Monday, January 9, 2017

Bright Lights

Looking South along Park Avenue. Saturday, 3:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, January 9, 2017.  Snowed all day Saturday into early evening; with temperatures dropping into the 20s and high teens where they remained through the night. By Sunday morning it had warmed (in the 20s) enough to melt the snow on the sidewalks and the roadways. By Sunday night we were in barely double digit temps. Brrrr.  It’s January.
View from the terrace at 6:30 Saturday night, looking north, and then looking south on East End Avenue.
JH was braver than I, and for your viewing pleasure captured a few New York snow scenes along Park and Fifth Avenue ...
It was a perfect Saturday night to stay home and watch the HBO documentary “Bright Lights: Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.” Considering the tragic deaths of both women one day apart, twelve days before this documentary was released, it’s almost difficult to realize it wasn’t in the script. It’s as if this film was intended as preparation for the real ending of both their lives. Of course that is mere coincidence, the stuff of fate, not to mention Hollywood drama.
The film was very good in portraying the reality of their lives  — a mother and daughter with a very close relationship at the difficult time in the aging mother’s life. The two were always close, even when they weren’t. Carrie almost made a career out of being “the daughter of a famous movie star” despite establishing her own fame on a career as an actress, writer and witty commentator on her own life.

I hadn’t seen Debbie in several years and only knew about her failing health through mutual friends. The last time I saw her was when she played the Café Carlyle several years ago. She was then clearly aging compared to the late '80s, early '90s when she was still working the nightclub and concert circuit 44 weeks a year. In “Bright Lights” she was looking pretty much the same as she looked when we worked together 30 years ago except the body had begun to rearrange. Her movements, however, described the real difference. They were measured and slow; youth was gone.  
In the film she still looked like the Debbie we’ve known for years. However, that “look” we were seeing was the result of a lot of concealed work (hair/makeup, etc.) and physical effort on her part (the show must go on). There were several indications, however, particularly when it came to the part where she was honored by the Screen Actors Guild, that she really wasn’t up to it anymore. It was purely the process of aging, although by that time she always liked to boast about the number of years she had worked (and it was work) in the business – 65 years. 30 years ago after the Harry Karl marriage debacle, she downsized and lived in the Valley. In the last 15 years of her life, she’d lived in Beverly Hills in a house built on the edge of the property where Carrie lived in a house bought years ago from the estate of Edith Head — the costume designer from the Golden Age of Movies.
The mother-daughter relationship was often highly publicized because of their separate careers, their generationally separate public images, and because Carrie as a daughter had a strongly independent personality and well-publicized drug and alcohol problems. The public could have got the impression that things were always rocky between the two. In truth, from what I witnessed, Mother was always very proud of Daughter, even if at times frustrated and troubled by Carrie’s state of health or finances; and daughter was very impressed by Mother’s talent and drive.
Carrie’s novel “Postcards From the Edge” was a fictionally enhanced autobiography of the complications of Hollywood Mother-Daughter relationships. However, unlike the biographies of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis — two of the great stars who came before whom Debbie knew and highly respected — Debbie was in awe of her daughter’s talents, literary and otherwise. Her great disappointment, as revealed in this film, is that Carrie never pursued a singing career because she had a voice better than both her mother’s or her father’s. This is demonstrated briefly in the film too.
“Bright Lights”  is a tribute to Debbie and her motherhood. Debbie, Carrie and Todd were always a very close family. Todd — who was the co-producer of the film — younger than his sister by a couple of years, grew into and remained the undemanding rock in the lives of, both mother and sister. Naturally stalwart, he was able to stay comfortably out of the limelight, wear the role of the man in the family, doing the heavy lifting whenever required, and always close to both his mother and his sister. The mother’s natural dignity was upheld by both siblings, and Carrie, in the end, carried the message of love. What greater achievement could a mother impart to her offspring.

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