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Margie Duncan, dancer and stand-in for her friend Debbie Reynolds, dies at 92

Margie Duncan, a dancer and actress who replaced her dear friend Debbie Reynolds in films, among others The unsinkable Molly Brown, The second time around and The singing nun, has passed away. She turned 92.

Duncan passed away on Jan. 3 after a short illness at her home on the Porter Ranch in Los Angeles, her family announced.

Duncan worked with choreographers in the films 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 musical comedy The unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), for which Reynolds received her only Oscar nomination, Duncan rehearsed the song “Ain’t Down Yet,” which took place in the barnyard of Molly’s (Reynolds) mansion, with choreographer Peter Gennaro.

Duncan jumped onto the top of a shed to sing the last verse as he backed up the thatch and then back up, ending up at the front of the roof. On the last attempt, one of the straw shingles came loose, sending Duncan falling 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 enlisted Duncan to convert 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 magnate, and he covered the concrete floors with rubber filler on which wooden floors were laid. This created a ‘floating floor’ on which dancers would not sustain injuries.

Duncan would run DR Studios for more than three decades, where Michael Jackson rehearsed “Thriller” and Madonna, Ann-Margret, Bette Midler and others worked out routines.

Duncan, the eldest of two daughters, was born in Philadelphia on September 4, 1930. She was an accomplished tap dancer and performed in her hometown 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 sang and danced in a musical revue at the Versailles nightclub, Rich brought Fisher and his fiancé, Reynolds, to see her show.

Then they all had a late dinner, where Duncan first met Reynolds. She remembered that they looked like sisters and wore the same outfit.

From left: Eddie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Bernie Rich and Margie Duncan at the Stork Club in New York circa 1954.

Thanks to Dorian Hannaway

Both couples married within months of each other in 1955. Duncan and Rich’s first child, Michael, was born in 1956, a day before Reynolds and Fisher had their first child, Carrie. The women were pregnant again at the same time in 1958 and had their second child within three weeks.

Reynolds often took Duncan and her three children 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 Thalia’s mental health benefit charity.

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 remained active by taking fitness classes and 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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