SCANDAL OUTSHINING CELEBRITY
So now, will you come on a journey with me? We're going to start at death, but then we're going to double back and go all the way through an emergency room (where they know me), through Watergate, back through Vietnam to birth. My birth.
I was born on October 21, 1956. This makes me quite old — half a century and change. I was born in Burbank, California...to simple folk. People of the land. No, actually my father was a famous singer, and you wanna hear something really cool? My mother is a movie star. She's an icon. A gay icon, but you take your iconic stature where you can. His name is Eddie Fisher, and her name is Debbie Reynolds. My parents had this incredibly vital relationship with an audience, like with muscle and blood. This was the main competition I had for my parents' attention, an audience. People like you. You know who you are.
My father had many big songs, but perhaps the one he's best remembered for was "Oh! My Papa," which I like to call "Oh! My Faux Pas." And my mother, well, she did tons and tons of films, but I think the one she's best remembered for is the classic film Singin' in the Rain. But she was also nominated for an Oscar for best actress for her role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown but tragically, she lost to Julie Andrews, for her stunning, layered, and moving portrait of Mary Poppins. Ibsen's Mary Poppins, of course.
My mother was also in another film called Tammy, which was also a hit song — which pissed off my father because that was really his area. She was actually pregnant with me when she filmed Tammy. So if you look very carefully, there's a scene where she and Leslie Nielsen are in the garden trying to save some prize tomatoes in a rainstorm (like they do in old movies). Well, I am the bulge in the side of her abdomen. It's some of my best screen work; I urge you to see it. Oh, and she was also pregnant with me in yet another film called A Bundle of Joy, costarring the marvelous method actor — Eddie Fisher.
When I was born, my mother was given anesthesia because in those days they didn't have epidurals. (I always thought that they should make an epidural that works from the neck up, which was a condition I aspired to for most of what I laughingly refer to as my adult life.) Anyway, so my mother was unconscious. Now my mother is a beautiful woman — she's beautiful today in her 70's so at 24 she looked like a Christmas morning. So all the doctors were all buzzing around her pretty head, saying "Oh, look at Debbie Reynolds asleep — how pretty." And my father, upon seeing me start to come through — crown with all the placenta and everything else (ugh) — my father fainted dead away. So now all the nurses ran over to him, saying "Oh look, there's Eddie Fisher, the crooner, on the ground! Let's go look at him!" So when I arrived, I was virtually unattended! And I have been trying to make up for that fact ever since. Even this book is a pathetic bid for the attention I lacked as a newborn.
My father was best friends with a very charismatic producer named Mike Todd, who produced a movie called Around the World in Eighty Days, which won an Oscar for Best Picture.
So my father and mother and Mike Todd and his fiancée, who happened to be Elizabeth Taylor, went everywhere together — they went to nightclubs, on cruises — well, they literally traveled the world! So when Mike and Elizabeth got married, my father was Mike Todd's best man and my mother was Elizabeth's matron of honor! She even washed her hair on her wedding day. Now later I heard my mother mumble that she wished she washed it with Nair. But she's not a bitter woman.
Anyway, I was about two when my brother was born, and my father so adored Mike Todd that my brother, Todd, was named for him.
Now, perhaps my father didn't realize that in the Jewish faith, it is considered bad luck to name a child after someone who is still living — a silly superstition — or so they thought!
Because about a year later, Mike Todd took off in a private plane in a rainstorm, and the following morning Elizabeth was a widow. Well, naturally, my father flew to Elizabeth's side, gradually making his way slowly to her front. He first dried her eyes with his handkerchief, then he consoled her with flowers, and he ultimately consoled her with his penis. Now this made marriage to my mother awkward, so he was gone within the week. And as far as I know he has not returned. Up to this very day. But you know what? I have high hopes because I think one night they are both going to come see my show on the same night, run into each other, get that old feeling, get back together, and raise me right!
You might be thinking, well, that explains it! She's the product of Hollywood inbreeding. That's why my skull isn't entirely grown together at the back.
Recently, my daughter, Billie, who is sixteen now, had a flirtation with Mike Todd and Elizabeth's grandson Rhys. When they first met, they were trying to work out how it all fit together and if they were related in some way. So I thought about it. And when I think, I need an enormous chalkboard with a chart to hold my thoughts...because I have so many zooming this way and that and then it's helpful if I can have some pictures and a pen so I can organize the insanity that is my thought process.
Welcome, class, to Hollywood 101. Thank you so much for enrolling.
Alright, so up at the top left of the chart, we have Eddie and Debbie. In the '50s they were known as "America's Sweethearts." Now if you are too young to relate to any of this, try and think of it this way: think of Eddie as Brad Pitt and Debbie as Jennifer Aniston and Elizabeth as Angelina Jolie. Does that help?
All right, so Eddie consoles Elizabeth with his penis, Elizabeth takes a movie in Rome — a big budget film called Cleopatra and she meets her costar Richard Burton, so goodbye, Eddie, hello, Richard.
These two hit it off like gangbusters (whatever that means) and they met and married and had a wild, passionate relationship with violet eyes and Welsh accents and acting and diamonds and drinking, dancing and sex and joy and love. But ultimately, you know, with passionate relationships, they can become stormy, and then what do you think happens? That's right...they get divorced...but they have good memories of one another, so what do they do then? They remarry, that's right. Now, keep that in mind, because it might come up again.
All right, now let's go to Debbie. Now Debbie does not want to marry another man who will run off, so she marries someone very, very old who can't run — nope, Harry Karl can't run at all. All he does is sit in a chair and smoke and drink and read the paper, and after about thirteen years, he loses all his money, and then he takes all of hers. Fun! And so that marriage ends. And she was alone for a while, but then fate intervened and brought her this sociopath — Richard Hamlett. He has some money issues, too. Her money.
But let's not get too far past Harry Karl though. My first stepfather. Harry was a shoe tycoon. It doesn't sound like those words should fit together, does it? But in this case they do. So, prior to being married to my mother, Harry was married to Marie McDonald. Marie "the Body" McDonald. Now Marie was an actress(ish) and she and Harry met and they married and they had a wild, passionate relationship with bodies and shoes and drinking and dancing and lust and joy and fun. But here come the storm clouds. So what do you think they do then?
That's right, they do divorce.
But, they have good memories of each other, so now what do they do?
That's right, they do remarry and now they have that great American institution — they have make-up sex, which, as everyone knows, is the best sex of all, and they celebrate the great sex by having a child. And that goes so well that they adopt two more. But then the storm clouds come, so they...?
Now, Marie MacDonald was a real romantic, an optimistic woman — and I say that because she married a grand total of nine times, which is a record for the board. And that's saying something, because this is a marrying board.
Now, that many marriages could give you a headache, no? Well, I think it gave Marie one because she became addicted to pain killers. Recently I learned this amazing thing. If you become addicted to pain killers, it can go very, very wrong for you. Who knew? Anyway, it did with Marie because she overdosed and passed away. And that last husband, not to be outdone, shot himself.
You might say they loved each other to death.
So now there are three children left. What should we do with them? I know! Let's send them to Harry and Debbie. Now, Debbie is told that one of the children should be institutionalized. But my mother is a good person, much like Sarah Palin (only smarter), and she says, "Absolutely not. We will put her in Carrie's room!"
(Sure, it's funny now.)
Now, Eddie. Poor Eddie. How is he going to follow an act like Elizabeth Taylor? Well, he manages somehow. He meets a blond, cute, perky, fun, little actress. Sound familiar?
No, it's not Debbie again. It's a tribute to Debbie. It's Connie Stevens! They meet and have Joely Fisher, from sitcoms, and Tricia Fisher, from New York.
Oh, wait a minute — did Eddie forget to marry Connie?
He did! He forgot to marry her. But eventually they remember. So they get married. But as many people know, legal sex is just shite compared to that premarital stuff that so many couples have in cars, so they divorce. But don't worry, Eddie's not alone for long because now he meets and marries Miss Louisiana! She's three years older than me and she calls me "Dear," which I love. I love it! Now I thought this relationship would go on and on and on because Louisiana is in her early twenties and Eddie is in his late fifties, so she had so many years to devote to him. But what do you think happens?
Yup, they divorce. I was stunned. But don't worry he isn't alone for long. 'Cause now he meets and marries this really lovely woman named Betty Lin. She's from China and she takes excellent care of Eddie, and believe me, he needs it. And she's the same age as Eddie, which hasn't happened since the Debbie and Liz stuff. And the other good thing is Betty has a lot of money, which is handy because Eddie's gone bankrupt about four times by now. So they're happy together for ten or fifteen glorious years. But then what do you think happens?
That's actually a trick question because they don't divorce.
Betty passes away. But don't worry, he's not alone for long because now he dates all of Chinatown! He does this partly as a tribute to Betty and partly because my father has had so many face-lifts that he looks Asian himself. So that way they look like a matched set.
All right, so let's recap: Eddie and Debbie have me and my brother, Todd. I grow up, sort of, and I marry Paul Simon. Now Paul is a short, Jewish singer. Eddie Fisher is a short, Jewish singer. Short. Jewish. Singer.
My mother makes a blueprint, and I follow it to the letter. So Paul and I have a passionate relationship with a lot of words, big words, clever words, uh-oh, the words get mean so we get divorced. But don't worry, I'm not alone for long 'cause now I meet Bryan Lourd. Bryan is a talent agent, so fewer words, great sex. We celebrate and we have a child together. Billie Lourd.
Elizabeth and Mike Todd have Liza Todd.
Liza's a wonderful sculptress, and she meets and marries her art professor. Professor Hap Tivey. Hap is short for Happy — so he's not Jewish. Anyway, they have Quinn and Rhys. So, Rhys Tivey and Billie Lourd — are they related? (You can peek back at the chart if you haven't already.)
I told them: "You're related by scandal."
I just hope the two of them get married so this will all be worthwhile.
And that is Hollywood inbreeding!
Hollywood inbreeding is sort of like royal inbreeding. And after all, celebrity is sort of like American royalty. So my brother and I are like those sad, sad cases like King Charles the Second of Spain. The last of the Habsburgs.
Charles was so horribly inbred that his aunt was also his grandmother. And his tongue was so large that he couldn't chew or be understood, and he drooled. Another little challenge was that his organs were dying inside his body (the one on the outside didn't work that well either because he died childless). But because his organs were dying, he actually smelled. So the people around him would put this perfume on him when he met prospective wives. (And by the way, we sell that perfume out in the lobby at my show.) Another issue for Charles was that he had these little seizures all the time and he would fall over, so the perfume people put weights in his shoes. Anyway, it worked because Charlie actually managed to marry twice, (probably someone with nursing ambitions), which just goes to show that there's a lid for every pot. Sometimes there are as many as nine lids for the same pot. Also when I was a teenager I could buy pot in lids. But I don't think you can anymore...can you?
Oh, and Charles's death caused the War of the Spanish Succession, which I know a lot of you have been discussing at length recently.
So my brother and I grew up smelling and drooling and having seizures, and we did all this in our house, which I called "the Embassy" because it looked less like a house than a place you would get your passport stamped.
Where would you put the Christmas wreath on something like that?
It was a modern house and it had things that most normal houses don't have. We had eight little pink refrigerators (you know, in case Snow White and the seven dwarfs came over) and we had a lanai and utility closets. Oh...and we had three pools...you know, in case two broke.
There was also my mother's closet — which I always thought of as The Church of Latter Day Debbie. There was a certain hush, a certain smell of Abolene cream and White Shoulders perfume. It was very quiet; it was very dark; it was subject to its own laws like the phone booth where Clark Kent was transformed into Superman. My mother's closet was the magical place that she entered as my mom and emerged as Debbie Reynolds.
Her closet was huge, like an enormous room, with an entrance and an exit, lined on each side by clothes of every sort — gowns, slacks, blouses, shoes and hat boxes, all manner of attire imaginable — and even the unimaginable. I remember she had these long pale gowns made out of beads. One in particular was a blue gown shimmering with blue beads. It even had blue fur on the sleeves and on the hem; she could float through a room in a movie star gown. Then, there was a long, shimmery, white chest of drawers where she kept all of her underwear and bras, and slips and stockings all neatly folded up and smelling of sachet. She had this weird, giant underwear that went over her belly button — big underpants and huge bras. I remember thinking, wow, some day when I'm grown up, maybe I'll get my own enormously big breasts. I used to watch while my mom lifted up her huge fun bags so she could wash underneath them. I eventually did get those big breasts, and now I'm sorry.
My mother's closet wasn't off limits, but it was very much hers and, therefore, my younger brother, Todd, and I valued it. It was prized because of how highly we prized our mother. She was often away, and when we missed her, we could go into her closet and do stuff like put our faces into a bunch of clothes and inhale the powdery, flowery scent of her. We would put on shows together in the closet, playing some kind of airplane game and restaurant game. And then there was this hat we for some reason called the "bum-bum" hat. It was this big straw hat with a brim that continued over your eyes with this green mesh you could see out of. We loved nothing more than to put on the bum-bum hat and look through the green mesh at our suddenly transformed surroundings.
My mother was magnificent when she was decked out in all her glory. When she was ablaze with all manner of jewelry and gems, shimmering diamond earrings and her neck encircled with bright stones that caught the light, a gown with matching shoes and stockings, makeup and her tall wig, carefully coiffed by her hairdresser Sidney Guileroff or "Uncle Sidney" as we were encouraged to call him. Sidney's name could be found in the credits of some of the more classic MGM films of all time. My mother would emerge from her dressing room a vision, so glamorous and so not of this world.
When my mother was at home on weekends, we stayed with her as much as possible, which frequently meant we were very involved in watching our mother. Right next to her closet there was this huge bathroom with magenta marble and mirrors everywhere. I remember the smells of her perfume — L'air du Temps — and of creams, like Ponds or Albolene. On the bathtub, there were always two or three monogrammed facecloths laid out — with her initials — DRK. Debbie Reynolds Karl. And then there was The Shrine of the Wigs, which was at the end of one countertop, along with what seemed to me like hundreds and hundreds of lipsticks and eyebrow pencils and false eyelashes. My mother was unbelievably meticulous at all of this. She'd twirl her hair up into pincurls that she'd use to pull her face tighter, then she'd put on her makeup base with a sponge. The base went low when the dress was low cut, which it usually was. Then she applied eye makeup and false lashes, so she didn't need mascara, but there was lots of eyeliner. Next came lipstick and rouge and powder — great puffs of glittering clouds of powder, followed by hair, which was a big deal, getting the wig on right. Then came the earrings, then she'd step into her clothes, and then came her stockings and her tiny little size five shoes. When she was completely finished, her Debbie Reynolds movie star accent got stronger, her posture got better, and she looked incredibly beautiful. When our mother dressed, the man behind the curtain became the great and powerful Oz.
Undressing was also a process my brother and I observed. First we'd watch my mother as she removed her makeup with a wash cloth, then she'd take a bubble bath. As Todd and I looked on, Debbie Reynolds would slowly return to being our mother. The coach was once more a pumpkin, the footmen went back to being mice, Pinocchio became a real girl. We loved to be with her when she resumed her role as our mother. That this amazing being who looked like she looked and had these remarkable abilities belonged to us somehow. She was so beautiful, and of course I dreamed of one day looking like her. I fantasized that perhaps if Uncle Sidney would put my mother's tall, golden wig on my head and give me her perfectly coiffed hairstyle, then I would transform into the confident and shining beauty I would surely be. Soon I would be beautiful too. But to my horror, no such transformation occurred. It was then that I knew with the profound certainty of a ten year old that I would not be, and was in no way now, the beauty that my mother was. I was a clumsy-looking and intensely awkward, insecure girl. I decided then that I'd better develop something else — if I wasn't going to be pretty, maybe I could be funny or smart — someone past caring. So far past caring that you couldn't even see it with a telescope.
Sometimes my mother would take me shopping, to Saks Fifth Avenue, or a store called Pixie Town. But when I was a little girl (and even sometimes now), it was complicated to go out in public with my mother because she was very famous. She belonged to the world. She not only looked like Debbie Reynolds but to make matters worse she wore this giant big diamond ring. It was like being in a parade. In a way, my mother was an event. "Oh my god!" people would say to her. "I loved you in Molly Brown!" or "I saw you in Las Vegas!" So it was not like having private time with Mom. And I really didn't like sharing her. It seemed almost unsanitary.
When my mother was at home, she did a lot of sleeping, because she worked so hard and had such long hours, so Todd and I wanted as much of her company as we could get. So I slept on the rug on the floor next to her bed, and my brother slept on the couch near the window. In the morning when Todd and I got up, we would creep softly out of her room so we wouldn't wake her. Our house was very cold, with lots of marble and white couches that were all puffed up and glass coffee tables and white rugs with plastic on the corners to protect them. Everywhere were things that we could ruin, so we didn't want to screw up and make the puffed-up couch deflate or leave marks on the glass tabletops. It was complicated to find a groovy place to hang out in. We usually ended up hanging out in the kitchen. That's where it felt the homiest.
Now, my stepfather, Harry Karl, was not a handsome man but because he was wealthy and well-groomed he was said to be distinguished looking. That's ugly with money. They actually made a movie about Harry Karl and Marie McDonald and their multiple marriages called The Marrying Man, and Alec Baldwin played Harry Karl. I think the resemblance is astonishing.
Harry had his own room with a closet that was pristine and beige. We had a laundress named Leetha who came in once a week just to do Harry's shirts. His shirts were monogrammed, and he also had monogrammed slippers and paisley pajama tops and a lot of neat gray suits. There was one of those black and red things that twirls around and shines your shoes, and a secret drawer to hide his gold coins and a wooden coatrack to put his jackets on.
He also had a man named Phil Kaplan who helped him dress. And then there was a barber and manicurists who came in to help him get distinguished looking.
But the most unique room we had was on the way to the projection room. It was like an exercise room, but what stopped it from being an exercise room was that it had a barber chair in the middle of it.
We found out later that the barber who came every day turned out to be a pimp with a talent for hair. And people who have pimps know that they can't do hair for shit. So those manicurists that the barber brought with him every day? They were probably doing more of a French manicure. The word "hangnail" comes to mind.
My mother, on the other hand, did everything herself. She was a very energetic human and could be unbelievably fun. Harry, though, was not fun. Not deliberately, anyway. But he did get out of bed wearing just pajama tops so the back of his penis was proudly displayed, and to top it off, he farted a lot, thus becoming a subject of great hilarity for my brother and me. We used to bring our friends over for a tour of the house, and if Harry was home, there were always gales of laughter.
Anyway, the whole manicurist thing made marriage to my mother awkward, so she took a musical in New York to get out of the marriage, which is a legal way to dissolve a union in Hollywood without involving lawyers. And so when I was about sixteen, my mother took us out of high school, and moved my brother and me to New York for the year, and put me in the chorus of her show.
I don't care what you've heard — chorus work is far more valuable to a child than any education could ever be. I grew up knowing that I had the prettiest mother of anyone in my class, as long as I was in class. But even after, she was the funniest, the prettiest, the kindest, the most talented — I had the only tap dancing mother.
In New York, we all lived on a nice little street on the Upper West Side, sandwiched conveniently between a music school and a funeral home. Anyway, on one particular evening I was out on the town with some of the other "kids" from the chorus of the show, trying my best to be very grown up, as they were all at least ten years older than I was.
Well, somehow my mother knew what restaurant or club we were all at, so at about 10:00 or 10:30 someone comes and tells me that my mother is on the phone. Well, I'm not thrilled to have my hijinks interrupted by my mommy — reminding everyone I'm with that I'm far younger than they are and not to be taken seriously. Shit. So I grumble my way through the people and tables, making my way to the waiting phone.
"Yeah, Mom, hey — could I talk to you la — "
She interrupts me.
"I'm at the hospital with your brother. He shot himself in the leg with a blank."
"What???" I say.
"He'll be fine," she continues. "He's in surgery now — they're cleaning the gunpowder out of the wound. He's very lucky. A few inches up and — "
"He could've blown his penis off?"
"Dear — please — language. Anyway the police are here and they want to come to the house to examine the gun. Apparently, if it can shoot blanks — oh, I don't know — they're saying it might be an unregistered firearm — or unlicensed — something, I don't know. Anyway...Where was I?"
"The police," I reminded her.
"Oh yes — now, dear, I need you and Pinky (my mother's hairdresser's name was — naturally — Pinky) — I need you to get to the house before the police to let them in, but also I need you to go through the house and hide all the guns and bullets and — what else...Oh yes! I need you to flush your brother's marijuana down the toilet. So you think you can do this, dear? Let me talk to Pinky."
Well, this part was kind of thrilling, I have to say. Who knew we had bullets and guns in the house? Granted, they were my stepfather's show guns that he wore ridiculously in some Christmas parade some years back, but it turned out it was considered a firearm! We were suddenly more like a mafia family than a show business one!
So Pinky and I rush back to our town house and hide the guns and bullets in the washing machine (they'll never look there!). And we sadly flush an enormous plastic bag filled with practically an entire lid of particularly pungent pot. Then I go out to check the scene of the crime — my mother's bedroom — where the shooting had occurred, and I have to say, it was quite something to behold. There are flecks of blood all over the walls and a considerable amount of blood on the bed. A sheet had been shredded in an effort to make a tourniquet. Wow, this was truly drama and it was happening in real life, of all places. My real life, surreal as it all too frequently became when I was living with my show business family and not the Regulars of Scottsdale.
But if I thought it was surreal at this point, it was about to get a whole lot surrealer. (I know — not an actual word.)
So now it's Saturday night in New York — you would normally think that this wouldn't be a particularly slow night for crime in New York — but you wouldn't know it by our living room, because we've got about five homicide policemen milling around, asking my mother pertinent questions about the crime like, "Did you know John Wayne? What kind of guy was he?"
Finally, they tell us that after examining the weapon in question that my brother used in commision of the crime of shooting himself in the leg with a blank, the five policemen establish that said gun could actually discharge live ammo and as such shoot actual bullets. What all this means is that my mother is in possession of an unlicensed firearm and needs to come down to the local precinct where she would be officially booked for possession of a firearm.
So now its about 4 A.M. and my mother and I are taken down to the police station for her mug shot and to be fingerprinted, along with the rest of the hookers, dope fiends, murderers, and thieves.
So by the time we get home it's close to six and my mother and I are at the kitchen table totally exhausted. Suddenly there's a knock at the door and we look at each other. Who could that possibly be at this hour? My mother gets up to see while I wait nervously. When she returns, she's laughing.
"What?" I ask. "Who was it?"
"It was a couple of reporters," she explains, catching her breath. "They heard Todd had been shot in the leg and they wanted to know if I had done it for publicity for the show. You know, to drum up additional ticket sales. I so badly wanted to tell them 'yes, and now I can only do one more Broadway musical because I only have one child left to shoot for publicity.'"
It's almost dawn and we're both so tired by now that we're a little punchy, so we begin to invent other reasons why my mother might have shot my brother. We came up with everything from he wouldn't clean his bedroom to he'd stopped feeding his turtle to his grades were down. (All perfectly credible, as far as we were concerned.)
The next day there's a photograph of my brother in the hospital with my mother in a mink hat smiling beside him on the front page of the Daily News. The headline read, "Picasso Dies."
Now, one detail I neglected to mention is that right after the gun discharged the blank into my brother's upper thigh, my mother was naturally frantic seeing all the blood on her only son. So she did what any mother frantic with worry for her child's welfare might do — she called a cab.
Anyway, cut to thirty years later. My brother arrives at Kennedy Airport in New York on business and he gets in a taxi to take him into the city. And as they drive along, the cab driver keeps looking in the rearview mirror at my brother.
Finally my brother asks, "Is something wrong?"
And the cab driver says, "Are you Todd Fisher?" and after my brother verifies that he is, the cabbie pulls an old, crumpled, bloody strip of sheet out from the visor over the front passenger side of the car and brandishes it for my brother to see.
"I drove the cab that took you to the hospital that night with your mom back in the '70s."
Of course he did.
So the cabbie has my brother sign the rag, brown and stiff with age, and then he drives back out of my brother's life — presumably forever.
Copyright © 2008 by Deliquesce Inc.