Debbie Reynolds: Elizabeth Taylor Was My Friend – Except for the Time She Stole My Man

This year's recipient of the life achievement award from SAG looks back at the scandal that ended her marriage

Photo: Zuma

No one was more enthralled by Elizabeth Taylor than Debbie Reynolds.

Some six decades after the fact, Reynolds still has fond memories of the time she attended high school on the MGM lot with the violet-eyed beauty.

“I went to MGM when I was around 17, and Liz was there too, but she was already a star,” Reynolds, who will be honored Sunday with a life achievement award by the Screen Actors Guild, tells PEOPLE.

“We went to school together on the lot, when she was in between films. I was just a beginner, and she and I were not in any manner alike, but we got along very well because I was in awe of going to school with Elizabeth Taylor. And if anyone said they weren’t, then they were lying. Or blind.”

Reynolds and Taylor remained friends until that infamous time when they were not. Taylor’s affair with Eddie Fisher – Reynolds’s first husband and father of their kids Carrie and Todd – caused a major scandal in the late ’50s. They married in 1959, until Taylor left him for Cleopatra costar and longtime love Richard Burton in 1964.

These days, any animosity that Reynolds once had for Taylor, who died in 2011, is long gone, and she looks back on the scandal with pithy humor.

“We were friends for years and years,” Reynolds begins, “but we had a lapse of time when she took Eddie to live with her because she liked him, too. She liked him well enough to take him without an invitation!”

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Reynolds eventually forgave Taylor – even starring opposite her in the 2001 TV movie The Old Broads written by her daughter. If anything, the whole sordid chapter involving Taylor and Fisher makes Reynolds wish that she would have listened to the advice of Frank Sinatra, her costar from the 1955 movie The Tender Trap.

“He said, ‘Oh, don’t marry Eddie.’ He said I shouldn’t get married to a singer,” she says. ” ‘We’re not faithful. It’s ridiculous for you to take this on.’ I said, ‘Why? I don’t think that I will listen to you, I really think he’s adorable.’ My mother thought he was adorable.”

The SAG Awards air Sunday on TNT and TBS at 8 p.m. ET.

From her famous friends to her relationship with Carrie, Reynolds looks back at her life in pictures in the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now

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