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How Debbie Reynolds Won Her Mother-In-Law’s Love

One evening last October Eddie Fisher put in a long-distance call from Hollywood to a small suburb of Philadelphia.

Hello, Mom,” he said, “hold on for a minute, our daughter wants to sing for you.”

His mom, scarcely breathing, glued her ear to the receiver.

Yahh . . . yahhhhhh,” cooed Carrie Frances, loudly and with much feeling.

When Mom hung up, her eyes were just a bit wet with the happiness of love . . . love for a new grandchild, love for the daughter-in-law she adored.

How different from the tears of fear and worry she had shed such a short time ago! How she had worried about Eddie! And the girl she was so afraid would break his heart, a movie actress, yet, for her Sonny . . .

Debbie Reynolds a laughing face on a big screen—what kind of a wife was that for her boy?

Mom had figured on a nice homebody like her own girls—someone who could keep his socks in order, cook lima bean soup and make blintzes that would match her own.

His sister Janet knew that such a girl I’d her brother would be in two deferent worlds but still it was nice dream of Sonny settling down. Eileen the baby of the family, had a private dream all her own about which she told no one. Because she her brother, any girl he liked would be all right with her, she met one specification Eileen wanted the girl her brother would marry to look like her favorite movie star, Debbie Reynolds! She could dream, couldn’t she?

It was only a facsimile she had dared hope for. But when Eileen read that Eddie had met Debbie and invited her to his opening at the Coconut Grove, she was sure her brother had added mind-reading to his many accomplishments! The gossip columns worked overtime making Eddie and Debbie a twosome but the Fishers, accustomed to the ways of publicity, agreed that they made cute pictures together but they wouldn’t dare take it seriously unless Eddie told it to them himself. And Mom fell asleep nights worrying about a stranger who didn’t seem to fit the picture at all. A light-hearted girl who came from a different background than her Sonny, a girl brought up in a different religion—a glamorous actress. For her Sonny? How could such a girl make her son happy? Then one night, in the early Fall, the ‘phone rang and Sonny asked Mom, “Can you come to New York for the week end? There’s a girl I want you to meet. Name of Reynolds. You’ll love her. She’s flying to New York with her mother just to shake your hand.”

Mom is not easily thrown but this time she was in a tizzy. It would have been serious enough if Eddie had invited her to come home with him but for their mothers to dash into town to get together—well! She couldn’t sort out her feelings. She had wanted nothing more than for Eddie to find his girl. But somehow a girl named Debbie Reynolds didn’t fit into the picture of the little wife in the big apron.

But Mom’s policy had always been hands off with her children. Eddie would be no exception. She had taught her children to take marriage seriously, as the most important step in their lives and she knew that’s the way he would take it. She could only pray. Maybe it wasn’t so serious after all . . .

What’s she like?

For the trip to New York, Mom felt the need of reinforcements. So it was decided that level-headed Janet should accompany her to New York. The only drawback to this was that the usually level-headed Janet had been thrown into a tizzy herself. She didn’t sleep all night, thinking of the impending meeting. They were up at five, confiding their hopes and fears.

“The one thing I won’t be able to take is if she high-hats us,” Janet said.

“But she can’t be that kind of girl,” Mom insisted.

“Why not?”

“She reminds me of our Eileen, little and sweet,” was Mom’s answer. And she started thinking. It was true, Debbie’s pictures. did remind her of Eileen.

“How can we tell what she’s like. She’s been a star for quite a while. How could she help being the center of attraction and expecting to be?”

“I don’t think Sonny would fall in love with a girl like that,” said Mom stoutly. How could a girl who looked like Eileen be bad for her Sonny? Let’s hope already he had found someone to take care of him! Someone to come home to. A good wife.

Now Mom was sure. She was a nice girl if Sonny loved her.

But her hands trembled as she packed a bag. . . .

The meeting in New York

The girl Sonny introduced her to was not a film star. Her mind kept insisting that she was, but her eyes refused to believe it. She was a shy, smiling child who bit her lips nervously and whose serious eyes met Mom’s and pleaded to be liked. When they turned to Sonny’s laughing brown ones, they grew soft and starry. That song Sonny sang—Your eyes are the eyes of a woman in love. Yes, with his arm around her, with his eyes on hers, this child was a woman, It was the look Mom had waited for, for a long time. And Mom knew this slip of a girl carried her son’s happiness in the palm of her little hand. What’s more, she knew it would be safe there. She opened her arms and heart to her future daughter.

The mothers got on famously together. Each discovered the other was very like herself. Each had come from a middle-class background, had worked hard and weathered bad times. Each had raised her child not to be spoiled by success but to take only the best of it.

And it was enough for Mom when Eddie said, “It’s all been wonderful, Mom. There aren’t any problems that we can’t work out. I’ve known her only two months but I feel as if I knew her all my life.”

It was a hectic and memorable week end, jammed to the brim with fun, family confidences, personal appearances, dreams and plans. Ed and Deb took their mothers each day to fancy restaurants—the STORK CLUB, 21, LINDY’S. In between they managed to go on shopping sprees buying gifts for each other and their mothers. Debbie appeared briefly on Eddie’s TV program and met Ed’s fans. In between the lunch dates, the shopping tours, the rehearsals and appearances, the sweethearts managed to get to one ball game, to hold hands over dinner at the STONEHENGE at twilight, to attend a reception at the WALDORF for Mrs. Grossinger and to ride home together at dawn in a hansom cab.

It was a week end to live over and over again in memory. And when they got back to Philadelphia, this is what Mom and Janet did.

Eileen listened with big round eyes to her usually calm and contained sister Janet raving: “Debbie’s a doll, an absolute doll. She’s like one of us. And they’re head over heels in love.”

Floating dizzily on Cloud 9, delirious with happiness, Eileen didn’t dare breathe for fear she’d wake up! Debbie for a sister-in-law!

The great day arrives

The formal engagement took place in October in Hollywood. But the family celebration would be Thanksgiving when Eddie would bring her home. For weeks the house bustled with preparations. Mom their part-time maid, the girls, every one pitched in to have a finger in the doings.

At last the great day arrived. The shiny mahogany table was opened to its full length and set for eighteen. Mom made Eddie’s favorite dishes: lima bean soup, turkey and the fixin’s. Suppressed excitement and the luscious smells from the kitchen made everyone a little giddy.

And then there they were—Miriam and Harry from Baltimore with their three cherubs, Stevie, Bradley and Mindy. Sid and his wife, Marty and their youngster Penny and Debbie—the original they called her. Nettie, Janet and Lou, Bunny—the other bachelor son—and Eileen and Beau, who had started out as Bunny’s pal and was ending Eileen’s young man. And last, the guests of honor, Sonny and Debbie. They were in high spirits, happy to be home, determined to make the most of every minute of it. They clowned with the family, were crazy-happy together like a pair of carefree puppies.

But when the meal was ended and Mom got up to do the dishes, Debbie way ahead of her, led her back to the living room and made her sit down. “Mom,” she said, serious for the first time, “you worked hard to cook this lovely dinner for us. Now it’s your turn to take it easy I’m going to wash the dishes and the girls can dry if they want to.”

Mom resisted, but Debbie insisted. Eddie laughed, “You haven’t got a chance, Mom.”

The jig-saw puzzle fits

Debbie, swimming in one of Mom’s big aprons, attacked the stacks of dishes. The sisters formed an assembly line to dry. He wanted to go out to the kitchen, hug his girl and tell her how much he—and all of them—loved her. He tried it once but was shooed back to the men. He played pinochle, kibitzed with his sisters’ kids but his ear was cocked to the woman-talk coming from the kitchen: clothes, dates, babies; Deb wanted Mom’s recipe for the lima bean soup.

He was proud and happy. His girl fitted in, warm and snug like the right piece in the jig-saw puzzle of The Family. They wouldn’t hold her being an actress against her. How could they when, before anything, she was a warm, loving, outgoing gal! What a lucky guy he was!

In the kitchen, Debbie and Eileen were comparing notes. “Who shall I get to date you when you visit us in Hollywood?” Deb was asking Eileen. “I’ll find you someone nice like your brother. Not that I think there are two of them!”

When the dishes were done and put away, Eileen took Debbie up to her room to freshen up. For the first time, she had Debbie all to herself, up there in the room where she had dreamed about her so often. If anyone had told her that one day her favorite movie star would be brushing her brown curls at Eileen’s dressing table, she would have said: “You’re crazy!”

And yet the glow that she felt was not from having a star there. She had to remind herself that this girl her brother loved was a star. Dressed simply in a skirt and sweater with her hair pulled back the way Eddie loved it, she seemed like one of Eileen’s pals. And she even talked like them—girl-talk about clothes and dates and school and back to clothes.

When they talked school, Eileen, almost before she realized it, found herself admitting that she had flunked geometry. It was a thorn in her side and usually she couldn’t talk about it. But here she was telling Debbie, “I have to take the regents over too.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Debbie answered. “I flunked myself—I was never good at it. Confidentially, at sixteen, it doesn’t matter much if you repeat. The main thing is not to worry about it and you’ll find yourself breezing through it this time.”

Eileen agreed that this was the way to go at it. She felt warm and comforted. It was going to be wonderful having Debbie for a sister.

I want to make a toast”

The wedding was planned for June but it didn’t take place till September. Through all the bad time with the papers screaming about a broken engagement and half the world asking the other half Will they ever make up?—Mom maintained stoutly that all was well with them. True, Mom wasn’t half so sure as she sounded.

And now her heart would be broken if Sonny didn’t marry the movie star!

It was a fine wedding. Mom held her new daughter close and gave her the advice she gave to all her girls: “Give a little, take a little and you’ll have a happy life.” And Deb promised breathlessly, “Oh I will, Mom, I will!” . . .

It was April. They were coming home for Passover, for the first holiday Seder.

In their own home, Eddie and Debbie celebrated all the holidays—his and hers. At Christmas they had a tree, but they also had a Menorah for Chanukah with more candles burning each night till all were lit. When they had children, they thought, the kids would be taught the principles of both religions and be allowed to choose their own. Or perhaps they would keep the holy days of both and learn love and tolerance where they are best learned—in their own home.

Debbie listened to the Seder ceremony and prayers with interest. On the table, the Seder dish was set with the foods commemorating the day—the bitter herbs, the roasted egg, the mixture of apples, nuts and cinnamon—everything was a symbol. The family read the Haggadah recounting the Jews’ deliverance from Egyptian slavery and the Seder ended with prayers and thanksgiving.

When the long ceremony was over, Eddie went to the kitchen and brought out a bottle of champagne. “I want to make a toast,” he said, “a toast to our son who will be born in November!”

And they were all talking at once—kissing Debbie and pounding Eddie on the back.

Mom dabbed at her eyes and thought what a silly woman she had been ever to have worried about these two.

A bracelet from “Bubba”

The “son in November” turned out to be a daughter in October. A few hours after Carrie Frances Fisher arrived, Ed called Mom from Deb’s hospital room and reported, “She’s beautiful—looks just like her mother.”

But Debbie wouldn’t let that stand. Worn as she was, she took the phone to say, “Don’t you believe it, Mom. She’s beautiful and she’s the picture of Eddie—she’s got a lot of black fuzz on her head.”

“And a button of a nose like her mother,” put in Ed.

“Kiss her for me,” said Mom. “I’m sending her a bracelet. Can I inscribe it Love, Bubba? Or shall I say Grandmother?”

“Say Bubba,” Ed told her. “You’ll be Bubba to her.”

“I can’t wait to hold her! Take care of them both, Sonny.”

Mom realized that Sonny was not quite the proper name for him now that he was a father. But the Fishers couldn’t get used to Eddie either. Mom tried “the baby’s father” once or twice but when they had to stop and think who she meant, they laughed, gave up and went back to Sonny again.

He called often during the next two weeks to assure Bubba that Carrie Frances was the most beautiful child ever born and he sent on a picture of her, aged one day, to prove it. Mom called Deb at the hospital every day or so to see how she felt. She was a happy and devoted mother, dedicated to doing the very best for Carrie Frances. “What’s best for her is best for me,” she told Mom.

Then one evening, Eddie called and told her, “Hold on for a minute, Mom, our daughter wants to sing for you.”

“Yahh-yahhhh,” sang Carrie Frances.

When Mom hung up, her eyes were gleaming. She’d rather be Bubba, an old grandmother, than anything else in the world. Now if only Eddie’s brother, Bunny, the last bachelor in the family, could find a girl and settle down—a nice, home girl like Debbie Fisher—!



Debbie and Eddie can currently be seen in RKO’s Bundle Of Joy. Debbie will soon be seen in MGM’s The Reluctant Debutante and U-I’s Tammy.



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