Two decades ago, Debbie Reynolds was entertaining the audience at ABC’s “American Comedy Awards” with her droll acceptance speech for her Lifetime Achievement Award in comedy when she brought the house down recalling her ill-fated marriage to crooner Eddie Fisher.
The actress referred to her marriage as “Oh, my faux pas” — a spoof on Fisher’s hit tune, “Oh My Papa.”
Reynolds didn’t write that speech. It was her daughter Carrie Fisher, who died Tuesday at the age of 60, who provided the wryly amusing commentary.
But Fisher’s impressions of Hollywood yesteryear were different, more than likely because the studio system was coming to an end by the time her mother became a star.
And what a star. Reynolds, 84, was one of the biggest and freshest MGM had in the 1950s, appearing in such classics as 1952’s “Singin’ in the Rain.” She even topped the charts in 1957 with “Tammy” from her romantic comedy “Tammy and the Bachelor.”
And the late Eddie Fisher was a bestselling crooner. Reynolds and Fisher even starred together in the dreadful 1956 comedy “Bundle of Joy,” which was anything but joyful. The couple hung out with Elizabeth Taylor and her producer husband Mike Todd.
Carrie and her younger brother, Todd, were photographed and cooed over by Hollywood and Reynolds’ adoring fans, especially after Fisher left Reynolds for Taylor, who briefly became their stepmother.
Her mother always had stars in her eyes about Hollywood even when she was a star herself, but Fisher was the rare Hollywood offspring who saw behind the stardust and wrote about her experiences of being a denizen of Tinseltown, especially regarding her battle with substance abuse and mental illness with perception, dry wit and brazen honesty.
“I come from a long line of short potent broads who render their mates sort of obsolete,” Fisher told me in a 1995 interview. “My parents’ whole relationship was basically a press release.”
(Before her father’s death in 2010, Fisher reached out to him and became his caretaker.)
And her darkly comedic take on being part of Hollywood royalty fueled her work as a writer, most notably in her 1987 bestselling semi-autobiographical novel and 1990 screenplay adaptation of “Postcards From the Edge,” about the relationship between a famous Hollywood star, no stranger to booze, and her actress daughter, struggling with sobriety and the difficulties of having a national treasure for a parent.
Fisher confessed she became an actress because it was in the family business.
“My mother put me in a nightclub act, in effect, to be with her,” Fisher noted. “She was not having a good time at the time. It was a way of keeping the family together. I was 13 and did her nightclub act in Vegas and Reno. Then I acted in the chorus [on Broadway] when I was 15. I just started acting. Once you get into that stuff, it’s very seductive. How do you walk away from something that you can do OK, that is sort of fiscally attractive? There’s a lot of drama about it and your mother can give you advice forever.”
Both mother and daughter shared the same wicked sense of humor: Reynolds once gave Fred Astaire a jeweled jockstrap after starring with him in 1961’s “The Pleasure of His Company.”
Yet another lesson passed down through the generations: “If there’s an opportunity for humor,” mused Fisher, “you use it.”