of counts and, when repeated, the same number of sets is repeated. For example: If you do 16 leg lifts on your right leg, you will do 16 leg lifts on your left leg.

I bought the workout video on Ebay. Yes, I still own a VHS player.

I bought the workout video on Ebay. Yes, I still own a VHS player.

It’s not that way in Debbie’s workout video. Everything feels haphazard and disorganized. I’m not sure how many counts we are doing for each exercise, and the flow of the workout doesn’t feel natural. Sometimes I thought, “What is this exercise doing for me?” While some of the exercises feel a bit fruitless, Debbie also doesn’t rest between sets of crunches, glute bridges or leg lifts, leaving your muscles burning (which isn’t bad, just not correct).

The 90 minute tape is divided into three 30 minute segments, and the second and third segments are slightly more difficult than the first. Each segment has different stars working out with Debbie Reynolds:

First segment:

  • Shelley Winters
  • Terry Moore
  • Nita Talbot (who was really bad at exericsing)
  • Pat Van Patten
  • Therese Conte
  • Marge Duncan
  • Glenda Guilfoyle
  • Doni Morrison

Second segment:

  • Virgnia Mayo
  • Teri Garr
  • Lu Leonard
  • Karla Russell Champion (Mrs. Gower Champion)
  • Glenda Guilfoyle
  • Jari Lynn
  • Doni Morrison
  • Sue Nevens

Third segment:

  • Rose Marie
  • Dionne Warwick
  • Jaye P. Morgan
  • Florence Henderson
  • Karla Russell Champion (Mrs. Gower Champion)
  • Jackie Joseph
  • Therese Conte
  • Glenda Guilfoyle
  • Jari Lynn

The whole workout video honestly plays out like a joke. Shelley Winters is in the back, wearing a sweatshirt that says “I’m Only Doing it For Debbie,” and usually isn’t participating. Debbie shouts at her “Come on, Shelley!” At one point Shelley randomly pops up and says, “How many girls here slept with Howard Hughes?” Terry Moore (who was married to Hughes) says, “I did!” Meanwhile, Nita Talbot is off to the side seemingly doing whatever she wants, including pausing from arm workouts to do the jitterbug.

The second and third sets are a little less goofy than the first and while Virginia Mayo and Rose Marie don’t look comfortable, they are earnestly trying.

Shelley Winters and Terry Moore

Shelley Winters and Terry Moore

My mom and I did the whole 90 minute workout video together.

“It was like exercising with friends,” Mom said. “There was more joking than exercising and it was like they made the exercises up as they went along.”

We both laughed at Debbie and Shelley’s goofiness. It’s entertaining to watch and fun to see all of her various celebrity exercising guests (Shelley Winters is the funniest). It’s an interesting curio of Debbie Reynolds’ career and the 1980s workout craze.

Debbie Reynolds even followed this video up “Couples Do It Debbie’s Way” (1988) with Tom Bosley and his wife Patricia Carr, Dick and Pat Van Patten, and Debbie and her then-husband Richard Hamlett.

As far as exercising goes, I wouldn’t say Debbie’s way is much of a workout. If you’re looking for a true workout, I’d try Jane Fonda. Or a gym.

You can watch a video excerpt of “Do It Debbie’s Way” on YouTube.

Other exercise videos:
“Jane Fonda Workout” (1982)

“Jane Powell Fight Back with Fitness” (1986)

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2 thoughts on “Actress Beauty Tips #37: Exercising Debbie’s Way

  1. Pingback: Actress Beauty Tips #38: Positive Moves with Angela Lansbury | Comet Over Hollywood

  2. Debbie did something that had her looking and sounding better than her daughter Carrie and better than Liz in These Old Broads. She just looked and sounded younger than them.


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