Friday, December 30, 2016

Movie Quote of the Day (‘Postcards From the Edge,’ on Carrie and Debbie)

Doris Mann [pictured right, played by Shirley MacLaine]: “So you said you have a ranch?”

Jack Faulkner [played by Dennis Quaid]: “Yeah, out in Malibu.”

Doris: “If all ranchers looked like you, there wouldn't be many crops.”

Jack: “Depends on what you're raising.”

Doris: “Certainly not doubts!”

[Both laugh. Doris’ daughter, Suzanne Vale—pictured left, played by Meryl Streep—enters.]

Doris: “Oh, I was just coming to get you—your little friend is here.”

Suzanne: “Can I speak to you for a moment in private?”

Doris: “Excuse me, my daughter wants to speak to me.”

[Both step into the alcove.]

Suzanne: “I would really just like a few people of my own without them having to like you so much!”

Doris: “I was just being friendly. And I don't care if he likes me or not, your friend in there with the bedroom eyes.”

Suzanne: “Right. And the living room nose, the kitchen forehead and den ears.”—Postcards From the Edge (1990), screenplay by Carrie Fisher based on her novel, directed by Mike Nichols

The deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds within 24 hours of each other are, as virtually everyone on social media would tell you, poignant, stunning, and dramatic. But I bet that in Heaven right now, Fisher is eyeing her mom drolly before saying, “Never wanted to be upstaged, did you?”

At least some of that exasperated hypercompetitive feeling, along with generous amounts of sass, surfaces in the above scene from Postcards From the Edge, which is, by common agreement, semi-autobiographical. 

For Fisher, comparisons with a show-business legend such as Reynolds—not to mention claiming her attention and love in childhood—had to have been, at best, like living in a gilded cage. And, when the times weren’t so good, it could not have come as a surprise that, like other Hollywood offspring, she would be left dizzy and disoriented in adolescence and young adulthood.

If you want a sense of what it must have been like to live like Tinseltown royalty, only to be rudely expelled from the kingdom, I urge you to read Darcy O’Brien’s 1977 coming-of-age novel, A Way of Life, Like Any Other. From the 1930s well into the Forties, George O'Brien, a star of Westerns and a member of John Ford’s stock company, and his wife, the former actress Marguerite Churchill, led a posh life, and their son Darcy was cosseted: “I had an electric car, a starched white nanny, a pony, a bed modeled after that of Napoleon’s son, and I was baptized by the archbishop of the diocese. I wore hats and sucked on a little pipe.”

Suddenly it was all over: “Life turned round on Mother and Dad…. Everything had changed.” Hollywood (save for the loyal Ford) forgot they ever existed; the jobs dried up after WWII; George and Marguerite divorced; and Darcy, a young pasha no more, was left to his own devices as his mother indulged in love affairs with bad men and the bottle.

For a sense, then, of what life was like for Carrie Fisher and brother Todd, take the O’Brien family, multiply by the megawattage of the Debbie Reynolds-Eddie Fisher union, and imagine the collateral damage to the offspring. First Carrie had to share her mother with fans. Then, maybe just as bad, the cheering drifted off for Reynolds. By that time, the relationship became even more complicated: Now Fisher was the one finding fame in her late teens, first in Shampoo, then, far more widely, in Star Wars.

“What the scary thing about it, though, is watching celebrities fade," Fisher said in a 2011 appearance on Oprah. "Celebrity is just obscurity, biding its time. Eventually all things will disappear."

But as frustrating as competing with her mother for public attention was, being the daughter of Debbie Reynolds also gave Fisher the quality she would need after years of bad choices in men and mind-altering substances, not to mention mental illness and neglect by Hollywood: the will to survive. Striving so long for a measure of distinction and personal autonomy, she became the quintessential survivor, and, in that respect, her mother’s daughter in the end.

Reynolds, “America’s Sweetheart” in the 1950s, was far tougher than her ingénue image led the public to believe. At age 19, she not only had to endure one grueling take after another ordered by Gene Kelly while filming Singin’ in the Rain, but also fend off the advances of this director-choreographer-star at the height of his power and influence. Later in the decade, she recovered from the betrayal of husband Eddie Fisher with best friend Elizabeth Taylor.

As the golden age of the Hollywood movie musical came crashing down in the late Sixties, Reynolds was forced to reinvent herself for television and the stage. It didn’t help that her taste in men was as abysmal as her talent was transcendent: her second husband, Harry Karl, not only had prostitutes in their home while she was away but ended up swindling her. By her own admission, she “married idiots”—yet she remained, like the title of the film she made about Titanic survivor Molly Brown, “unsinkable.”

Six years ago, I wrote a post about Fisher’s one-woman show, Wishful Drinking. At that time, it was possible to discuss the star of one generation apart from the other. Now, their deaths have underscored the symmetry of their lives: 19-year-olds cast in industry-defining movies, then forced to shift for themselves through the years, irritated by their closest relative’s eccentricities and weaknesses before finally relying on and admiring each other’s fate-defying moxie.

1 comment:

Phil Finkel said...

Though I'm probably one of three folks in the USA (or the world for that matter) who have never seen a Star Wars film, I was struck by the recent Rolling Stone magazine's "The Last Word" interview with Carrie Fisher:

"Do you fear death?" (asked by RS interviewer Andy Greene)

Carrie Fisher answers, "No. I fear dying. Anything with pain associated with it, I don't like. And I've been there for a couple of people when they were dying, and it didn't look like fun. But if I was gonna do it, I'd want someone like me around. And I will be there!"

Rolling Stone Issue # 1276/1277 December 15-29, 2016