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Debbie Reynolds Dies at Age 84; Israel Reaction to Kerry Speech; Trump Takes Victory Lap on Economy. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 29, 2016 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:20] ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Mourning the loss of another icon. Debbie Reynolds passing away just a day after losing her daughter Carrie Fisher. We're live in Los Angeles with reaction.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: The Middle East peace parameters laid out by Secretary of State John Kerry not being met with enthusiasm. The Israelis are pushing back hard after Kerry blamed Israeli settlements for the stalled peace process. We're live in Jerusalem.

KOSIK: And not one but two appearances from Donald Trump, speaking with groups of reporters for the first time in months. What he said about the Mideast, Russia and the transition.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik.

JOHNS: And I'm Joe Johns. It's Thursday, December 29th, 4:00 a.m. in the East. Christine and John are off.

And sad news to report. Overnight, beloved actress, singer, dancer Debbie Reynolds has died just one day after the passing of her daughter, Carrie Fisher. The bubbly performer was one of Hollywood's biggest starts in the 1950s and '60s with a career spread into TV, music, Broadway, and nightclubs. Reynolds was known as much for her irrepressible, unsinkable spirit and for her multifaceted talent. She was 84 years old.

CNN's Paul Vercammen joins us now live from Los Angeles -- Paul.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe and Alison, it's almost unfathomable what has happened here. It was Todd Fisher, that's the producer son of Debbie Reynolds and the brother of Carrie Fisher. He confirmed to CNN that his mother had passed away, this after being rushed to the hospital with breathing problems in the afternoon.

They reportedly were working on memorial plans for Carrie Fisher. At one point, Todd telling CNN that Debbie Reynolds said, "I miss Carrie Fisher", and then Todd Fisher telling us in a heartbreaking moment, "Well, she is with Carrie now." That is basically how Todd Fisher relayed to us what happened.

Debbie Reynolds, of course, she would be the queen if Carrie Fisher is the princess. Indeed, part of Hollywood royalty. She got her start much like Carrie Fisher at a young age, starring in "Singing in the Rain." She ended up being a star of stage and screen and plays. She was also somebody who had a terrific complex life off screen, including her marriage to Eddie Fisher.

Let's look back on the life and times of Debbie Reynolds.


DEBBIE REYNOLDS, SINGER-ACTRESS (singing): Alone now and I'm singing my song for you --

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Singer, dancer, actress Debbie Reynolds was a Hollywood triple threat and America's sweetheart. Her film career begun at the age of 16 after being spotted in a beauty pageant.

REYNOLDS: I'm laughing at clouds --

VERCAMMEN: Her star officially launched just a few years later after a spirited performance opposite Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor in 1952s "Singing in the Rain."

REYNOLDS: They picked me to put me in "Singing in the Rain". And they just locked me in a studio and for three months, I had five teachers. One for tap and ballet, jazz, modern, and I just worked, worked, worked, you know, until I would just fall apart.

VERCAMMEN: Other roles followed, including 1957's "Tammy and the Bachelor", which resulted in her number hit song "Tammy". She played opposite Gregory Peck in "How the West Was Won" and her performance in "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" earned her an Oscar nomination.

Beloved on screen, at times, Reynolds' life off-screen overshadowed her success. She had two children with the first husband, crooner Eddie Fisher, producer Todd Fisher and actress/author Carrie Fisher who died just one day before her mother. In 1959, the marriage ended in a highly publicized divorce when Fisher left Reynolds to marry her close friend Elizabeth Taylor, a painful betrayal.

Reynolds was able to joke with the scandal years later.

REYNOLDS: I was a Girl Scout. I really was really a simple little girl. That's what I was. He fell madly in love with Elizabeth. Now, I understand, you know, so many years later. It's in the past.

VERCAMMEN: Her second and third marriages also ended in divorce, each time causing Reynolds financial pain. However, she had quietly collecting Hollywood memorabilia over the years that would prove to be a wise investment. In 2011, Reynolds sold Marilyn Monroe's white subway dress at auction for $4.6 million.

She also never quit performing, though, she stepped away from film for much of her career, Reynolds continued to entertain on Broadway stages and in Las Vegas nightclubs.

[04:05:06] In addition, Reynolds had several TV roles over the years, notably playing Liberace's mother in the 2013 Emmy-winning TV movie "Beyond the Candelabra." Her wide array of work was recognized in 2015, when the Screen Actors Guild honored Reynolds with the lifetime achievement award.

Reynolds said she loved every minute she spends in show business in her 2013 autobiography, "Unsinkable". She credits the love she had for her friends and family for personal and professional resiliency.

And it is that spark and sense of humor, along with her talent that Reynolds will be remembered for.

REYNOLDS: I love you. Good night, everybody. Thank you.


VERCAMMEN: And right now in Hollywood, candles burning and mementos being left at Debbie Reynolds star along the Walk of Fame. And her fans expressing that her dying one day after her daughter, perhaps, it is all just meant to be -- Joe, Alison.

JOHNS: Thanks so much for that, Paul Vercammen.

KOSIK: And joining us now by phone from Los Angeles is legendary actor, writer, director, producer Carl Reiner. Mr. Reiner starred with Debbie Reynolds in the 1959 comedy thriller "The Gazebo."

Carl, thanks so much for joining us.

CARL REINER, DIRECTOR/PRODUCER (via telephone): What a sad, sad, sad, sad day. I can't believe it. Cannot believe it.

KOSIK: I certainly agree with you. What went through your mind when you heard Debbie Reynolds passed away just a day after her iconic daughter?

REINER: Well, I thought it was a mistake. I thought they got the wrong name. They should have mentioned her daughter. I realized it was Debbie.

And I -- those two icons -- Debbie I knew very well because we did "Gazebo" together. She invited me to write, produce and act in her first television series. She was absolutely amazing, doing three characters, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Brigitte Bardot and Anna Magnani, brilliantly. She was -- I can't tell you how excited I was to just look -- the other day I was watching "Singing in the Rain." That kid was dancing. She took six weeks of dancing to learn to dance with Kelly and O'Connors.

I couldn't believe it. This is the most extraordinary talent this business of ours has ever had. And I went to see -- you know, in my life, I have seen one woman and one woman shows. Mark Twain and Williams doing Charles Dickens, and Carrie Fisher doing a one-woman show that was called "Wishful Drinking."

I remember going back stage. I was so blown away. We got to be real friends by the fact I wouldn't leave backstage. That's the most brilliant thing I ever seen. She did her whole life in two hours.

Anyway, I could not believe. I'm 95 years old. They were 60 and 82. I said, they belong here yet. I'm past my prime.

JOHNS: I read somewhere that you also worked with Carrie Fisher. Is that true? If you know, can you give us some idea how they were similar or how they were different?

REINER: They were totally different, but they were so in love with each other. They lived next door to each other. They had mutual driveway. It was wonderful that they came together at the end and had a lovely life together.

I didn't know Carrie as well as I knew her mother. Carrie -- she was a breed apart. She was -- wrote six books. Each one worth reading. She was an extraordinarily talented writer.

KOSIK: You know, Debbie Reynolds credits Gene Kelly in "Singing in the Rain" for giving her tough work ethic. Did you see that tough work ethic when you were on set with Debbie Reynolds in "Gazebo"?

REINER: Oh my God, yes. As I matter of fact, I commend you to watch -- I Googled it on my computer. The Debbie Reynolds special where she does Zsa Zsa, and almost, you're not going to believe it. Her impression is so accurate. The makeup, hair and everything, she looks like Zsa Zsa, Anna Magnani, and as I said Brigitte Bardot for the perfect French accent.

I commend you to do that.

JOHNS: So, give me some sense in your view and you have seen so much in the entertainment industry. Is there another Debbie Reynolds and what in your view is going to be sort of the lasting legacy of Debbie Reynolds?

[04:10:05] What's her impact on the business?

REINER: You know something? The very fact she did "Singing in the Rain", there is Kathy (INAUDIBLE) on that's the girl. You will never forget that. I saw her two or three days ago. That was one of them. I watched "Princess Bride", my son's film.

I remember watching Debbie Reynolds on film. She was good. She's doing dubbing for that girl, that girl with the squeaky voice. I can -- please look that up and watch it tonight in honor of Debbie Reynolds, one of her best performances.

Remember she is dancing with two people who danced all their lives. And she learned to dance if six weeks. Never took a tap dance before that.

KOSIK: All right. Carl Reiner, thanks so much for getting up early with us and sharing some moments of Debbie Reynolds life with us. We appreciate it.

REINER: I appreciate being able to talk about her and tell people that the two of them leaving has left a big gap in this world.

KOSIK: Well, we certainly agree. Thanks again. REINER: Bye.

KOSIK: Bye-bye.

All right. Switching gears. Secretary of State John Kerry criticizing Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Mideast policy speech, just weeks before Kerry leaves office. The secretary of state warning the two-state solution is in jeopardy and blaming Prime Minister Netanyahu for standing in the way of peace.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: The Israeli prime minister supports a two-state solution. But his current coalition is the most right wing in Israeli history with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements.


KOSIK: Kerry defending U.S. support of Israel and the decision by the U.S. to abstain in the U.N. vote condemning Israeli settlements. That abstention allowing the resolution to pass.

Now after Kerry's speech, a top national security adviser to President Obama softening the blow a bit, telling CNN the White House would veto any U.N. resolution dictating a peace solution or recognizing a Palestinian state.

Reaction from Israel to the Kerry speech was swift. It was strong, especially from the prime minister who called it a bias attack that pay lip service to Palestinian terror.

Let's get more now from CNN's Oren Liebermann live for us from Jerusalem.

Good morning, Oren.


One of the commentaries in Israel today points out that Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were each speaking to one person -- Kerry to himself and Netanyahu to President- elect Donald Trump. Each of them stuck to their own points, in their own view of the conflict here. Kerry talked about settlements and Israeli government. Netanyahu talked about the Palestinians and U.N.'s failure to do anything on the other problems in the Middle East, Syria, Iraq, et cetera.

They weren't so much responding to each other as they were reiterating their own points. And there, Netanyahu was clear about his position. He said settlements are not the issue. And he says he'd like Secretary Kerry to realize that, despite an international consensus that settlements are certainly part of the problem.

Here is what Netanyahu had to say in his response that came almost immediately after Kerry's speech.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: The persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state remains the core of the conflict, and its removal is the key to peace. Palestinian rejection of Israel and support for terror are what the nations of the world should focus on if they truly want to advance peace. I can only express my regret and say it is a shame that Secretary Kerry does not see this simple truth.


LIEBERMANN: Perhaps not surprising that Palestinians welcome the speech, saying this is what Israel has to do to get back to the negotiating table. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issuing a statement saying, the moment Israel stops its settlement construction freezes settlements and the Palestinians are happy to return to the negotiating table.

From what we heard, Alison, or yesterday, I should say, from these two speeches and responses, that doesn't seem likely to happen anytime soon.

KOSIK: You know it is an interesting turn of events that the White House is kind of softening the blow, saying that the U.S. would veto any U.N. resolution dictating a peace solution or recognizing a Palestinian state. Do you think this is maybe some regret by the Obama administration and President Obama that they should have vetoed the initial resolution?

LIEBERMANN: Well, one of the criticisms for the longest time or for the last eight years, I should say, of President Obama, especially when it comes to the Israeli Palestinian conflict is he didn't do anything earlier, whether it was a Security Council resolution or some other measures.

Obama and Kerry believed in negotiations. That was obvious in Kerry speech and statements Obama has made. They have done this.

[04:15:00] It is a big step. It is a step obviously that Netanyahu and Israeli government will not forgive Obama and Kerry for.

So, I think Netanyahu is concerned about a follow up move, but I don't think that Obama and Kerry are willing to stomach that right now after the backlash they're seeing from Republicans and Democrats back home and from Israeli government here.

KOSIK: All right. CNN's Oren Liebermann live from Jerusalem, thanks very much.

JOHNS: And guess who actually got around to meeting with the media last night? The president-elect. We're going to take a look at what made him decide to speak with the group of reporters twice? More from Florida, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) JOHNS: After avoiding packs of reporters for more than five months, President-elect Donald Trump finally spoke to journalists on Wednesday and not once, but twice. Mr. Trump clearly trying to dial down the heat with President Obama after days of feuding, and so apparently was the president who phoned Trump. The White House says the call was, quote, "positive and continuing a smooth and effective transition."

Trump seeming to agree, speaking later to the media at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: He called me. We had a very, very good talk about generally about things. He was in Hawaii. And it was a very, very nice call. And I actually thought we covered a lot of territory, a lot of good territory.


JOHNS: That agreeable tone came just hours after Mr. Trump had tweeted this, "Doing my best to disregard the main in many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks. Thought it was going to be a smooth transition. Not."

Sunlen Serfaty has more on the transition, smooth or otherwise, from Mar-a-Lago.



As President-elect Donald Trump continues his time here in Florida, it's this public feud with President Obama which has really escalated in the last few days. But it seems that both sides now are taking steps to at least publicly lower the temperature on the spat.

[04:20:03] Now, Donald Trump here in Florida also taking steps to really reclaim and redirect the narrative around his transition, focusing now on the economy.

Trump coming out, making a rare appearance here in Florida, telling the press that two companies will have jobs saved or created here in the United States, but very similar to the Carrier deal, Trump not divulging any additional details beyond just taking a small victory lap.

TRUMP: I was called by the head people at Sprint, and they're going to be bringing 5,000 jobs back to the United States. They are taking them from other countries. They are bringing them back to the United States.

And also, One Web, a new company, is going to be hiring 3,000 people. So, that's very exciting.

SERFATY: And here in Florida, Trump has been holding interviews with potential contenders for these big cabinet positions that are still left remaining. Among those, the secretary of veterans affairs and secretary of agriculture. Those two big posts are still outstanding.

We know, according to transition officials, though, that Trump potentially is inching toward some decision and we should expect at least one of those big announcements before the end of the week -- Joe and Alison.


KOSIK: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks very much.

More holiday sales figures coming in. So, how does this season compare to years past? We've got the latest numbers next.

JOHNS: And more on the life and legend Debbie Reynolds. The actress passing away a day after her daughter Carrie Fisher left us. More from Los Angeles, ahead.


KOSIK: Welcome back. Time for an early start on your money.

[04:25:01] Retailers have a lot to be thankful for this year. The U.S. is on track for the best holiday sales season in years. That's at least according to data from multiple research firms.

One group is projecting this year, we'll see the greatest increase in holiday sales since 2005. So, why the boost? Analysts say last minute shopping, online sales, all that help fueled growth.

But alas, success was not equal among retailers. That online surge came at expense of brick and mortar stores. Physical store sales actually fell 10 percent from last year. The year-end retail boost is just another sign Americans are spending more, though. Higher wages and food have put consumer confidence at a 15-year high.

JOHNS: Chicago's police department announcing that a plan to equipped patrol officers throughout the city with body cameras will be completed by the end of 2017. That's a year earlier than originally plan. Mayor Rahm Emanuel calling it a win-win for police and the public designed to improve transparency and rebuild trust.

Chicago's police department is currently the subject of the federal civil rights investigation.

KOSIK: A devastating one-two punch the day after Carrie Fisher passes away. Now, we've lost her mom, Hollywood star Debbie Reynolds. More on her decades' long career, next.


JOHNS: A brutal week has just gotten worse as we mourn another Hollywood icon. Debbie Reynolds passing away just 24 hours after her daughter Carrie Fisher. We are live in Los Angeles with more. KOSIK: Not a warm reception for the Middle East peace parameters laid

out by Secretary of State John Kerry. The Israelis are pushing back hard after Kerry blamed Israeli settlements for the stalled peace process. We're live in Jerusalem.