Debbie's discovery was a Cinderella story come true. As a child her family moved to Burbank, California and when she was crowned Miss Burbank in 1948, Warner Brothers took notice and signed the teenager to a film contract. She made her film debut in June Bride (1948) and following The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady Debbie moved to MGM, where she made her mark as the pert songstress of Three Little Words (paying Helen Kane, who dubbed her vocalizing of "I Wanna Be Loved by You". She nearly stole Two Weeks With Love (1950) out from under star Jane Powell with her peppy production number, "Abba Dabba Honeymoon" with Carleton Carpenter.
With 1952 came Singin' in the Rain her best opportunity to date. As the Chorus girl who lends her voice to a silent-film star in the early days of talkies, Debbie held her own with costars Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor. This movie was a star-making turn for Debbie, who subsequently played in lighthearted musicals and comedies such as I Love Melvin, The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, Athena and The Tender Trap.
The rural romance of Tammy and the Bachelor in 1957 not only gave Debbie an ideal romantic vehicle of her own but also produced a Top 10 hit for her with the title song "Tammy." When her screen career slowed down, she became a popular stage and nightclub entertainer. She also received a Tony nomination for her 1973 role in "Irene" on Broadway. Her choicest role was that of The Unsinkable Molly Brown in 1964. The musical biography of a rambunctious, larger-than-life figure garnered her an Oscar nomination.
The Hollywood Movie Museum is now the permanent home of Debbie's private collection. It is valued over 30 million dollars and consists of more than 3,000 costumes and 36,000 square feet of props and furniture. Highlights of the collection include everything from Judy Garland's pinafore dress from "The Wizard of Oz" to Liz Taylor's magnificent headdress from Cleopatra.