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Eddie Fisher’s Back In Debbie Reynolds’s Life

One day in April, a Beverly Hills real estate office received two telephone calls. Both were from prospective buyers in the entertainment world. The office handles only exclusive listings (no home less than $50,000) on a confidential basis and caters to celebrities, so that in itself wasn’t unusual. But this series of coincidences was: Both parties insisted on plenty of floor space, a playroom and not less than four bedrooms. Both said that a large fenced yard for a children’s play area was a prerequisite. Both were looking for a secluded section in Beverly Hills. Both claimed money was no object; if they liked a home, they would buy it regardless of the price tag . . . Ironically, the realtor found himself in a ticklish and somewhat embarrassing position. The first telephone call came from a business representative of Debbie Reynolds and Harry Karl. The second, scarcely an hour later, was from a couple who had just returned to Hollywood, Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher. This was just one of those strange coincidences that have always seemed to happen in the lives of Debbie and Eddie. Many more are destined to happen in the future. Their lives are bound together by two common bonds: Carrie Frances, with the sparkling eyes and lovable personality of her mother, and her little brother Todd Emanuel, who looks so much like the Daddy who went away when he was only a year old.

Now his Daddy is back, and all the evidence is that it’s for keeps. Within a few days of the odd coincidence of the two calls to the same real estate office, the Fishers found the home they needed for themselves and Liz’ trio of young ones. (The Karls did not as yet, though Debbie personally made the rounds looking at homes.) And Eddie is availing himself of his legal right to see his children. Even if Debbie were inclined to keep him away from Carrie and Todd—she couldn’t. The visitation rights were granted him by the court under the terms of the divorce.

Many of her friends are afraid that now Debbie will find herself saying goodbye to her hard-won tranquility just when she could relax and enjoy it. They feel certain that with Eddie and Liz back in Hollywood, nothing will ever again be the same for Debbie and the children.

Even Debbie’s most ardent critics commend her on the way she is bringing up two well-mannered, beautiful youngsters. After Eddie vanished from her life, she buckled down to a man-and-woman’s size job of rearing them alone while handling a full-time career as a movie star. Everyone knows you don’t raise good children just by money or success. They give her credit for doing it with a mother’s loving care and a father’s sense of responsibility. They feel that in the dual role of mother and father she has done a beautiful job.

Eddie in a different world

Until recently, Eddie Fisher appeared to be very remote from his duties as a father. His life was in a different world—the world of Elizabeth Taylor and her children—and in distant parts of the globe a good part of the time. It is true that he has always remembered their birthdays with expensive toys and cards. He has telephoned from all parts of the world to ask about their health. (It was always a maid who gave him the answers, not Debbie.) He even called from London during Liz’ life-and-death struggle with pneumonia, because Todd was very ill with a virus infection and he wanted to keep in touch. But no one close to Debbie ever forgot another occasion, some time back, when Todd was so critically ill that a frantic Debbie tried desperately to find Eddie—and couldn’t. By the time he was located by phone, vacationing far away with Liz and the children, the worst of Todd’s crisis was over.

To Debbie, her children’s father must have seemed one more step removed from them when he adopted Liza, his wife’s three-year-old daughter by the late Mike Todd. And again when he expressed the hope that Liz would present him with a son or daughter of their own some day.

But on the rare occasions when the Fishers did pop back into Hollywood, and then only for a few days at a time, Eddie arranged to see Carrie and Todd, though Debbie always absented herself. And last summer the inevitable happened in the commissary at Twentieth Century-Fox Studios. Eddie and Liz accidentally ran into Debbie. The meeting proved cordial, though chilly. It was the first time Eddie had seen Debbie since he asked her for permission to obtain a Las Vegas divorce decree, so he wouldn’t have to wait a year to marry again. It was the first time Debbie had seen Liz since she helped comfort her, following the tragic crash of a private plane that took Mike Todd’s life.

This was the last time these three saw each other. It was apparent that, in the future, arrangements would be made to avoid another encounter like that. Last winter, between bouts of illness and just before the pneumonia attack, Eddie brought Liz from London to California for some sun and rest, and again he saw his children. But he managed to do so at a time when the Karls arranged to be away from the house.

Then they went back to London, where Liz escaped death by a hair. And Eddie was telling reporters, “No more of this climate, Elizabeth needs to live where there is always sun.” The makers of “Cleopatra” went along on that decree—the picture would not be made in England after all. And what this meant to Debbie was that the London home the Fishers had searched for would never materialize. They would never settle there, any more than they would settle on the big, beautiful estate they had bought earlier in Purchase, N.Y., and later resold. They would live only where the sun shone twelve months a year.

Sun” meant California?

If Debbie sensed, with apprehension, that “sun” meant California, reason also told her that it is also warm and dry in other places—like Nevada, or Arizona—or Spain. But then came a day loaded with fate and omens. On March 28, desert winds lashed angrily through San Gorgonio Pass and into the tranquil, plush atmosphere of Palm Springs. The sudden gusts of eye-stinging sand and dust sent the Harry Karls, along with other Hollywood notables, scurrying indoors. Such swift winds aren’t unusual in the high desert, but they are in Palm Springs which is nestled against the protective base of Mt. San Jacinto. There was something ominous about it. Perhaps Debbie felt it. Others did.

In Los Angeles only three hours away by car, the sky was blue. The sun shone brightly. A light sea breeze touched the trees at International Airport, where a crowd gathered at Gate 10. A police officer carefully checked over credentials of reporters and photographers before allowing them through the gate and onto the concourse. Minutes passed. The tension mounted. Now there were hundreds of people jammed together, talking excitedly.

“There it is,” someone shouted. “There’s the plane.”

A giant Trans World Airlines super jet glided to rest on the runway. Minutes later it taxied directly in front of Gate 10. Cheers went up from the crowd. The photographers quickly, frantically raised their cameras to get the first pictures of Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher returning to a city that a year before had castigated them in so many ways.

It was a different city now. There were no jeers, only cheers. The crowds surged forward for a closer look. Police had to form a cordon to keep the fans from mobbing Liz. Eddie, pale and gaunt from sleepless nights of praying death away from her, carefully surveyed the greeting party as though he were looking for someone. If he had expected Todd and Carrie to be on hand, he probably was highly disappointed. They were in Palm Springs with their mother.

“I think Debbie planned it that way,” one friend of Eddie’s commented. “I think she wanted them out of town when he arrived. Maybe she felt he would call the house right away or dash over to see the children.”

One report was that he did call the Karl household later that day after he and Liz checked into their bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, only to be informed that the children would he in the desert for a couple of weeks.

No “ulterior motive”

In all fairness to Debbie, one of her friends claimed that she had no ulterior motive in taking the children to Palm Springs. She and Harry had been building a playroom onto their desert home and they wanted to supervise the work themselves. And the children would enjoy a couple of weeks in the healthy sun, so the story goes. It was only a coincidence they were out of town when their father arrived.

“After all,” the friend said vehemently, “why should Eddie suddenly care about his children? He certainly didn’t when he left Debbie the way he did. Why the sudden concern?”

One theory is that Eddie’s “sudden concern” for his children could stem from the shock of Liz’ brush with death. He came so close to losing a loved one that he could well have realized his responsibility to other loved ones. The friends who hold this view pooh pooh the “sunshine” reason for coming back, just as they brush aside Eddie’s other reason: “We want to live in California again.” They point out that this is a striking about-face to the Fishers’ attitude a year ago, when California was the last place on earth they wanted to live.

But there are others who do not find the reverse attitude strange at all. They argue that time changes a lot of things, along with healing wounds. And that Liz and Eddie are no longer the “heavies”—movie term for villains—in the “husband-stealing” scandal of the Eddie-Debbie breakup. If anything, their return among cheering crowds was that of a hero and heroine—a remarkable change indeed from last year. And clearly a tribute to Liz’ strength and courage in the face of unbelievable suffering.

Many leading Hollywood personalities in the past have clearly indicated that the reason Liz didn’t win an Oscar for her performance in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” or “Suddenly Last Summer,” was her “unpopularity” then among the actors, actresses and other movie people who cast the ballots. Ironically, her bout with double pneumonia in London established her as the favorite this year. No one was surprised when her name was announced as the winner, for “Butterfield 8.”

“She has suffered enough.” one Academy Award-winning actress told Photoplay. “I voted for her. She deserved to win.”

Eddie, too, is in a favorable light. He announced he planned to resume his singing career. He accepted a lucrative offer (reportedly $25,000 a week) to go to the Desert Inn in Las Vegas in May. And he announced plans to do a television spectacular.

Whatever they had to go through for it, the Fishers’ star is on the rise again in the eyes of the whole world.

But what of Debbie? Her friends feel that she deserves a break too. They say she may be too level-headed to let the new development smash her happiness, but it could be eaten away bit by irritating bit. For one thing, she’ll have to face the fact that Hollywood is home to Liz, and she comes home at the peak of such popularity that many friends will be torn between the two of them. Even those who were disloyal to Liz at first may now flock to her side.

A bitter pill

Another bitter pill for Debbie to swallow can well prove to be the open display of affection for which Liz and Eddie are famous. A chauffeur who took them sightseeing in London last fall told how they behave in public, like teenagers just falling in love, “so busy kissing in the back seat they hardly saw any sights.” And Eddie himself, for all his hot demands for their privacy, has made such frank statements to reporters as: “Elizabeth gives more love than any human being I’ve ever known in my whole life. Gives more and takes more. And thatis love, and loving.”

To read that your former husband says of your successor, “When she loves, she loves better than any woman in the world,” is one thing. To be in the presence of such love is something else again. And to avoid it—and them—is also a defeat of sorts. Any woman who has ever been jilted knows this.

And how, ask Debbie’s friends, can she avoid them? People are taking particular care to spare everybody embarrassing complications by not inviting the Fishers and the Karls to the same party. But how can they avoid each other at Twentieth Century-Fox? The same week that Debbie checked in at the lot to film “Star of the West,” Liz and Eddie opened offices there. And it is at Fox that Liz will be filming the interiors for “Cleopatra.”

Even walking into a Beverly Hills department store, or a beauty parlor, or a supermarket, say Debbie’s friends, could he a jolt and an embarrassment. And they intimate that this is the reason the Karls didn’t buy a house in April when the Fishers did. In fact, it might even explain why Debbie and Harry suddenly dropped the idea of building their “dream house” on the lot they bought last November, before the wedding. The land, back of the Beverly Hills Hotel, had been cleared of an older structure and work was to start on the new home when they suddenly changed their minds. It would take too long, was Debbie’s explanation. Now friends are wondering if even then, on a hunch, she decided not to take a chance on building in an area where Liz and Eddie might some day be living.

If so, her hunch came true. And now, the report goes, Eddie sends a car and a maid for Carrie and Todd, and they are hustled away to a rendezvous with their father. Debbie can do nothing to upset these visits, and so far has shown no signs of trying to. But everyone feels that she no longer has a chance of getting him to consent to their adoption by Harry Karl. If Eddie had settled down with Liz and her children thousands of miles away in New York or London, it might have been a different story.

If Debbie and Harry wanted to go to court to sue for Harry to adopt the children, they would probably lose. They need Eddie’s permission. Yet there are those who say that the best tiling Eddie could do for his children would be to give them up to Harry. Everybody knows Harry adores the children. He’s a grandfather—his daughter Judy has a child—and has children from his marriage, or rather marriages, to Marie McDonald, but he’s a real father and a good one to Carrie and Todd. Still, Eddie will probably never let him have them legally, any more than Mike Wilding would let Eddie have his two boys legally.

Children the real losers

There are those who feel the children are the real losers in this kind of a situation. They live with one Daddy and visit another, and how do they know to whom they belong? Liz and Eddie must have explained it all to the Wilding boys when Eddie adopted Liza but not them—that Liza had no other father living. But Carrie and Todd are only little tots themselves; they can get pretty confused.

Not everybody feels this way, of course. Whatever has happened or will happen in the future, many people feel the ties of blood are stronger and more sacred than anything in the world.

Up until now Debbie may have felt she could at least hope. As one of her friends said, “Eddie owed her a favor.” It is true that she gave him permission to get the Nevada divorce decree so he could marry Liz immediately. It’s true that she refused to say a bitter word about her best friend winding up with her husband—instead, she wished them luck. And it’s true that, ever since, she’s been a mother and father to Carrie and Todd.

“So even if Eddie wasn’t legally obligated to let the children go,” Debbie’s friend said, “you might say that morally he was. But now, with him back, everything’s different. He’s not there to tuck them into bed like a real father, and hear their prayers, but at least he sees I them. . . .”

This, then, is Debbie’s dilemma. A year ago she had no father for her children, now she has two. Harry treats them as his own. Eddie seems to be resuming the role of father. But for him it may be too late.

Only Debbie knows.



Liz is in M-C-M’s “Butterfield 8.” You can see Debbie in Columbia’s “Pepe” and in “The Pleasure of His Company,” Par.



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