Margie Duncan, a dancer and actress who stood in for her dear friend Debbie Reynolds in films including The Unsinkable Molly Brown, The Second Time Around and The Singing Nun, has died. She was 92.
Duncan died Jan. 3 after a brief illness at her Porter Ranch home in Los Angeles, her family announced.
Duncan worked with choreographers in the movies to learn Reynolds’ routines, “dancing in” during blocking and rehearsals until the numbers were set. She would then teach the routines to her friend.
In the musical comedy The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), for which Reynolds received her lone Oscar nomination, Duncan rehearsed the number “Ain’t Down Yet,” which took place in the barnyard of Molly’s (Reynolds) country home, with choreographer Peter Gennaro.
Duncan jumped on top of a shed to sing the last verse while walking backwards down its thatched roof and then back up, finishing at the front of the roof. On the last try, one of the straw shingles came loose, causing Duncan to fall off the shed. She wasn’t hurt, but the shingles were nailed down by the time Reynolds arrived.
In the late 1970s, when Reynolds wanted to create a place for professional dancers and others to rehearse, she called on Duncan to transform a building on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood into a studio while the actress was on the road.
Duncan hired Hollywood set designer Jerry Wunderlich, an Oscar nominee for The Exorcist and The Last Tycoon, and he covered the concrete floors with rubber padding over which wood floors were installed. That created a “floating floor” on which dancers wouldn’t sustain injuries.
Duncan would run DR Studios, where Michael Jackson rehearsed “Thriller” and Madonna, Ann-Margret, Bette Midler and others worked out routines, for more than three decades.
The older of two daughters, Duncan was born in Philadelphia on Sept. 4, 1930. An accomplished tap dancer, she performed in her hometown in Catholic schools and at the prestigious Academy of Music.
One of her contemporaries was singer Eddie Fisher, who introduced her to one of his best friends in high school, Bernie Rich.
After graduating from Callihan’s Catholic School, Duncan moved to New York to work as a professional dancer. When she was singing and dancing in a musical revue at the Versailles nightclub, Rich brought Fisher and his fiancé, Reynolds, to see her show.
Afterwards, they all went for a late supper, where Duncan met Reynolds for the first time. She recalled that they looked like sisters and were wearing the same outfit.
Both couples married within months of each other in 1955. Duncan and Rich’s first child, Michael, was born in 1956, one day before Reynolds and Fisher had their first child, Carrie. The women were pregnant at the same time again in 1958 and had their second children within a three-week span.
Reynolds often took Duncan and her three kids on location.
Duncan also spent time as an assistant to costume designers Bob Mackie and Ret Turner and co-produced many of the shows for the Reynolds-led Thalians charity that benefited mental health.
Duncan and Rich divorced in 1968. She then had a brief second marriage to Sheldon Kaufman.
Duncan retired from DR Studios after Reynolds’ death in December 2016 but stayed active by taking exercise classes and going ballroom dancing every week.
Survivors include her children, Michael, Mark and Elisa; daughter-in-law Rachel; son-in-law John; grandchildren Evelyn, Tony and Gina; and sister Joan.
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