Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher were the greatest mother-daughter act in show business.
Born in a shanty in El Paso, Texas, Debbie, a Texas tomboy, endured a life of povertyjackrabbit every night for dinneruntil she moved to California.
Blossoming into a young beauty, she won the title of Miss Burbank, which led to a movie contract. Stardom came relatively quickly when she was cast as the minty fresh ingénue in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), hailed as the greatest Hollywood musical of all time.
Frank Sinatra stole her virginity, but she married pop singer Eddie Fisher for the “official deflowering” (her words). “Debbie and Eddie,” the darling of fan magazines, reigned as “America’s Sweethearts.”
The fairytale ended when his best friend, producer Mike Todd, died in a plane crash. Fisher rushed to the side of his widow, the violet-eyed screen vamp, Elizabeth Taylor. He descended from Maggie the Cat’s Hot Tin Roof into her boudoir. His divorce from Debbie and his subsequent marriage to her best friend provided fodder for the scandal magazines until the day Elizabeth provoked another scandal, divorcing him to marry Richard Burton.
Through storm and rain, Debbie battled on, hitting a high point when she starred as Tammy in 1957, cast as the granddaughter of a Louisiana moonshiner, spouting pithy wisdom. “I’ll be singing my hit song on stage for the rest of my years.”
Her most memorable role was in 1964, when she was cast in the rags-to riches saga of The Unsinkable Molly Brown. (She even survived the sinking of the Titanic.) The role brought her an Oscar nomination.
Each of her three marriages was a disaster, the second one to a millionaire shoe manufacturing mogul who bankrupted both of them. Impoverished after the divorce, she ended up sleeping in her car.
Debbie mingled with the élite of Hollywood in the dying days of its Golden Age. Luminaries included Clark Gable (“if I were only twenty years younger….); Judy Garland (who propositioned her); Lana Turner; Bette Davis (“she was my daughter”); Katharine Hepburn; Spencer Tracy; Lucille Ball; and Glenn Ford, who fell in love with her.
Mass murderer Charles Manson sent her love letters; Liberace wanted her to enter into a “lavender marriage” with him, and James Dean “forced himself onto me” when she was up for the role of his girlfriend in Rebel Without a Cause.
“I turned down Warren Beatty,” Debbie claimed, “and didn’t even go for the handsome Gary Cooper, although he told me women called him ‘The Montana Mule.’ Bob Hope, a compulsive womanizer, also had to look elsewhere.”
A rebellious daughter, Carrie grew up to endure a life of living hellpill popping, drug abuse, chronic anxiety, failed love affairs, bipolar disorder, and electroshock therapy. Carrie sometimes protested: “I don’t want to be the daughter of Debbie Reynolds. I battled demons that set my brain on fire.”
International celebrity came in 1977, when she played Princess Leia in Star Wars as an elaborately coiffed intergalactic princess, spearheading “The Force,” and strong enough to oppose the villainy of Darth Vader. She became the fantasy of teenage boys and sci-fi freaks.
A love affair with the married Harrison Ford faded into a marriage to singer Paul Simon as they crossed a Bridge Over Troubled Waters. A final marriage to a Hollywood agent ended when he decided he needed not a wife, but a husband for himself.
The princess turned writer in a series of autobiographical books praised for their lacerating insights into human frailty and awash with bubble and bounce, sprinkled with bons mots, an adroit verbal acrobat with words. The New York Times defined her as “one of the rare inhabitants of La-La Land who can actually write.”
In Carrie’s writings, Debbie often didn’t come out too well, depicted as a “casually narcissistic gorgon ill-suited for the real world.” As her star dimmed, cooled, and faded, mother took to the bottle.
Until the end, Debbie was resilient, a singing, dancing, sensation of massive talent, a button-nosed, boop-boopie-doo girl for six decades. She never lost her “Debbie-ness,” strutting her stuff, emoting like a stormeverything sprinkled with the stardust of yesterday.
What was her secret of perpetual youth? Carrie knew: “She drank bat’s blood for breakfast and smeared bug brains on her skin.”
Reconciled after years of separation, Carrie and Debbie came together at the end, not able to live apart. They couldn’t even die without each other. Their fans like to think they’re doing fine today in some galaxy far, far away.
About the Author
Hailed for their ability to skewer the inflated, long-standing myths and icons of show-biz, Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince are the world’s most prolific and visible biographers of Hollywood celebrities. Residents of New York City, and winners of book awards from many literary competitions across the U.S., they’re co-authors and co-producers of streams of written entertainment about how America interprets its celebrities.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 A Depression-Ravaged Tomboy Morphs into Miss Burbank of 1948 1
Chapter 2 MGM Defines its Newest Starlet as Debbie Reynolds 21
Chapter 3 "I can't sing, and I can't dance," Debbie Confesses as She's Cast in Hollywood's Greatest Musical, Singin' in the Rain 53
Chapter 4 Debbie Bids Farewell to Her Alltime Dream boat, Robert Wagner 81
Chapter 5 Eddie Fisher: "Marrying Publicity-Crazed Debbie Reynolds Was the Biggest Mistake of My Life" 123
Chapter 6 Michael Todd's Tragic Death in a Fiery Plane Crash Plunges Debbie into the Most Widely Publicized Scandal of the 1950s 159
Chapter 7 "I Love Her and I Never Loved You," Eddie Fisher Tells Debbie Why He's Leaving her for Elizabeth Taylor 197
Chapter 8 Robert Mitchum Pimps for Howard Hughes and Rapes Debbie in Her Home, Then Claims it was Consensual Sex 231
Chapter 9 Cashing in on Scandal, "Dauntless Debbie" Becomes One of Hollywood's Hottest Stars as her Salary Soars 265
Chapter 10 Mother of Two Stillborns, Debbie in her Last Big Movie, is Unsinkable 297
Chapter 11 Debbie Discovers that her Gambling-Addicted Husband Has Squandered His Millions-and Hers, Too. They're Broke! 325
Chapter 12 Debbie Dumps Husband #2 and Heads for Broadway for a Revival of the Vintage Musical Irene 359
Chapter 13 Divorce American Style 383
Chapter 14 With Her Movie Stardom Faded, the El Paso Tomboy Takes to the Stage Again, and Again, and Again. "The Legs Are the Last to Go." 409
Chapter 15 Leaping Lizards! It's Liberace, and He's Proposing Marriage to Debbie! (Separate Bedrooms, of Course) 435
Chapter 16 Princess Leia in the Early Stages of Her Drug Addiction Morphs into "The Love Machine," Mowing Down John Belushi, George Harrison, and James Brown 465
Chapter 17 Senators & Sex-Carrie's Affairs with Teddy Kennedy & Chris Dodd, Each of Them a Presidential Candidate 493
Chapter 18 Real Estate Roulette & Financial Horror, Terrorizing Tammy 523
Chapter 19 These Old Broads-Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds, Shirley MacLaine, & Joan Collins. Collectively, Their Combined Ages Total 269, with 16 Ex-Husbands 551
Chapter 20 Debbie Impersonates Liberace's Mother in Behind the Candelabra, then Portrays Herself as Carrie's Dotty Mother in Bright Lights 585
Recording the Voices (Authors' Bios) 625
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Carrie Fisher & Debbie Reynolds: Princess Leia & Unsinkable Tammy in Hell represents the first in-depth biography of the mother-daughter duo, and is especially recommended for prior fans of either woman, who will find this survey replete with new information, scandals, and colorful insights. Black and white vintage photos liberally pepper a series of revelations which assume the high drama and attraction of hot Hollywood gossip, but with an overlay of truth that attends to revealing not only the lives of and connections between Fisher and Reynolds, but their overall, lasting impact on Hollywood and pop culture alike. It's rare that a survey of much-publicized icons offers unique perspectives and new information, but Carrie Fisher & Debbie Reynolds does so in a sweeping, thoroughly engrossing manner that will give their fans new insights and perspectives. While no Hollywood library should be without this authoritative coverage, it should also be mentioned that despite its volume (over six hundred pages of detail), it's quite accessible to those with relatively little prior information about the duo, who will find that the length of the volume in no way precludes its value as both a serious study and an attractive leisure read.