Two Of Hollywoods Brightest Stars
Two Of Hollywood’s Brightest Stars
Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher Were Savvy Yet Independent
Written by Eric PlautNot so long ago in our own Milky Way galaxy, two women made an everlasting impact on Hollywood and the world. They were a mother and her daughter. Both were savvy and independent. Like the rest of us, they triumphed over adversity and heartache throughout their lives. As a result, they won admiration for more than their roles in film and television.
Debbie (nee Mary Frances) Reynolds and her daughter Carrie Fisher made an everlasting impact. Even if it is a story that Hollywood could never truly capture, Home Box Office (HBO) released a documentary about their relationship earlier this year. Titled Bright Lights, Debbie’s son and Carrie’s brother Todd Fisher helped produce this special. (As of this writing, I have yet not been able to see the program that debuted on January 7.)
“THE WORLD’S OLDEST GIRL SCOUT”Mary Frances Reynolds was born on April 1, 1932 in El Paso, Texas. Her brother Billy was born two years earlier. Their parents were Maxene and Ray Reynolds; Ray worked as a carpenter for the Southern Pacific Railroad. When Mary Frances was seven, the Reynolds family moved west to Burbank, California. The young girl admired her brother Billy who was a Boy Scout. Mary Frances joined the Girl Scouts, earning 42 merit badges. She was proud of this accomplishment, and hoped to die as the “world’s oldest Girl Scout.”
Despite not being one of the popular girls at Burbank High School, Mary Frances Reynolds won the local beauty contest. She was crowned Miss Burbank in 1948. This opportunity soon led her to a contract with Warner Brothers. Jack Warner, the then-WB President, gave the teen-aged Mary Frances Reynolds the sobriquet “Debbie”, which she was known as from then on.
“A JUNE BRIDE”
Debbie Reynolds debuted in the 1948 film June Bride with Bette Davis and Robert Montgomery. Though she had an uncredited role, it was the start of a long and promising career for her. Debbie then appeared in three films in 1950. Within the first decade of her career, Reynolds starred in or appeared with fellow actors including Fred Astaire and Red Skelton in Three Little Words (1950); Lana Turner in Mr. Imperium (1951); Jane Powell in Athena (1954); and Ernest Borgnine in The Catered Affair (1956).
Singin’ in the Rain, Reynolds’ sixth film, premiered in 1951. Her breakout role was as Kathy Selden. Debbie starred alongside Gene Kelly (who also directed and choreographed the film with Stanley Donen), Donald O’Connor and Jean Hagen. (Rita Moreno, known as Anita in 1961’s West Side Story, portrayed Zelda Zanders.) Reynolds later co-starred with Frank Sinatra in The Tender Trap (1955). She was then dating a singer named Eddie Fisher whom she contemplated on marrying. Sinatra recommended her not to due to singers “are not faithful.” However, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher wed in 1955. The next year the newlyweds filmed Bundle of Joy, a remake of 1939’s Bachelor Mother starring Ginger Rogers. Reynolds was pregnant during the filming of Bundle of Joy; she was nominated for a Golden Globe that year.
Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher received their own little “bundle of joy” soon afterwards. Carrie Frances Fisher was born on October 21, 1956 in Burbank, California. A second baby named Todd Emmanuel Fisher joined the family 16 months later. Eddie Fisher divorced Reynolds in 1958 to wed their mutual friend Elizabeth Taylor, whose husband Mike Todd had recently passed away in a plane crash. Eddie Fisher, who died in 2010, was married five times. Debbie Reynolds married and divorced twice more after marrying Eddie Fisher.
Despite her divorce from Eddie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds continued appearing in films. Other movies she acted in included Tammy and the Bachelor, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, How the West Was Won and The Singing Nun. Reynolds became a doting mother to her two children as well as dabbled in a variety of trades. This fiery redhead’s other interests included television, a music career, performing on stage, preserving films and owning a dance studio. Reynolds also became known for her large collection of movie memorabilia such as Marilyn Monroe’s “subway dress” from 1955’s The Seven-Year Itch and one of the four pairs of Ruby Slippers Judy Garland wore in the 1939 film classic The Wizard of Oz.
“BUNDLE OF JOY”
Carrie Fisher, in the meantime, grew up in Hollywood. She was an introvert who preferred reading books and writing poetry. Carrie left Beverly Hills High School to debut in the 1973 Broadway musical revival of Irene, starring her mother Debbie Reynolds as the lead. Despite Carrie’s love of books, Fisher’s education tended for her to learn through intuition and by trial and error. In her late teens, she attended the Central School of Speech and Drama in London for a year-and-a-half. Then Carrie was accepted at Sarah Lawrence College in New York but she stayed there only briefly. The real world seemed to be her calling card.
At age 19, Carrie Fisher made her first film Shampoo (1975) with Warren Beatty and the late Julie Christie. As she was pushing towards her early twenties and adulthood, Carrie did not want to be playing teenagers. She had two auditions lined up for a couple of well-known films. The first one was the lead role about a telekinetic yet troubled high school senior, which was based from Stephen King’s debut novel Carrie. (Sissy Spacek won the part of the bullied teen Carrie White.) Thankfully, the latter role brought Carrie Fisher immortality at age 21—as Princess Leia Organa of Star Wars.
Debbie Reynolds kept up with appearances in film and television. She was the voice of the lead in the 1973 animated film Charlotte’s Web. Based from E.B. White’s children’s classic, Debbie played the spider Charlotte who literally saves Wilbur, a barnyard pig voiced by the late Henry Gibson, from becoming his farmer’s Christmas ham by spinning words like “Some Pig” and “Terrific” in her webs. Debbie also appeared in 1974’s That’s Entertainment, which showed star-studded performances from Fred Astaire to Ginger Rogers to Julie Newmar. However, once her two children were nearly grown, Reynolds rediscovered her calling on stage. Productions she did over the years included Annie Get Your Gun and a 1989 revival of The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope premiered in May of 1977. It became the highest-grossing film of all-time until 1982’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Carrie Fisher broke the mold of the leading lady; her character of Leia would never be considered a “damsel in distress”. Leia, like the actor who portrayed her, was fiercely independent yet outspoken in a good way. She was not just known for the cinnamon-bun hairdo (or “baboons’ asses” as Fisher cynically referred to them later in life) on the sides of her head.
Mark Hamill, who portrayed Luke Skywalker, affectionately dubbed Carrie to be like a “little sister”. Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and the late Sir Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Ben Kenobi) and Kenny Baker (R2-D2) rounded out the Star Wars cast. The cast appeared in a 1978 television Christmas special and in the sequels—The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983).
Back on Earth—pardon the pun—Carrie Fisher remained active in film. She portrayed the jilted yet vengeful fiancé of Joliet Jake (the late John Belushi) in 1980’s The Blues Brothers. Fisher’s character, dubbed the unnamed “Mystery Woman”, sported enough of an arsenal to make Han Solo and his Wookie pal Chewbacca cringe. Jake and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) somehow always emerged unharmed from whatever firepower she threw at them. Other films Carrie appeared in during the 1980’s included Under the Rainbow (1983) with Chevy Chase and a couple of films with Tom Hanks, The Man With One Red Shoe (1985) and The Burbs (1989). Her take as Marie in 1989’s When Harry Met Sally stole the show from Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan.
“INSTANT GRATIFICATION”As the 1990’s progressed towards the new millennium, Debbie Reynolds and her daughter Carrie Fisher continued to work and wow their audiences on both the big and small screens. Carrie herself once proclaimed how “Instant gratification takes too long.” Both women seemed to live and work within that moment. Immortality was still down the road for them.
Debbie Reynolds appeared on television shows such as Wings and The Golden Girls. She portrayed Audrey Conner, the mother of Dan (John Goodman), on a 1997 episode of Roseanne. Carrie Fisher wrote the show titled Arsenic and Old Mom. Reynolds also let her voice to cartoons including Rugrats, Kim Possible and on one episode of Family Guy. Yet Reynolds’s most famous TV role may have been as Bobbi Adler on Will & Grace. She appeared in ten episodes as the meddling mom to Grace (Debra Messing). On occasion, there would be program names or scenes referring to some of her past films including Singin’ in the Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Debbie would even do a dance on Will & Grace while simultaneously chanting: “Told you so! Told you so!”
Debbie Reynolds appeared in only a few films later in life including the lead role in Mother (1996) with Albert Brooks and with Katherine Heigl and Jason O’Mara in One for the Money (2012) based from Janet Evanovich’s best-selling novel. Outside of film and TV, Debbie worked for over 50 years with the Thalians, a philanthropic organization to help people with mental-health issues. She continued collecting Hollywood memorabilia (with her son Todd Fisher as CEO and curator), though in 2011 with bankruptcy hanging over her head, she and Todd had to have two auctions to recoup the losses. Though it was late in life, Reynolds continued to tour and perform music on the road.
Carrie Fisher also continued with acting. This dark-haired damsel was not going anywhere though if you blinked you could miss her on screen! By now, she accepted the fact that she would always be known as Princess Leia from the Star Wars franchise. Fisher appeared in films including Sibling Rivalry (1990), Scream 3 (2000) and, as a nun wearing rose-tinted glasses, in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001). On the small screen, Carrie usually portrayed herself or as a character similar to her Star Wars persona. She was the voice of Peter Griffin’s exasperated boss Angela on Family Guy. Carrie could also be seen as a guest star on The Big Bang Theory and 30 Rock as well as Mia, the mother of Rob Norris (Rob Delaney) from the British sitcom Catastrophe.
Carrie continued with her passion of writing throughout her life. She served as a script doctor (a writing consultant) for several films during her career. Films Carrie polished up included Hook (1991), The River Wild (1994), The Wedding Singer (1998) and several of the Star Wars movies. She even wrote her own scene in Scream 3.
As it was with Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, Carrie managed to star alongside her daughter Billie Lourd, now 24, in two Star Wars films. The torch was passed down to a new generation. Billie portrayed Lieutenant Connix to her mother’s General Leia Organa in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. She will reprise her role at Lieutenant Connix in Episode VIII which is subtitled The Last Jedi. Lourd also appeared in Scream Queens and American Horror Story.
Carrie Fisher did mentor Billie as well as Daisy Ridley, who portrays the scavenger Rey, in Episodes Seven and Eight of the Star Wars films. Both mom Carrie and daughter Billie sported the war uniforms in olive and brown like two female cardinals guarding the nest of Takodana. Fisher, who usually wore white in the earlier films, gave Ridley some sound advice: “Don’t wear that gold bikini!” This statement referred to Leia’s scene in Return of the Jedi where she was held captive by Jabba the Hutt. While Carrie hated that costume, the tables turned when she killed off Jabba. (By the way, Carrie’s favorite costume was the white Arctic one she wore on the ice-planet Hoth during The Empire Strikes Back.)
“HEARTS AND BONES”As previously mentioned, Debbie Reynolds was married and divorced twice more after her marriage to Eddie Fisher ended. While she had no additional children, Eddie Fisher had two more daughters with his third wife, actress and singer Connie Stevens. Both women—Joely Fisher and Trisha Leigh Fisher—are also singers and actresses. Trisha appeared in eight episodes of the Fox sitcom ‘Til Death, which starred her older sister Joely and Brad Garrett, who played Robert Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond.
Carrie Fisher had dated actor Dan Aykroyd, whom she met on The Blues Brothers. Other beaus included musicians Paul Simon and James Blunt. Though she and Aykroyd were engaged at one point, Fisher wed Simon in 1983. They were married for only a year. Paul Simon, of the Simon and Garfunkel duo, wrote the songs Graceland and Hearts and Bones about their relationship, which continued for several years after their divorce.
Carrie Fisher and talent agent Bryan Lourd had a relationship from 1991 to 1994. Their daughter, Billie Catherine Lourd, was born on July 17, 1992. Bryan left Carrie two years later. Outside of her mother, Carrie eventually found solace and solidity with two of the most important people in her life—her beloved daughter Billie and her trusted therapy dog and travel companion, a French bulldog named Gary.
Carrie had been bipolar as well as battled drug addiction during her lifetime. She wrote about her troubles in a few books as well as in fiction. Postcards from the Edge was her debut novel in 1987. Fisher had also written the screenplay to the 1990 film based from her book of the same name, which starred Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine and Oliver Platt.
Carrie Fisher had also written three non-fiction books and the introduction of Joyce Ostin’s photo-book Hollywood Moms. Carrie’s other works of fiction included Surrender the Pink (1990), Delusions of Grandma (1993) and The Best Awful There Is (2004). She had also written for television including a documentary called Wishful Drinking (which she starred in) and a TV film called These Old Broads (2001) starring her mother Debbie Reynolds, Shirley MacLaine, Joan Collins and the late Elizabeth Taylor. Reynolds had written three memoirs of her own.
“SEPARATED BY A RED CARPET”Carrie Fisher passed away from cardiac arrest on December 27, 2016 with her faithful French bulldog Gary at her side. At age 60, she experienced this trauma on route a transatlantic flight from London to Los Angeles four days earlier. Carrie was on a book tour overseas and had recently completed her role as General Leia Organa for Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi, which is currently in post-production and due to be released in December of 2017. (As of right now, Episode IX is in pre-planning stages.)
Debbie Reynolds suffered a stroke while making Carrie’s funeral arrangements at her son’s house the next day. She passed away on December 28 after being admitted to a Los Angeles hospital. Heartbroken over her daughter’s death, Todd Fisher later told the media how his mother said that she “wanted to be with Carrie.” Mother Debbie and daughter Carrie are interred together in Hollywood Hills’s Forest Lawn Cemetery, which is the resting place of many of Tinseltown’s favorite actors including John Ritter, Stan Laurel and Buster Keaton.
Hollywood and the rest of the world were in shock with the passing of Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds. Tributes from Star Wars co-stars such as Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew poured in as well as from family, friends and fans. Both women were close and lived next door to one another. “We’re always separated by a red carpet,” Carrie Fisher loved to joke about their relationship. There is no doubt at all that the red carpet continues beyond the other side for mother and daughter.
Carrie’s survivors include: daughter Billie Lourd; her brother Todd Fisher (Catherine Hickland); step-sisters Joely Fisher (Christopher Duddy) and Trisha Leigh Fisher (Byron Thames); several nephews and nieces; and her French bulldog Gary. Condolences also go out to Carrie’s Star Wars family, friends and fans worldwide. Fortunately, Gary is now in the care of Billie, so Carrie’s two favorite people are now together. She would have been happy to know it.
Both Debbie Reynolds and her daughter Carrie Fisher live on in the world of film, television and books. One fan Ricky LaChance posted a drawing of them online shortly after their passing. It showed Debbie as Kathy Selden from Singin’ in the Rain and Carrie as the galaxy’s favorite Princess Leia Organa of Star Wars fame. If a picture can tell 1,000 words, that drawing says many words including thank you to these two women for sharing their talents with the world.
AUTHOR’S NOTESWe have seen two of Hollywood’s stars fade away—one of which was much too soon. Both Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds are already missed. To borrow a line from the Star Wars series: May the Force be with them!
Additional resources used in this tribute include bits from People magazine and Entertainment Weekly. Other sources include a People magazine with its own tribute to these two talented women, Goodreads (goodreads.com), the Internet Movie Data Base (imdb.com) and Wikipedia (Wikipedia.org). One can find countless tributes online, which includes videos from YouTube (youtube.com). With all the magazines and social media out there, everyone finds it necessary—mostly in a good way—to put in their own two cents’ worth. So look for a few more in the meantime…