Our Family—Debbie Reynolds & Eddie Fisher
Every time the flashing figure in the water jumped high, or sank out of sight under the water, the baby girl laughed in delight and patted her chubby hands together and when she said “Dad-dy” she showed two rows of tiny teeth like pearls.
In addition to “Dad-dy,” the enthusiastic swimmer had another name, Eddie. And, the livin’, breathin’ doll so entranced in watching him was named Carrie Frances Fisher.
Before I went. out to join them, I stood in the doorway unnoticed for a moment, loving this happy, relaxed scene between a young father and his adored daughter, the world well lost except for the two of them.
I was twenty minutes early for my appointment with Debbie and Eddie at their Holmby Hills home, something rare for me as I have chronic trouble keeping appointments on time, much less ahead. But I was glad for this unheralded moment in the house of my adopted children Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher and their children Carrie Frances (now called just Carrie) and Todd Emanuel.
It’s a two story modern house with a large living room of soft bisque-colored walls and tangerine-colored chairs. There is a small piano near the window and across the room, a TV set. There are three pianos in all, two visible in adjacent rooms.
Comfortable and airy, this pleasant living room might belong to any successful American family rather than two movie and TV stars, many of whom have to have a special room or guest house by a pool for every conceivable activity. (One star I know has a room for just playing records.)
But this room in the Fisher house has the feeling of being lived in. On one wall hangs a clown painting of Eddie Cantor, bearing a remarkable resemblance to the comic who discovered Eddie. In a smaller space hangs an adorable painting of Carrie. On a coffee table is a large silver-framed photograph of Elizabeth Taylor, Mike Todd and their baby, affectionately autographed. (Of these prized possessions, more later).
Now I stepped through the door saying, “Hi.”
The young man hand-sprung himself out of the water, brushing his eyes, shaking his head like a poodle. “Hi, Louella,” called Eddie. “Debbie isn’t back yet, but come on out and meet Carrie who’s learned to talk since you saw her last. I just dry myself if you’ll excuse me. You’re early,” the words tumbled out of him.
Carrie talks to Louella
Wrapping a large towel about himself, he kissed me on the cheek and pulled me by the hand over to the curious Carrie who had stopped pouring sand over her head to regard me.
“Say ‘Hi, Lollie,’ ” he prompted the twenty-two-month-old debutante.
Carrie considered this a moment. “Lollie,” she said suddenly, so plainly both her father and I jumped. That did it as far as I was concerned!
“Say ‘Lollypops!’ ” I cried. “That’s what all the little boys and girls call me.”
Again Miss Carrie mulled the possibilities. “Lollypops,” piped the baby, and I was lost, sunk, gone!
“A genius!” laughed Eddie. “A lovable genius. My daughter is not yet two years old and—talking. And, she crinkles up her nose just like Debbie.” He picked up the chubby little girl and handed her to me.
A cheerful voice called from the doorway, “What’s going on out here?”—and we all turned to see the laughing face of Debbie who had come in without our hearing her from a charity luncheon.
I thought how smart she looked in a pale gray dress, matching shoes and a white hat, bag and gloves. Yet there is something so innately youthful about her that she still looked a bit like a teenager dressed up as a young matron.
“How are the charity club ladies?” kidded Eddie who may joke about it but who is secretly proud of the enormous efforts Debbie makes for many worthy causes, particularly those for emotionally disturbed children, her favorite work. Just the previous night she had won the Heart of Gold award for her outstanding work in connection with Mt. Sinai Hospital fund for children.
“Come on inside and I may tell you,” threatened Debbie, leading me back into the house and taking Carrie who had been squealing with delight ever since the appearance of her mother.
She plunked Carrie on the floor, herself on the big divan, kicked her shoes off and pushed back her hat. “That’s my girl,” laughed Eddie, leaning over and kissing her. He had slipped into slacks and shirt.
For the first time I noticed that he looked thin and a little tired. And why not? He was just out of the hospital after an emergency siege of appendicitis in which an operation was postponed, not avoided—and this coming on top of his strenuous TV season had taken a lot out of him. Debbie must have caught my train of thought for she said, “It’s awful that Eddie has to be sick to get a rest.” But she added, “I’m so proud of him and his wonderful rating—it’s a real accomplishment.”
We’re all proud of Eddie. In a season that has seen top TV headliners chopped off right and left, Eddie Fisher has emerged a greater star than he’s ever been, that greatness made all the more intense by his charming humility in front of the cameras. Someone said his graciousness made him ‘a male Dinah Shore.’ Certainly he has the same warm appeal of Dinah and also Perry Como.
“You gals are prejudiced,” said Eddie. Then turning serious he added, “Naturally, I’m happy.
“But it’s not my ratings alone. It’s the guest stars who have made my show. I couldn’t have done it alone.” And then he told us of his plans to use big stars on his new series coming up in the fall—“the biggest of which shall be my talented wife, Debbie Reynolds,” he smiled.
“Tell me about all your plans, professional and private,” I put in. “This is an official interview, you know. Not just a visit from your adopted ‘mother’ as it used to be when I’d drop in your house near mine on Maple Drive.”
“And, you’re the only person we’d give an interview to in our home,” said Debbie. “This is the very first, because you are our friend.”
She’s such an honest little person; I was touched. And proud.
New York vs. Hollywood
“Well, getting back to our plans, there are a few things that should be cleared up, corrected,” Eddie said. “Our moving back to New York next season, for instance. That isn’t true any longer.
“I guess it started because Debbie and I had such a wonderful time our last trip back. We were in a whirl all the time. We fell so much in love with New York I thought, ‘Why shouldn’t I do at least half of my shows in the big town?’ It would be a wonderful change.”
Debbie, smiling, said, “Now tell her why we changed our minds.”
Eddie whistled, “Do you know what it costs to live in New York for a family with two children? Ouch! Besides, it costs twice as much to put on a TV show in New York. I get $100,000 a show and foot all the bills for guest stars, music, etc. But there are more good guest stars available in Hollywood and a show can be produced with far less cost if it emanates from the West Coast.”
“So, were keeping New York for a vacation spot,” laughed Debbie, “on an expense account, preferably.”
And now, Eddie spoke very softly when he said, “New York always reminds me of Mike, too. Mike Todd. Whenever I’m there, I can’t believe he isn’t.”
The beautiful photo of Mike and Liz and the baby, the one which had appeared on the cover of Life magazine before the tragic air crash snuffed out Mike’s life, again caught my eye. We all looked at it—at the pride and happiness reflected in Mike’s strong face.
“He was like a father to me,” said Eddie. “There’s not another guy like him. He never saw little Todd, our son, but he was so delighted that we named the baby for him. He telephoned Debbie to thank her and to say he would make young Todd proud to be named after him.”
Debbie, with her quick sympathy of all Eddie’s moods, patted his hand. She, better than anyone else, knows how deeply he took the death of his pal.
Eddie went on, “Mike was so eager to see the baby. We made a date for him to meet his namesake—then something came up, a business appointment. The next day he wanted to come over—and I had to work. And then—,” he could hardly go on for the choke in his voice, “—the terrible, terrible accident.”
I’ve know Eddie a long time, and I believe that the shock of Mike’s death has had a marked effect on his personality. He isn’t the old carefree, sometimes thoughtless boy he used to be, loving night life, jam sessions and being out with the boys so much he sometimes forgot to go home until the wee small hours.
His grief in the loss of a valued friend has matured him; he has truly grown up. He is sweeter, more gentle, more appreciative and much more of a family man. Debbie and the children are his life these days and nights. His booming TV career is his ‘job,’ and between his family and his work he has little time for anything else.
Debbie, who had left the room with Carrie Frances, returned with Todd.
“Here’s my fella,” Eddie called, taking the heavy baby (he weighs 16 pounds) from Debbie—and he handled him most expertly I noticed. And, after that we all had eyes for no one but the youngest addition.
If you ever saw a beautiful baby, this is it! He gurgles; he laughs; he’s such a good-natured darling he lets everyone hold him. His eyes are big and black with long sweeping lashes. He looks like a picture of a baby on a magazine cover, only cuter and prettier.
“He’s another reason we aren’t going to New York,” Debbie kidded, “Todd likes California.”
“He’s never seen any place else—not much choice,” Eddie laughed.
“Then with New York out of your plans, you’ll just stay right here in this house,” I continued after we’d temporarily stopped oh-ing and ah-ing over the baby.
“No, we’ll build a new house,” Eddie replied.
Cake and potato chips
Debbie, who was again curled up on the couch and eating potato chips (she’s so thin she doesn’t have to worry about diet) and sipping a Coca Cola, explained, “We like this house and architecturally it’s good. When we bought it—there was just Carrie Frances then—it seemed all right. There are two bedrooms with connecting bath for the children and our own large suite, but the arrival of Todd makes a difference. We have to have more help—and we need more grounds, for little boys take a lot more room to burst around in than little girls.”
“Where will you build next time?” I asked.
“In Beverly Hills,” she said.
I told Debbie, “Eddie and I have been doing a lot of talking about his plans—how about yours, young lady?”
“I’ll work,” she replied, “as long as it doesn’t take me away from Eddie and the children. I’ve just had a wonderful offer to make a picture in London, the best role of my career. I would tell you what it is, only it isn’t fair to the star and producer because it would make the girl who accepts the part look like second choice. But anyway, I turned it down without a qualm because,” she said, “I won’t leave either of these boys or my girl.” She smiled at them.
She took another potato chip and remarked as a simple matter of unargued fact, “Eddie’s career is more important than mine.”
He interrupted quickly, “I don’t want it to be, Debbie. Maybe we could arrange things so I could get away to go to Europe with you if you really want to do that picture.”
“I don’t, and I won’t—and nothing you can say will make me, sir,” and now she was really laughing. “I have to have some excuses!” He sat down beside her and they held hands.
I have a strong hunch the Fishers will never be separated for any length of time. They are determined to make a success of their marriage and if you ask me, they’re doing a very good job of it.
“More than I want to go London, I want to go with Eddie to Las Vegas for his eight-week engagement at the Tropicana,” Debbie went on. “When he finishes there, which will be about the middle of August, he’s due to start conferences and rehearsals on his new TV series. This is enough to keep one family busy. And, when he goes back to work on television, I’ll probably start a new picture at MGM.”
Eddie’s club woman
I complimented her on still finding so much time to work so enthusiastically for charity. “I’m a member of the Thalians, a group of young players dedicated to helping emotionally disturbed and handicapped children,” she said. Without mentioning that she had won a personal award for her own efforts, she explained, “Recently we’ve been putting out a special effort for Mt. Sinai Hospital which has a special fund for children, and we work hard for SHARE, too, because it’s another fine organization.”
“I told you I was married to a club woman,” Eddie laughed.
“Well, it’s better than all the effort you put in trying to get another dog in this house,” his wife opined.
“We already have the poodle Eddie see me,” Debbie explained. “The poodle’s name is Rocky Marciano and right now he’s getting married. So I guess we’ll have another baby around the place.”
Before I could get into the dog argument, Gloria Luckenbill, Eddie’s efficient secretary came in bringing with her some beautiful pictures she had taken of Debbie, Eddie and the baby, Todd. Gloria’s really an expert with her camera and we all admired the photos—one of which I had every intention of stealing, of course the one of baby Todd—
“I love pictures and photos of people I love,” Eddie said. “Maybe you notice we’ve got them all over the place.” He pointed to the clown painting of Eddie Cantor and the one of Carrie Frances which I had noticed when I came in.
“That picture of Cantor is the best clown painting I’ve ever seen,” he went on. “It catches perfectly the appeal of Eddie’s comedy. And, the one of Carrie Frances was painted by Gali, who taught President Eisenhower to paint. I like these things around me, like to look at them. Makes me remember who to be grateful to—and for.” I liked Eddie’s saying that. When a young man is on top as he is, it isn’t often he thinks of being grateful.
The afternoon shadows were growing shorter in the happy living room and it was about time for me to go when suddenly Miss Carrie Frances bounced back in.
Debbie hailed her daughter, “Do you want to see Gregg?” Carrie jumped up and down and clapped her hands.
“Who’s Gregg?” I asked.
“Gregg is Carrie’s boyfriend, Marge and Gower Champion’s son,” said Debbie. “She loves him and he loves her. Looks like everybody around here’s in love.”
That’s the way it looks, I thought ae what could be grander?
—BY LOUELLA PARSONS
Debbie is starring in THIS HAPPY FEELING for U-I, and will be in MGM’s SNOB HILL.
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 1958