By Debbie Hall
Debbie Reynolds is an iconic star who influenced the movies, Broadway, and Las Vegas. The Persona. The Person: Debbie Reynolds in Las Vegas celebrates her time in the glitz and glamour of the neon capital. The Neon Museum has curated and opened this exhibit to the public inside City Hall’s Grand Gallery through Oct. 26.
Debbie first performed in Las Vegas in 1962 and continued with a variety of shows through 2014, including appearing at the Riviera Hotel and Casino, Desert Inn, and South Point Hotel Casino & Spa. Debbie purchased a hotel and casino close to the Strip in 1992, opened in 1993 as the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Hotel, and sold the property in 1999.
She had briefly opened a museum devoted to Hollywood in her casino. Debbie loved the entertainment industry and worked hard to preserve its history. Her exquisite gowns, costumes, and memorabilia are part of the display in partnership with Reynolds’ son, Todd Fisher, and the Debbie Reynolds Estate.
“What we wanted to accomplish was to give people the opportunity to dive into Debbie Reynolds' stage presence and persona, who entertained hundreds of thousands of people. We also wanted to showcase her personal life, the triumphs and tragedies that she shared during her performances,” said Aaron Berger, Executive Director of the Neon Museum. “What we have on display is a drop in the bucket of Debbie’s estate and Todd [Fisher’s] collection. We kept our story specific to Las Vegas.”
In the exhibit is Debbie’s Academy Award for her lifetime achievement, awarded to her during the ceremony in 2014. Along with entertaining audiences, Debbie was also honored for her efforts to preserve historical films and for her humanitarian work to fight the stigma of mental illness.
The outfit Debbie wore during her last performances at the South Point in Las Vegas is also part of the display. The evening show that concluded over 50 years of performing in the city took place in 2014, where Debbie shined in an elaborately beaded gold dress and jacket designed by costumier Jeff Billings. Her daughter, son, and granddaughter, Billie Lourd, joined her onstage to entertain the packed house.
After signing Las Vegas’ first million-dollar contract at the Riviera, Debbie wore her famed, red-beaded tuxedo while headlining at the Strip property. The production at the Riviera was a homage to vaudeville tradition dating back to the 1880s, and the show mixed musical performance with comedy and dance. Debbie was able to interact with the audience in this genre.
“My mother’s legacy will continue to live on in Las Vegas with this exhibition that The Neon Museum has put together. The stage was her second home, and this display really gives visitors a look into her deep love of performing in the city and some of the most iconic moments in her entertainment career,” said Todd in a press release.
Founded in 1996, The Neon Museum is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization that collects, preserves, studies, and exhibits iconic Las Vegas signs for historical, educational, arts, and cultural enrichment. The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) has accredited the Neon Museum in 2021. Follow @theneonmuseumlasvegas on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and visit neonmuseum.org.
The exhibit, with information written in English and Spanish, is free for all ages to view in the Grand Gallery of City Hall from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Oct. 26. The exhibition was made possible by a grant from the City of Las Vegas Centennial Commission, funded by the Las Vegas License Plate sales. South Point Hotel Casino & Spa provided additional support.