Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Remembering Debbie and Carrie

Looking skyward from the Jackie Onassis Reservoir. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, December 28, 2016. It was 63 degrees yesterday afternoon when I sat down at my desk to write this diary. It was a sunny, bright day. A good friend had given me a gift certificate to Zabar's. The most enjoyable, practical gift I could ever receive. And useful. So I went over there in this “Winter” weather to use it. The traffic was comparatively light. I picked up some of my Zabars favorites, the coffee, the breads, the Scotch smoked salmon, the carrot bread. That was the good news.

Then I came home and saw the news that Carrie Fisher died around noontime, New York time. The first thing that came to mind, and remains, was Debbie.

Then I found Debbie’s announcement to the media:

Thank you to everyone who has embraced the gifts and talents of my beloved and amazing daughter. I am grateful for your thoughts and prayers that are now guiding her to her next stop. Love, Carrie's Mother
Mother and daughter.
Love and laughter, wit and song. Those were the highlights of the lives of Mother and Daughter. With all kinds of drama between the numbers. Carrie wrote about their relationship in her “novel,” Postcards from the Edge. Whatever anyone might have thought to the contrary, she was her mother’s daughter.

Eddie, Debbie, and Carrie
She was the girl her mother never would have or could have been because Debbie grew up as Mary Frances Reynolds in another generation, the child of ordinary folk from El Paso (and later Burbank). Carrie grew up in Hollywood, the first born of a very famous movie star and a very famous recording star, Eddie Fisher.

In some ways it was a typical Hollywood childhood – in whatever way that’s possible. Carrie had a working mother, and don’t kid yourself, movie stars when working often work the equivalent of round-the-clock. Her parents’ marriage ended loudly in the arena when she was a small child, and her father left for Elizabeth Taylor.

But in other more important ways, it was an ordinary American childhood – Maxine and Ray Reynolds, her grandparents were “salt of the earth” real. And Carrie, although always adored and appreciated by all, was treated — along with her younger brother Todd — like a real kid, not some movie star’s little princess. Maxine was a no-nonsense lady, and Ray didn’t put up with any shenanigans or pretense with their adored grandchildren.
Carrie with her mother and brother Todd.
Then within a few years, Carrie, still a teenager, became an overnight star in “Shampoo” and then “Star Wars” — two of the hottest American films of the early 1970s. Mother was very proud of her brilliant daughter.

The star-daughter, the younger generation, now garnered a lot of public attention with her personality. She was a wit, funny, a one woman show. Just like her mother — one of the most famous stars of her youth — so too was daughter. Like mother, like daughter. Carrie’s success was good fortune for both also. It assured Carrie of her own identity both publicly and privately, an infrequent gift in the Hollywood experience.
She was also famous among her friends for her impersonations of people, especially that of Mother. I never saw it but Blair Sabol, who was a friend, certainly did and she was awed by the “performance.” Debbie, of course, is a brilliant impersonator, a quick-study artist with an eye on the laugh, and was delighted by her daughter’s dramatic perspicacity.

Carrie also lived life at times on a faster track compared to mama. And like her, she married first to a famous singer — Paul Simon — and then a second to Bryan Lourd, with whom she had a daughter Billie.
Carrie with mom and daughter Billie.
Like her mother, Carrie was always working — acting, writing books, doctoring scripts, creating one-woman performances; a show with mama. And in between all that, she had a very rich social life because, again like her mother, Carrie liked  people and had a lot of real  friends.

I never knew her, although when I spent the year 1987 working with Debbie on her memoir “Debbie, My Life,” Carrie and I had a couple of long phone conversations. The intimacy was almost instantaneous between us. She was very verbal about her mother, her childhood and their relationship. She had a curious mind and was as interested in my observations as she was by her own. She was very engaging and like many others, I was easily engaged by her. Her charm with people, as it is with Debbie, was the talent to amuse, to bring laughter.
It was often assumed by those outside Carrie’s circle that the differences in lifestyle between mother and daughter created difficulties in their relationship. That was only publicity dressing on what was otherwise a normal mother-daughter relationship. Debbie from the beginning of her motherhood had always been very conscious of the fact that her work could demand her full attention and even at times, separation from her children. Her children always came first, as it was in Maxine and Ray’s family. When she couldn’t be with them, the grandparents were there, so the family was always together.

As Carrie grew up and into her own public personality and career, Debbie was deeply proud of her. She always regarded her daughter as more intelligent and talented than herself. It was simply a matter of pride and wonder. Daughter knew this and underneath her own charm and wit, deeply admired her mother.
Private lives of public characters are often misunderstood by even those around them. What we see and learn about those lives is colored by the bright lights that shine on them. Back home, after the shows, when the audience has left the theater, those “public” characters return to their domiciles, their apartments, their hotel rooms, their trailers, their transportation, and often weary, like the rest of us. “Ordinary” seems too all-encompassing a word to describe their lives, yet that’s life for all of us, no matter our position in the world.

So Carrie has departed this life. My late sister Helen, who died at 89 earlier this month, lost her son, her first born, when he was 30. Death came to him, his wife and his two small daughters in a head-on collision with a car on the wrong side of the road, driven by a drunken kid without a driver’s license — who walked away from the catastrophe unharmed. That was forty years ago. For my sister that was her greatest sadness, and it never left her. She never spoke of that sadness — although she talked about her son’s life at times — but it was always there.

I don’t doubt that this will be so for Debbie. The words in the public announcement “from Carrie's Mother” confirmed it. The whole story for her is entirely in those words. We can only offer sympathy for we cannot imagine the depth of her loss.

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