University gives honorary degree to 'Unsinkable' Debbie Reynolds

University gives honorary degree to 'Unsinkable' Debbie Reynolds

Debbie Reynolds—the award-winning actress, recording artist, TV star, Broadway performer and hotel casino owner—will earn an honorary doctorate degree at the University of Nevada, Reno this Friday.

Though she has appeared in some 60 films and has a gold record for the theme song "Tammy," the University is particularly appreciative of what she's done for nearly 12,000 students and their Harvard-educated professor.

"She helped me create our film studies program nearly 40 years ago," said Professor Howard Rosenberg, who also serves as a Regent in the Nevada System of Higher Education.

"From the beginning, she has generously shared her time, her industry knowledge and even opened doors to big-name Hollywood talent. Thanks to her ongoing support, we now have a number of alumni who are now successful screenwriters, producers and photography directors."

A frequent performer for many years at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks and Harrah's in Reno, Reynolds would meet with Rosenberg between shows and after them. Their first meeting began between shows and continued after the late show concluded around midnight. They talked until 8 a.m. and she got up, threw a wet towel in his face and said: "Go to work."

Rosenberg was due in class, but he returned for more of these extended discussions each night with Reynolds for two more weeks—and he has continued meeting her whenever she travels to Reno or Lake Tahoe. "She is all about responsibility and a strict work ethic," he said. "When she says 'agreed,' as she did with helping our film studies program, that's it!"

Rosenberg added that Reynolds holds a diploma from her high school in Burbank, Calif., "but she essentially earned her doctorate in the 'School of Filmmaking' from MGM." There she learned to act, sing, dance, dress and handle herself in interviews, among other things.

"She is an incredible historian on the film and TV industry and is passionate about preserving the Golden Era and history of American cinema," he said. "She reveres the pioneers of the film industry, and she is an absolutely terrific teacher."

The University's film studies program continues to be one of the most popular on campus—even though it has a "no absences allowed" policy. This popularity, Rosenberg asserted, is because "she helped to create the Celebrity Dialog series, and she has conducted workshops, seminars, lectures and provided tens of thousands of dollars over the years in funding for classroom needs—from renting classic movies from the studios to student discounts for major performances."

Reynolds is perhaps best known for her starring role in Singin' in the Rain, though her personal favorite is The Unsinkable Molly Brown, for which she received an Academy Award nomination for best actress.

She also chairs the Sammy Davis Jr. memorial scholarship fund, a system fund that continues to grow and will eventually award scholarships in the visual and performing arts to members of minority and underserved populations.

On Friday President Milton Glick also will award an honorary doctorate degree posthumously to Cole Campbell, dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism, in recognition of his exemplary career and contributions to the University.

Before joining the journalism school in July 2004, Campbell was a senior associate of the Charles P. Kettering Foundation. He also served as the former editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va.

"We're grateful for the masterful way that Cole charted a new course for our journalism school that included a vigorous blend of theory, practice and critical thinking," Glick said. "We celebrate his incredible thirst for knowledge and his advocacy for enhancing the relationship between journalism and democracy."

Glick also noted that Cole was "a man for all seasons, with boundless energy and an intensity focused on ensuring the future of journalism as an ethical calling.

"He was a visionary on the many new forms of journalism, and he introduced new programs in environmental journalism and digital media," Glick added. "Even as we mourn his loss, we know the university is a better place for his time here."

Campbell, a former John S. Knight Fellow of Stanford University, received his bachelor of arts degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also was a graduate of the Advanced Executive Program of the Media Management Center at Northwestern University. At the time of his death, Campbell was pursuing doctoral studies in public discourse and democratic practice at the Union Institute of Cincinnati, Ohio.

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