For actress/singer/director Connie Stevens, it’s always been about “me and the girls” — her actress daughters Joely and Tricia Leigh Fisher from her short-lived marriage to singer Eddie Fisher.
“They’ve always been the light in my eye,” said Stevens, 78. “And I have found the older I get, that’s really what counts anyway.”
And her daughters, who were just toddlers when she divorced Fisher in 1969, went with her when she performed in Las Vegas or made a movie — Eddie Fisher, who battled substance abuse for years, wasn’t part of their lives when they were growing up. And it wasn’t too long before the Fisher girls would join their mom on stage.
“She’d say, you want to sing a song on stage?” recalled Joely Fisher (“Till Death,” “Ellen”) in a recent joint interview with her mom. “Normally, that’s annoying to people, but we were good. I watched this lady make magic on stage and I saw what it did to her and what it did to the audience. I was, like, ‘I need that in my life.’ Then when we got a little older it was, ‘Hey, Mom’s going to perform on a cruise, you guys want to be back-up singers?’ We were like, ‘Duh, yes.’”
Fisher, 48, who attended Beverly Hills High and went to Emerson College in Boston, said going to different schools “made me the woman I am today, the actor that I am, the partner in life that I am and the mother that I am. I don’t think it hurt me in many ways. I preferred being in hotels and suitcases than being in a classroom.”
On this hot September afternoon, Stevens and Fisher are holding court in a family room in Stevens’ ranch-style Studio City home replete with a pool, guest house and gym. For years, Stevens lived in actress Sonja Henie’s mansion in Holmby Hills, but sold the property earlier this year and moved into her new digs a few months ago.
The actress, who shows no ill-effects from a stroke she had earlier this year, is radiant and still has the spark and charm she possessed when she starred in the 1959-63 ABC detective series “Hawaiian Eye,” in which she played Cricket Blake, and scored a hit in 1959 with the song “Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Corn,’ a novelty song she recorded with teen heartthrob Edd Byrnes who played Kookie on ABC’s “77 Sunset Strip.”
Stevens and her her daughters live near each other said Fisher, who has been married nearly 20 years to cinematographer Christopher Duddy and is mother to three girls and stepmother to Duddy’s grown sons. She and her sister “see each other probably two or three times a week. We talk to each other eight times a day. I’m directing a movie early next year and I have hired Tricia to polish the script. We all respect each other as artists and we keep it in the family.”
So much so that when Fisher received the script two years ago for the quirky indie film “Search Engines,” which opens Friday at Laemmle’s NoHo 7, she noticed there was a good role for an actress to play her character’s technologically challenged mother.
After offering the main role to Fisher, “Joely and I had a meeting,” recalled writer-director Russell Brown. “We just started talking and she said, ‘Have you cast the mom role yet?’ At that time, we were out to another actress. When Joely brought it up, I was, like, ‘Let’s see what happens with this other offer, but I’d love to have your mom. She’s great and she’d be perfect.’”
As fate would have it, the other actress passed on the part. “So it ended up working out perfectly,” said Brown.
In the film, Fisher plays a recently divorced mother of two teenage daughters who decides to make Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends at her house. And she’s a frantic mess. Stevens plays her mother who has a voice-activated GPS system in her car that always gives her the wrong directions. No sooner have all the guests arrived than the cell phone and wi-fi service mysteriously goes out at the house. The lack of technology affects each person a different way — some panic, others enjoy not being attached to their phones.
Stevens just enjoyed being on the set with her daughter. “She walks through the door and I’m joyful,” she said smiling over at Fisher. “Being on the set and watching her work and watching her triumph…I think I am very much like that character. But you know what, I don’t care. I don’t know how to work the Internet, nothing.”
Fisher, who joked around with her mother during the interview, quipped that her mother would tell her how to improve her performance “She tells me how I can be better,” she said, laughing. “I respect her as an artist. I listened to half of what she said.”
Brown said working with the duo was a “dream,” adding they have very different personalities. “Joely is very collaborative. She brings a lot of ideas and a lot of filmmaking knowledge because she is a director herself. Connie is more receptive and is more looking for a director to guide her in the scene. They’re both a joy to be around.”
Since completing “Search Engines” they have made another movie, “Rivers of Babylon.” This time around, Stevens was cast first.
“The director I had worked with on another film called me and said, ‘I have to talk to you about something. Can we speak candidly?” Fisher recalled. “I was like, ‘Oh god, something happened. My mother’s misbehaving on the set.’”
In fact, he was offering Fisher a supporting role in the film. “He said it’s a really good, sparkling role and you’ll get to work with your mom.”
Stevens took the part because she gets to play a “whacked-out crazy murderer,” she said. “I play her character’s whacked-out psychiatrist,” said Fisher, glancing over at her mother. “I did get to be evil with you in that. That was fun.”