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Frantic Romance—Debbie Reynolds & Eddie Fisher

In all the years I’ve been covering Hollywood, I’ve never been closer to the inception of a romance than the current heat wave blowing up between Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher.

We were all in Las Vegas together. In fact, Eddie was on the plane with me when reporters from rival papers were frantically checking the story that he was eloping with Debbie, who didn’t actually arrive with h er mother until the following morning!

When Mrs. Reynolds was unexpectedly called home a few days later, she put Debbie, an unusually well-adjusted, well-balanced, intelligent girl for her years, in my care. I suppose one word from me and Debbie would have done as she pleased. But she was very cute about reporting to me after her mother left.

One night—morning rather, it was about one A.M.—I found a note in my mailbox at the Sands Hotel.

Dear Ma: Cit read) We’re catching both Frank Sinatra’s and Ann Sothern’s shows tonight, so won’t be in till late. Don’t worry. And don’t ring either of us until noon tomorrow. Will meet you at the pool for lunch. Debbie and Eddie.

Are they really in love?

Will they marry?

Let’s take those questions one at a time.

If these two popular, phenomenally successful young people aren’t completely out of this world, completely gone on each other as of now, then I don’t know exciting young love when I see it!

One day when Eddie and I were alone, sunning ourselves by the pool, I asked him, “Do you love Debbie?” And before he had a chance to catch his breath, I hurled another one at him, “Do you want to marry her?”

He literally gasped. “Gee, Ma,” he said when he was able to get anything out, “that’s a large order to fill on a second’s notice.”

I was amused by my young singing friend’s fluster. “I repeat the questions,” I stated.

Eddie, who had been stretched out beside the pool, sat up, moved his towel closer and sat down beside me, suddenly very serious.

He didn’t answer right away. When he did, he said: “I’ve got it bad for Debbie. If you want to say that you think a girl is the most wonderful girl you’ve ever met and that you want to go only with her—I suppose it could be called an engagement.

“But, look, Ma,” he went on, “don’t say were engaged because maybe Debbie doesn’t love me that much. Maybe she doesn’t want me.”

Nonsense, I thought. I had been spending a lot of time with these two and if Debbie isn’t equally, maybe more, in love with Eddie than he with her, I miss my guess. But being loyal to my sex, I didn’t speak my thoughts.

I was thinking back over the five or six evenings Eddie and Debbie and I had spent together in Las Vegas.

I had watched Debbie when the autograph fans had swarmed around them as we went on our rounds in this playground of America.

Every place the kids went they were mobbed. But much to my surprise, whenever a pencil was shoved into Debbie’s hand and an autograph book pushed at her, she immediately handed over the pencil and the book to Eddie first—as if to say, “Here, it’s your autograph they want.”

And I claim a Hollywood girl as cute and popular as Debbie is doesn’t make this gesture toward a man unless she means it!

Another thing. If we were sitting in a cafe and some of the chorus girls in the assorted revues dropped by to meet us, I could just feel Debbie watching Eddie to see if he was attracted to any one of them—which he wasn’t.

She was happiest, I think, when we were driving from place to place, the kids sitting on the back seat with their arms around one another. Sometimes Eddie sang to her—his beautiful voice sending chills down even my back.

He is such a sweet, thoroughly unspoiled kid I don’t see how anyone can resist him.

Only once during the whole week did they faintly approach a tiff.

This was the day Debbie had promised her mother she would return home and Eddie didn’t want her to go. He even asked me to call Mrs. Reynolds asking permission for Debbie to stay over.

But before I could move, Debbie said to Eddie, “Please, darling. There’s nothing I want to do more than stay with you. But I promised Mother. Some of her relatives whom I haven’t seen in a long time are visiting us for this one day, and I promised I would be home to meet them. I have to keep my word.”

Eddie, thoroughly piqued, turned and started to walk out of my suite. Debbie just stood her ground and watched him disappear.

Then, before either of us could say, “Scoot,” he dashed back, took Debbie in his arms and kissed her neck and pretty face.

“I understand, baby,” he whispered, “I’m just disappointed.”

I thought this was about time for me to do a disappearing act into my bedroom. And I did.

If they are sooo much in love, and everything is going so brightly in both their careers, what then is to keep these two from immediate marriage?

Now, we did not discuss this point but I am sure it is important with both of them. Are they as yet matureenough to take on marriage at this moment when girls are making fools of themselves over Eddie in the same way they once did over Frank Sinatra; and when a lot of young men, whether they know her or not, look on Debbie as a favorite dream date?

You think this is a small matter? Don’t fool yourself.

Both of these kids know the game they’re in. They know the temptations and pitfalls. And, they’ve worked too long and too hard not to be wise beyond their years.

They also have responsibilities to their public and to their families.

Eddie was brought up in Philadelphia and his singing records, his nightclub appearances, his TV show and public appearances have made him in a few short years one of the most popular singers our country has ever known.

It is so characteristic of this boy that when he opened at the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles he had an entourage of about ten people who had been good to him when he was a child!

There was the woman who owned the candy store and used to give him candy when he minded the store for her. There was his father, to whom he sings his favorite, “Oh My Papa.” There were the two successful young song writers, Dick Adler and Jerry Roth, boyhood friends of Eddie’s—and he is as delighted as they are over their Broadway hit, The Pajama Game.

At Eddie’s table also was Jenny Grossinger, of Grossinger’s Hotel where Eddie once sang and where he was discovered by Eddie Cantor.

And last, but far from least, Debbie was there—her eyes shining over his success on the West Coast. It would take the rest of this article to list all the celebrities and socialites who turned out to welcome young Fisher—in fact, the Cocoanut Grove lists his opening as the biggest in the history of this famous room. This, definitely, was Eddie’s night.

A few nights later, it was Debbie’s. Along with Eddie’s close friend, Jimmy McHugh, Eddie, Debbie and I attended the Hollywood premiére of my daughter Harriet’s picture, Susan Slept Here, which stars Debbie and Dick Powell. Not because it’s my child’s picture—and I’m deeply proud of her work—but Debbie has never been as cute in her career as she is as Susan.

When we came out of the theatre, everyone flocked around Debbie, congratulating her, telling her how wonderful she is, doing raves, really.

Her eyes were dancing with happiness. Her cute, pert little face shone as though there were an electric light behind it. Yet, always she reached for Eddie’s hand and kept him close beside her.

We went to the Brown Derby for a bite to eat, and for the first time I realized how very serious Debbie is about her career.

“I look like a kid. I’m really twenty-two,” she said as though that age is beyond youth. “I have seven years of bucking this game behind me. And I’m just now hitting the headline spots.

“I’ve watched the careers of other girls,” she went on, “and I’ve noticed the ingénues don’t last long. Not after the dew of youth is off ‘em. I honestly want to do something serious. I hate sappy kid parts.”

Eddie, surprised at his baby’s vehemence, said, “But, honey, most of your fans think of you as a teen ager.”

Debbie batted those big, beautiful eyes at him. She winked. “But I’m not, my boy,” she giggled.

The more I see of her the more I am convinced that there is a strong cross streak of real maturity in Debbie’s youthful appeal. I think she knows what she’s doing all the time.

Once, when I was interviewing her on the set of Susan Slept Here toward the finish of the comedy, she said:

“I’m good in this picture. Ask Harriet. I know that doesn’t sound particularly modest—but I’m not particularly modest. I know what I can do—and what I can’t.”

Despite her cuteness and her ability to sing, dance and imitate almost from her cradle in El Paso, Texas, her birthplace, making headway in her career has not been too easy for Debbie.

When she was eight, she moved to Los Angeles with her parents (her father was an employee of the Southern Pacific Railroad) and her older brother Bill. They bought a modest home in Burbank. It is indicative of Debbie’s character that she still lives with her family in the same house.

She was no smash getting started in films. Even in high school plays, the leading parts went to other girls and Debbie took what was left—usually a bit.

But in 1948 she put on such a hilarious imitation of Betty Hutton in a talent contest, she was chosen “Miss Burbank of 1948” and her luck started to turn.

Her first screen role in Daughter Of Rosie O’Grady led to a job at MGM playing Helen Kane, the boop-boop-a-doop gal in Three Little Words, and from there on she was on her way.

She first came to my attention in a publicity way when she and Robert Wagner were touted as being “madly in love.” Perhaps they were. What happened to this youthful romance, I don’t know. But its ending is supposed to have left Debbie a little disillusioned.

Since that time, she’s dated many boys. But I don’t believe she’s been in love before Eddie came into her life.

One big, bright factor the kids have in favor of an early and successful marriage is that they both come of happy homes. Eddie is devotion itself to his family of four sisters and two brothers—and Debbie’s home life is ideal.

The last time I saw the kids, before leaving for my vacation in Europe, was at the birthday party I gave for Jimmy McHugh. Jimmy had asked that they be seated at his table and knowing how fond of him they are, I was surprised when they were not at the house at eight o’clock.

About nine they called. “Ma,” they chorused, “we’re lost.”

And, I guess they were—lost in a fog. They didn’t arrive until dinner was over.

“Who can eat?” Eddie said, gazing into Debbie’s eyes.

And, until two o’clock in the morning there they sat, Eddie never more than two inches away from Debbie, holding her hand, kissing her and reaching for her, and she putting her head on his shoulder and looking up at him—lost in a little world of their own while Judy Garland, Jane Wyman, Margaret Whiting and Roz Russell sang love songs in their direction.

You can take it from there.





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