Originally published March 26, 1960.
In the 1950s, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher were one of Hollywood’s hottest couples — until Fisher had an affair with Elizabeth Taylor. In this article from March 26, 1960, Reynolds talked about how her highly publicized divorce affected her personally and professionally.
From its beginning, the courtship and marriage of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher was proclaimed “The Sweetest Love Story Ever Told.” So it was only natural that the shattering of the Fisher-Reynolds spun-sugar dream castle was as screamingly publicized.
The fact that the darling little couple had become a triangle was regarded in certain circles as the biggest domestic tragedy since Douglas Fairbanks Sr. parted from America’s Sweetheart, Mary Pickford. The Fisher-Reynolds split reached its climax when Debbie agreed—after a year of hesitation—to a quick divorce so her husband could embark upon his second marital venture, this time with Elizabeth Taylor. Even then, however, the triangle refused to go away. In terms of cold, hard cash, the ordeal made the two ladies involved far more valuable at the box office. The price tag of the discarded wife leaped to $125,000 a picture, then to $250,000. The sum demanded for the services of the new Mrs. Fisher zoomed from $500,000 to $750,000—then to $1,000,000. Miss Reynolds soon signed a similar contract, earning $1,000, 000 for three television appearances.
Eddie Fisher on the other hand, has temporarily fallen from the high estate of having his own TV show, to playing the night-club circuit and doing a role in M-G-M’s Butterfield 8, a vehicle which also stars Miss Taylor, while talks are being held about a new TV show for him.
During the time when Debbie and Eddie, once the nation’s most publicized newlyweds, were engaged in becoming the nation’s most highly publicized divorcees, Fisher and Miss Taylor did most of the talking. I’d read various statements attributed to Debbie, but it was my thought that if I could get her to give me some of her ideas about the a air at first hand, it would still be newsworthy.
I remembered a photograph of her taken a few days after the news broke that she and Eddie were having difficulties. I mentioned that photo to her now. I said, “You looked like a teen-ager someone had just kicked in the stomach.”
“I know the picture you mean,” she said. “I remember it very well. It was taken after I had my children out for an airing, and when I came home there were a lot of strangers in my house— reporters and photographers. I didn’t even know what had happened. Then they told me that my marriage seemed to be definitely on the rocks, but I still didn’t get it. I remember saying, ‘It’s unbelievable that you can live happily with a man and not know he doesn’t love you.” When they took that photo, I had just finished changing my babies. I wasn’t thinking about how I looked. My mind was completely on another subject. When I saw that picture, I was surprised to see a couple of diaper pins still attached to my blouse.”
“How old were you when you and Eddie were married?” I asked.
“Twenty-three.” she said. “I had lived at home with my mother until then, so I was extremely inexperienced. I had to grow up very fast. Too fast. I don’t think that’s the best way to grow up. I think it’s the hardest way. But you certainly can learn that way, and it’s very thorough.”
What she said next sounded like something she had said to herself many, many times—and that she would say it many limes more. “As long as you can accept your experiences and digest them and not let them make you bitter or cynical or assume that life is always going to be that way, you’ll be all right. But if you allow them to make you cynical and bitter…” Her voice trailed off.
Strength of Character
I said I thought it would have been easy for her to become bitter. “I wouldn’t
let me be,” she said. “All my life I’ve hated people who complain about their knee-aches or their backaches. All they had to do was look around them to see people having it more difficult than they. If you consider the road a lot of other people travel, you can say to yourself, “Mine isn’t that rough!’”
I said to her, “In spite of all the stress, your statements to the press always seemed sound and sensible.” I thought of one statement of hers in particular. She had just finished shooting It Started With a Kiss in Spain, and on her way home friends in California reached her on the long-distance phone and repeated to her some of the remarks made during an impromptu press conference held in Eddie Fisher’s dressing room in a Las Vegas hold.
Some of Elizabeth Taylor’s remarks &mash; she was also present — were reported to Debbie as follows: “Eddie and I intend to travel and see as much of the world as we can, and we would like to travel as man and wife… We respect public opinion, but you can’t live by it. If we lived by it, Eddie and I would have been terribly unhappy through all this. But I can shamelessly say that we have been terribly happy… I am literally rising above it.”
When questioned about the possibility that Debbie might refuse a divorce, Elizabeth Taylor had answered, “At first Debbie was very much hurt, but I think now the hurt has left and she will consent to Eddie getting a divorce here.”
“When I came home from Europe, people kept asking me, ‘Will you give Eddie a divorce or won’t you?’ said Debbie. “It wasn’t a new question. Eddie had asked me before, and I had said no. But when I was coming home on that plane and I knew there would be people waiting for me at the airport. I prepared a last statement on the subject. It was this: ‘The position in which I am placed makes it necessary for me to give my consent, but they would have gotten married anyway.’”
She stopped for a moment. “Seems like all I did last year was prepare last statements. It was a very pressured year for me. In that one year I had enough emotions to wear me out.”
“You came through all right,” I said.
“If I did, maybe it was because I never told an untruth,” she said. “Whatever I said about my emotions was honest. What I felt must have been obvious: I can’t hide what I feel, I’d be better off if I could. For that matter, I’d be better if I didn’t feel so much.
“I tried to do everything and think of everything as I will five or ten years from now. If I had talked or acted as I felt at the moment, I might have said and done wrong things. Unfortunately our situation became public property. If it hadn’t, I think the three of us could have dealt with it in a mannerly way, I would probably have said no to a divorce, and perhaps it all would have worked out differently. But because it was dumped in the public’s lap by the other people involved, I had no choice.”
I said, “Some of those who have watched you whirling around of late with an ‘I-don’t-care’ air have told me, ‘Debbie seems to be having herself a ball. She must be having a great time being a bachelor girl again.’”
She said, “Whether what happens to you is for the best or the worst depends on what you make of it. You can be miserable or you can be happy, I think I’m having a great time now, and I think I’ll keep right on doing that, because I have so much to be happy about. Before I was married,
I wanted children. Now I have two children. They are all anybody could ever want. I have a lovely home; my professional career is looking up, I can travel everywhere, and I have very dear friends. So inside I’m happy. I really am, but it has taken time to acquire that philosophy.”
This article and other features about the stars of Tinseltown can be found in the Post’s Special Collector’s Edition, The Golden Age of Hollywood. This edition can be ordered here.
It really does seem that more celebrities died in 2016, doesn’t it? But I’m not sure if that’s actually true. We probably saw the same number of celebrities pass away, it’s just that we’re all getting older, and a lot of our big cultural icons — David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Prince, Nancy Reagan, Garry Shandling, George Michael, John Glenn, Florence Henderson, Alan Thicke, almost the entire cast of The Patty Duke Show — passed away in the same year, sometimes so close together it seemed like an onslaught.
Of all of the year-end tributes and memorials, CBS Sunday Morning always has the best:
(By the way, if you’re wondering why Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher aren’t in there, they got their own separate tribute.)
Of course, celebrity deaths don’t stop just because someone makes a compilation video. Since this aired, we lost M*A*S*H actor William Christopher, actresses Barbara Tarbuck and Sandra Giles, Walt Disney animator Tyrus Wong, red plastic Solo Cup inventor Robert Hulseman, and Jeffrey Hayden, husband of Eva Marie Saint and director of dozens and dozens of classic TV shows.
Don’t Use These Words in 2017
Every year, Lake Superior State University in Michigan unveils its list of words and phrases from the previous year that need to be banished. Last year’s list included breaking the internet, but that phrase is still being used every single day, so some people just aren’t listening.
This year’s list includes listicle, dadbod, guesstimate, echo chamber, on fleek, and bigly. That last one is interesting because it’s not even a word, it’s a misheard phrase. President-elect Donald Trump often says “big league,” but it comes out sounding like “bigly.” But maybe we should banish big league too, unless we’re talking about baseball.
The list also includes “831” which I have never heard or seen anyone use. Apparently, it’s an encrypted way to say “I love you”: Eight letters, three words, one meaning.
Things We Remember That Younger People Won’t Understand
Over on Twitter, Eric Alper posted a query that got a lot of attention:
Without revealing your actual age, what something you remember that if you told a younger person they wouldn't understand?
— Eric Alper (@ThatEricAlper) December 28, 2016
The first thing that comes to my mind are all phone-related: busy signals, only having one phone in your house (and it was attached by a cord!), answering machines, having to carry change for the phone booth, etc. You can click on the tweet’s date above to see what other people suggested, and a lot of them are technology-oriented. Younger people will never know the frustration of waiting for someone to get off the phone so we could get online, back when downloading something took 37 hours.
Or how about how there used to be great songs on AM radio (if they can understand what “radio” is beyond SiriusXM)? Having to type a letter on a typewriter (or writing it by hand) and having to put it in an envelope and take it to a mailbox, and the other person wouldn’t get it for days? More freedom at airports? Having a stranger come to your home to take off the back of your TV to repair it (and before remotes, having to walk over to your TV and turn a knob to change the channel)? Having to call someone you knew or go to a library to find out a fact? Carbon paper? Having to wait months and months to see the repeat of a TV show you missed (and how TV channels actually ended their broadcast day late at night)? Or how as teens we had to somehow catch a glimpse of Playboy because the web wasn’t invented yet and all that stuff wasn’t available with only a few clicks.
Not that I ever did that or anything.
What other joys and frustrations from your formative years will today’s young people never experience? Let us know your ideas in the comments below.
Singin’ in the Rain
Two big events are happening to celebrate the life of Debbie Reynolds. Turner Classic Movies and Fathom are teaming up to show Singin’ in the Rain in selected theaters on January 15 and 18, something that was already scheduled for the movie’s 65th anniversary. Then on January 27, TCM will run a 24-hour marathon of her movies, including Singin’ in the Rain, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, The Tender Trap, The Mating Game, and How the West Was Won.
Considering she was only 19 and had very little dancing experience, she really does an amazing job in Singin’ in the Rain, holding her own with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. She once said that “Singin in the Rain and childbirth were the two hardest things I ever had to do in my life.”
Hanna Barbera Meets Norman Rockwell
Many people may not realize that the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, not only celebrates the life and work of the Saturday Evening Post artist, it holds other events as well. From now until May, the museum is going to concentrate on the work of Hanna Barbera, makers of such classic cartoons as The Flintstones, Tom & Jerry, Yogi Bear, The Jetsons, and Scooby-Doo. There will be guest speakers, visitors will be able to take art classes, and there will even be breakfast served, so you can pretend you’re home eating cereal and watching Saturday-morning cartoons (another experience lost to today’s youth).
But if you’re thinking about wearing your pajamas, I’d call ahead first.
This Week in History
George Washington Unveils First American Flag (January 1, 1776)
The flag is usually called the “Grand Union” but some sources say it can also be called the “Great Union.”
Ellis Island Opens (January 1, 1892)
Over 12 million immigrants came to the U.S. through Ellis Island from 1892 until it closed November 12, 1954.
Alaska Becomes 49th State (January 3, 1959)
Did you know that Alaska has more coastline than all of the lower 48 states? It even has several beaches.
Soup Is Good Food
January is National Soup Month, and eating soup in January is the very definition of “comfort food,” isn’t it? In the current issue of The Saturday Evening Post, food columnist Curtis Stone gives us the recipes for some soups to warm both the body and the soul, including Weeknight Navy Bean and Ham and Creamy Celery Root Soup. You can also make Stone’s Homemade-Chicken-Soup-Makes-Me-Feel-Better Soup or his Winter Vegetable Minestrone.
The good thing about soup is that it can be rather healthy for you, to help you stick to those New Year’s resolutions you’ve made. It might even give you a dadbod. This is only a guesstimate, but I think many people might even say that soup is on fleek.
Next Week’s Holidays and Events
Houseplant Appreciation Day (January 10)
Just a week or so after you threw out one giant plant that was shedding needles on your carpet, you can learn how to take care of the smaller ones you have around your house.
Stephen Foster Memorial Day (January 13)
This day celebrates the life of the American songwriter, famous for songs like “Oh, Susanna,” “Old Folks at Home” (aka “Swanee River”), “Camptown Races,” and “My Old Kentucky Home.”
National Blame Someone Else Day (January 13)
Supposedly this day, “celebrated” on the first Friday the 13th of the year, was invented by Anne Moeller of Clio, Michigan, one morning in 1982, when her alarm clock didn’t go off. But I don’t know if that’s true or just a joke to blame her for it. If you don’t like the day, don’t blame her, blame someone else.
That Christmas Feeling
I don’t know what it feels like at your home the days and nights after Christmas, but in mine it feels like it could be October 9 or January 16. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a tree and only got four cards this year, or maybe it’s because it’s currently 56 degrees, but that Christmas feeling practically vanished on the morning of December 26. It’s been like that for a few years now. I’m going to eat some festive-looking cookies and listen to “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” several times to force the holiday mood back into me.
Actually, a lot of people don’t like hearing Christmas songs after the big day is over. For them, the songs need to stop at 11:59 p.m. on Christmas night. I’ve never been that way, though. I don’t mind if the holiday tunes continue until the night of January 1. Though anything after that just seems odd and … sad? Though I would make the case that a lot of Christmas songs are actually just winter songs. You can listen to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in January and February, because it is (or should be). You can crank up “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” until winter’s over because you want to let it. You can even play “Sleigh Ride” because that’s not something you only do in December (in fact, weather-wise, you’re more likely to do it in January or February).
I wouldn’t go with “Jingle Bells,” though. While one could argue that’s more winter/sleigh ride–oriented and isn’t geared toward Christmas, just try to listen to it without thinking of Santa.
RIP Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, George Michael, Richard Adams, and George Irving
When we all heard that Carrie Fisher had suffered a heart attack on a plane headed to Los Angeles last week, we thought that she would be okay. But the actress passed away on Tuesday at the age of 60.
Fisher, of course, is famous for playing Princess Leia in the first three Star Wars films and last year’s The Force Awakens, and she’d already completed filming her parts for Star Wars VIII. But she was also in many other famous films, including When Harry Met Sally, Shampoo, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Come Back, Little Sheba. She also appeared in TV shows like 30 Rock, Frasier, Laverne & Shirley, Smallville, The Big Bang Theory, and Family Guy (she played Peter’s boss, Angela). She was also an acclaimed writer, penning such books as Postcards from the Edge, Wishful Drinking, and last month’s The Princess Diarist, which sold out on Amazon a few hours after her death was announced. She also worked as a script doctor on many films.
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) December 27, 2016
And if the death of Fisher wasn’t enough for her family to deal with, just one day later her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, passed away after suffering a stroke. She was 84.
Reynolds’s career started in the late ’40s with bit parts, which led to her big role in the classic musical Singin’ in the Rain in 1952. She also appeared in The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, Susan Slept Here, Tammy and the Bachelor, The Tender Trap, and How the West Was Won, as well as dozens of other films. On TV she starred in The Debbie Reynolds Show, Aloha, Paradise, The Love Boat, The Golden Girls, and Family Guy, and was nominated for an Emmy for playing Grace’s mom on Will & Grace, along with a ton of other credits over the past 60-plus years. She was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown.
If I can inject a quick personal story: I met Reynolds in 1994 when she appeared in an episode of Wings where I appeared as an extra. I just met her for a quick moment (she was with her good friend Rip Taylor) when she talked to the extras that were gathered backstage. She gave a funny performance in that episode.
According to her son Todd, her last words before the stroke were “I miss her so much. I want to be with Carrie.”
I’ve heard “Last Christmas” a lot this month, and a friend commented that it’s odd that the singer of that song should die around the holidays. George Michael passed away Sunday at the age of 53.
Michael hit big fame as half of the duo Wham! (along with Andrew Ridgeley). Besides “Last Christmas,” their hits include “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Careless Whisper,” and “Everything She Wants.” When the band broke up in 1986, Michael went on to have solo hits like “Faith,” “Father Figure,” and “I Want Your Sex” (or “I Want Your Love,” depending on what radio station you were listening to at the time). He also teamed with Aretha Franklin for “I Knew You Were Waiting” and Elton John for “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”
Richard Adams was the author of the classic children’s book Watership Down, as well as the novels The Plague Dogs, The Girl in a Swing, and Shardik. He passed away Tuesday at the age of 96.
George S. Irving was a Tony-winning stage actor since the early ’40s, appearing in such productions as Oklahoma!, Call Me Mister, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Two’s Company, Can-Can, Irma La Douce, and the revival of Pirates of Penzance. He was also seen in such TV shows as The Patty Duke Show, Naked City, All in the Family, Ryan’s Hope, and the cartoons Underdog and Go-Go Gophers.
You probably heard his voice on TV this Christmas season; he was the voice of Heat Miser in the animated classic The Year Without a Santa Claus. Irving died Monday at the age of 94.
The Musketeers of Pig Alley
The Library of Congress has announced that 25 films have been added to the National Film Registry, and many of them share a theme. The list includes The Breakfast Club, Rushmore, Blackboard Jungle, East of Eden, and The Decline of Western Civilization, all films that center around teens and their problems.
Other films on the list include Funny Girl, The Lion King, Lost Horizon, and two films I’ve never heard of: D.W. Griffith’s 1912 The Musketeers of Pig Alley (known as the first gangster film) and 1903’s The Life of an American Fireman, one of the earliest feature films.
Sorry, no Adam Sandler films are on the National Film Registry list, but maybe they just haven’t seen Grown Ups 2 yet.
This Week in History
Clara Barton Born (December 25, 1821)
The nurse and patent office clerk started the American Red Cross in 1881.
Norman Rockwell’s Discovery Cover Published (December 29, 1956)
Rockwell’s last Christmas cover for The Saturday Evening Post showed what happens when kids go snooping in their parents’ bedroom after Christmas.
USS Monitor Sinks (December 30, 1862)
The remains of the steamship, which sank during a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, were found in 1973. Several parts of the ship are in the Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport Beach, Virginia.
What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?
The world can be divided into two distinct groups: people who go out on New Year’s Eve and those who stay home. I’m in the latter group. Have been for years. I don’t want to deal with the craziness, the crowds, the forced fun, the cold temperatures. Also, I might miss the Three Stooges marathon.
What are you doing on New Year’s Eve? Going out or staying in to watch the Times Square ball drop on TV? Let us know below in the comments or on our Facebook page.
Resolutions and Recipes
A lot of people say they don’t make resolutions. I’m not sure I believe them. You may not sit down and think of making resolutions in a specific, planned way, but when one year is ending and a new one is beginning, it’s natural for us to think about what has happened in the past year and how we’re going to change/improve things in the coming year, career-wise, family-wise, health-wise. You’re actually making resolutions without even realizing that you’re making resolutions.
If you’re entertaining this New Year’s Eve, how about trying some party-themed recipes? To start things off with an appetizer, try these Bacon Cheese Puffs or these Curry Deviled Eggs. For the main course, you can make this Classic Pot Roast or Coffee-Cured Chicken. For dessert, there’s this Caramel Fondue or this Chocolate–Peanut Butter Cheesecake. And to toast at midnight, how about this Grand Champagne Cocktail?
Happy New Year! I’m making the same two resolutions I made last year. I won’t tell you what they are, but if I actually succeed, I’ll let you know.
Next Week’s Holidays and Events
New Year’s Day (January 1)
If you’re not skiing or traveling or sleeping really late because you had a hard night, maybe you can spend the day in front of the TV watching football, parades, the annual Twilight Zone marathon on Syfy, and at night catching the season premiere of Sherlock on PBS.