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What Do Liz And Eddie Feel When They Look At These Pictures?

No matter how busy he is, the moment is bound to come when Eddie Fisher sits staring at the picture that has been in his rented house, on the piano, since Christmas—a large, color photograph of his son and daughter. There is a goose in the picture and a duck—not stuffed, but real live ones—and Carrie is bending toward them with one hand stretched out, a little tentatively, as if she were ready to snatch it back if anything went wrong. Beside her, Todd squats on chubby, unsteady legs, an expression of awe on his round baby features.

It was snapped by Debbie Reynolds on the set of “The Mating Game.” She gave it to Eddie for Christmas. There is no inscription across the face of the photo; Carrie and Todd were too young to write, and there is too little to say between Debbie and Eddie now. But to Eddie Fisher, there must be a message in the photograph, a message he sees more clearly each time he looks. These are your children, it must say, caught in a moment you missed—because you weren’t there to see.

Ridiculous, he tells himself. He picks up the photo in its silver frame—now, almost angrily, he puts it down on the piano again. Absolutely ridiculous. Of course he wasn’t there. Even when he was married to Debbie he was away from home a good deal—what man sees much of his kids in the middle of the day anyhow? And it wasn’t as if he were cut off from them now. He sees them every week, sometimes almost every day. He talks to Carrie on the phone. They probably hardly realize he doesn’t live in the same house anymore. Debbie has seen to that, in her usual fair way; she has even told a reporter that she never thinks of her children as fatherless: “They have a father, a devoted, loving, wonderful father,” she said. Well, he doesn’t know if he is wonderful or not—but loving, that he can vouch for, that he’d always be.

That’s what makes it so very difficult when on impulse, at a moment such as this, he wants to see them so much. He looks at his watch. It’s too late to see them now—too late to call and ask permission, to give Debbie a chance to get out of the house if she wants to before he comes to do the thousand-and-one things that somehow have to be done now before he can see his daughter and his son.

Sharply, Eddie turns away from the picture. He strides to the phone and dials automatically. “Liz?” he says into the receiver a moment later, “Listen, let’s do something. . . . I think I’m coming down with the blues. . . . And, listen, Liz, bring the boys, okay?”

They took them to Disneyland. Michael Wilding, age six, held his mother’s hand. His brother Christopher, four, trotted beside Eddie, chattering away, pointing at things. Looking down at him, Eddie thought Chris looked a little like his father, Mike Wilding. A nice guy, Mike. Liz had asked him to her last party and he had come with his wife. The Wildings had stayed late to talk, to offer Eddie a ride home. Funny, how Liz always managed to stay on good terms with the men who had loved her.

At Chris’ insistence, they went on half a dozen rides. On the carrousel, a photographer spotted them and, obligingly, Eddie and Liz and the boys held still for photographs, smiled, waved, cracked jokes. Finally the newsmen left. Liz, holding Mike, Jr. on her lap, ran her hand through her dark curls. “It’s good to be back on speaking terms with the press,” she remarked. She turned to smile at Eddie. “You feeling better, honey?”

“Sure,” Eddie said. “I feel fine.” He reached for Chris’ hand.

But even as he swung Chris down from his seat, followed him across the green lawn to the next turning, twisting ride—he knew. Tomorrow the picture would be in the paper. He would open it and see his own face smiling back, his arms around Liz Taylor’s handsome sons, posed against the child’s wonderland. And he would look from that picture to the one in the silver frame, and he would wonder, as he seemed to wonder more and more these days—what had his own children been doing that day? What new adventure had made Carrie’s eyes sparkle fire? What new word had little Todd learned to say?

What had he missed—this time?

The picture on the piano is not the only picture Eddie Fisher sees in his mind—sees and tries to forget. There are others, more painful than that. There is the picture of the living room of the home he shared with Debbie—as it used to be, as it is now. It was a room planned for entertaining, for welcoming friends, for two adults to read in, talk in, listen to music in. There were carefully arranged flowers in the silver vases when Eddie lived there, crystal dishes of candy and nuts on the coffee tables. It was a room kept carefully clean, carefully prepared— always ready to receive the visitors Eddie had brought home in such numbers. Debbie hadn’t approved of his friends, but her home was always prepared for them.

And now? He had been appalled the last time he walked into that room. Oh, the furniture was still there, the flowers still bloomed in the vases, but—in front of the sofa, Todd’s playpen stood. On one chair Carrie had dropped crayons, a clay set, a broken doll. A huge stuffed elephant blocked the entrance, a dozen coloring books littered the floor. For a moment he had thought: Something must have happened to the children’s rooms, that’s why the living room is full of their stuff. But it didn’t seem that way. It seemed somehow as if the living room had become a nursery weeks ago, as if it would still be this way weeks ahead. Why? Debbie had always taken such pride in keeping a neat home. Why?

And suddenly, without asking, he knew. Because this was a home without guests. A home no one visited any more. Family came, of course. The oldest, closest friends, like Camille, who lived with Debbie for a while—they came. But they weren’t visitors. They had been there a thousand times, could pick their way through the toys, past the playpen without noticing or caring. They didn’t have to be tidied up for.

And there were no others.

There were no young men, coming for the first time, to take Debbie out. “I don’t want to go back to the world of dating,” she had told someone recently, and her voice had been almost afraid. “I can’t even think about it now—”

There was no new love, as there was for Eddie. “Marriage?” Debbie had said. “Marry again? People keep asking me that. Pretty soon I’ll start to laugh.”

True, they said that on the set she was as bouncy, as bright as ever. They said she clowned even more than she used to, made jokes, worked hard on her roles and harder on her charities—“the same old Debbie,” they said.

And yet, a thousand times a day, the picture of that living-room would flash before Eddie’s eyes. A room belonging to a young woman pulling her world in around herself, closing out strangers. A room in which playpens and stuffed animals left no room for a new life, a new love.

A room that was somehow painful to Eddie Fisher to remember, when he wandered through the exquisitely decorated rooms of Liz Taylor’s $150 a day bungalow. He was happier in these adult, uncluttered rooms. He liked the parties, he liked the expensive furniture, he liked the perfection, he needed those things. And yet, disconcertingly, suddenly—

He would see Debbie’s living room again.

“Look at Eddie,” someone would hiss then. “Hey, Eddie, cat got your tongue?”

He would shake himself. The picture would vanish—almost. “I’m fine,” he’d say. “But this party’s a drag. Turn up the music, somebody. Come on, let’s make some noise!”

Yes, there was a lot of noise in Eddie Fisher’s life these days, drowning out the thoughts he didn’t want to think, the memories that wouldn’t go away. There was singing—his own voice, singing past hits for the benefit of his friends, because he wasn’t quite ready yet to do another record—there was laughter, there was the sound of parties in full swing. ‘On the night Debbie filed for divorce, there was the sound of champagne corks and waiters’ voices—he had taken Liz out to dinner that night and they had eaten caviar with their champagne. “Uncalled for, vulgar, tasteless,” the newspapers had called it. No matter how much in love with Liz he is, they said, Eddie Fisher should have realized that the filing of divorce papers is not a cause for celebration, for what looks like gloating and triumph. The official destruction of a marriage that brought two children into the world should be marked in silence and in sorrow, not in public revels. What was he trying to do, slap Debbie in the face—again?

The answer was no. He hadn’t wanted to hurt her, he hadn’t meant to seem triumphant and brutal. He had been trying to protect himself from silence and memory that evening, trying to make the future he envisioned with Liz—the future of gaiety and sophistication, of Mike Todd-evenings—come true at once.

But somehow, the harder he ran, the more he laughed, the greater his devotion to Liz’ three children became—the more painful the little things became.

Like strong little threads, they tied Eddie Fisher to his past.

To break those threads once and for all, he did the hardest thing he had done since the morning he walked into Debbie Reynolds’ room and told her that the stories were true, that he was leaving her for Elizabeth Taylor.

He asked a favor of her.

“Debbie, I want to get a Nevada divorce. Will you consent?”

Her voice on the other end of the phone was calm and controlled. “Why do you want it? We’ve already been granted a California divorce. I don’t understand . . .”

He was sure she knew why, but he put it into words anyway. “Because the California divorce won’t be final for a year. I—Liz and I want to get married sooner. If we got a Nevada divorce, we could—”

There was a long silence. At the end of it, Debbie Reynolds said slowly, “You can do as you like, Eddie. But I can’t sign any papers. I feel it would be embarrassing to Todd and Carrie to one day find out their father had two wives at the same time.”

“Debbie—” Eddie said.

“I wish you luck . . . and happiness,” a small voice whispered.

The next day, Debbie was caught up in preparations to make a picture in Spain. She had said she would not leave her children under any circumstances. Now she told herself it would only be for a short time. Their grandparents would take care of them.

The studio made the arrangements quickly. Within days, Debbie was at Idlewild airport in New York, changing planes for the trans-Atlantic flight. Newsmen clustered around her, asked her about the rumors of the Nevada divorce. She told them what she had told Eddie, word for word. “I haven’t given my consent to a Nevada divorce,” she added, “because I don’t believe in it, but then I don’t think my permission is necessary. . . . At first, I thought Eddie would come back to me. . . . I wish Eddie no ill will, but then I don’t want him back now either. . . .”

They were the words of a woman who has been badly hurt. Those who know Debbie Reynolds believe they were the first step toward real recovery, taken at last.

Eddie Fisher read them in Hollywood and knew they were true. According to the laws of California, he could not marry Liz until the year was up. If he did, it was even possible that the authorities would charge him with bigamy.

And yet he accepted a job singing in Las Vegas, Nevada, at the Tropicana, a job scheduled to last four weeks—only two weeks short of the necessary Nevada residence requirement for a divorce. A few days before he arrived to begin his stint, Liz moved into a ranch house that’s a ten-minute drive from the Tropicana. She was there when Eddie took his first bow on the night-club floor. That was the night they announced, officially, that they were engaged, saying that they hoped they could be married very soon—before they both left to go to Europe. Liz stayed at Eddie’s side and smiled at him—she laughed with him and danced with him. And she even made it possible for herself—by adopting Judaism as she’d planned to before Mike’s death—to pray with him. Everyone who saw them knew they were deeply in love. Even those who had been shocked the most now wished them luck.

And knew—as Eddie Fisher knows, as Liz Taylor knows—that they will need it. They will need it most of all when their eyes fall on certain photographs . . .

As Eddie turns from the picture of Todd and Carrie to the holiday mood of the picture showing himself and Liz with her two sons, what must he think? If the price of happiness is two lost children, a thousand painful memories, then perhaps it may never be paid in full. Eddie Fisher, for all his new happiness, for all the good luck that the forgiving world now wishes him, may go on paying that price for the rest of his life.







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