Thursday, December 29, 2016

Two Absent Friends - Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

In an almost unbelievable turn of events, death claimed two show biz luminaries from the same family on two consecutive days this past week in the persons of Debbie Reynolds and her daughter, Carrie Fisher. 

Carrie Fisher

Over the weekend it was learned that Carrie Fisher had suffered a "cardiac incident" while on an airplane.  Upon landing, she was hospitalized and her condition was listed as "stable", which does not necessarily mean "good", and she died on Tuesday at the age of sixty.  To most of the general public, Miss Fisher will forever be remembered  as Princess Leia in the many Star Wars films in which she appeared.  To me, I will remember her many movies and episodic television shows in which she was usually cast as the "best friend".  Two of these that immediately spring to mind are "When Harry Met Sally" wherein she played the best friend to Meg Ryan, and "Hannah and Her Sisters" wherein she was the best friend of Dianne Wiest.  IMDB lists 90 acting credits for her, as well and credits as a writer and producer. 

Fisher was the child of a famous Hollywood marriage between Miss Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher.  Her life was not always easy.  She suffered from addiction issues and depression, but she seemed to emerge from those years in decent shape, enough so as to have had a solid show biz career of her own.  Her novel, "Postcards From the Edge", was a best seller that depicted the problems of growing up with prominent parents, and was loosely based on her own life.  It became a hit movie that starred Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine.  Fisher wrote the screenplay.

Debbie Reynolds

The day after Fisher's death, the news came that Fisher's mother, Debbie Reynolds, had suffered a severe stroke, and she died later that same day.  It is perhaps the oldest cliche in the book to say in such circumstance that someone died from a broken heart, but what else can one conclude in this instance?  Her son and Fisher's brother, Todd Fisher, was quoted as saying that "She said she wanted to be with Carrie, and she was gone."

Reynolds had a solid career as a leading lady in the movies, and she was an Academy Award nominee.  She also appeared on TV, Broadway, and a touring performer in night clubs and Las Vegas.  She pretty much worked up until the very end of her life.  IMDB lists 82 acting credits for her, which were actually fewer credits than her daughter had (and, yes, I'd have lost if you had bet me on that).  After few bit parts in one or two movies, she was plucked from obscurity when studio boss Louis B. Mayer cast her in the lead of the 1952 movie, "Singin' In The Rain".  She would be paired with two of the most seasoned and best dancers in all of show business, Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor, and she was only nineteen years old.  The movie is now considered the best movie musical ever made, and many critics and historians consider it among the Top Ten American movies of all time.

For all her on screen success, though, she was, as often happens, unlucky in love.  Eddie Fisher left her and their children to take up with and marry Elizabeth Taylor.  It was one of the great scandals of Hollywood back in the 1950's.  Two subsequent marriages ended when both of those husbands bilked Reynolds of all of her money.  She was forced to hit the road with her night club act in order to pay off creditors and debts rolled up by those two guys.

The Associated Press obituary for Reynolds makes some fascinating reading and it concludes with a delightful story about her and Elizabeth Taylor.  At some point in time long after the Fisher-Taylor scandal (Taylor herself had long since been divorced from Fisher), the two actress found out that they were coincidentally sailing together on the ship, Queen Elizabeth. The two actresses exchanged notes and agreed to meet for dinner on the ship.  As Reynolds then told it, "She was married to Richard Burton by then.  I had remarried at that point, and we just said 'Let's just call it a day', and we got smashed and had a great evening and stayed friends ever since."   In fact, both Reynolds and Taylor appeared together in a 2001 TV movie called "These Old Broads".  One of the co-writers of the script for that movie was....Carrie Fisher!

That's a great story!

I can think of no better way to end this post than by including this terrific clip from "Singin' in the Rain".  

RIP Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

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