What The World Is Saying About Eddie Fisher?
At this writing, Edwin Jackson Fisher, once America’s Prince Charming, is in the hospital. The New York Daily News claims it is the result of a complete nervous breakdown. Eddie’s manager, Milton Blackstone, says he is in for a short rest. Bob Abrams, Eddie’s most intimate confidant, is being quoted by the press as having said the marriage between Liz and Eddie is over. Finished. Kaput. WE say there is an even bigger story—the story of a boy who grew into manhood while a tidal wave of contempt and hatred washed over him. This is the real story behind the headlines. Behind the rumors. Behind the scandal. Let’s go back a short while, to Rome, and pick up the action. . . .
The flashbulb burst in his face and Eddie Fisher threw his hand up.
He stepped back, but the photographer stopped him.
“We want you in this one. Stand over here, please.”
“I . . .” he stammered.
“That’s it.” The shutter snapped . . . once . . . twice.
“I . . .” he began again.
“Here, hold this compact for Liz,” someone said, and Eddie’s hand moved automatically, obediently for it.
“Higher.” Liz tipped her head, beautiful, like the Hollywood-in-Rome sphinx, more dazzling than the real thing on the Nile.
He squinted. The light was so bright. His head ached so much it pounded.
“Higher . . . to the left.”
Liz gazed into the mirror, narrowed her eyes, parted her lips slightly. . . .
Something in Eddie’s aching head rebelled. But his arm froze, his face still held the compliant smile.
“Higher . . .”
The shutter snapped again.
“Thanks, Eddie! Now Liz, one more.” Eddie’s arm fell like a dead weight.
A few weeks later the picture flashed around the world.
And somehow, the picture summed it all up. The world looked—and smirked.
Meanwhile Rome newspapers called Eddie Fisher, “Mr. Cleopatra.” They also explained, tongue-in-cheek, how Liz had an unprecedented five dressing rooms, one of which Eddie used as an office where he could “map out their future projects together.”
The world read, and the smirks grew to titters.
A few days later, headlines screamed new rumors: “Liz and Eddie Split—Is Burton the Reason?”
This time, the world laughed. But it was an ugly laugh.
“Eddie Denies Split.” The laughter rose to a hysteria pitch.
“We couldn’t be happier,” he cried desperately.
But the world was clutching now at its prey, savage as dogs at the throat of a rabbit.
This was it. What the bullies had been waiting for. Eddie Fisher on his knees. Or so they hoped.
For months, the man who obediently held Cleopatra’s mirror had been damned as a weakling.
Now, as the latest rumors hacked at his marriage, Eddie and everyone who cared anything about him, faced the facts:
If Liz walked out on him, he would be called a failure, in love as well as business.
If he walked out on Liz, the children and the most-publicized marriage in the history of show business, he would be a quitter, a deserter.
If he stayed, he would be nothing more than dirt at the feet of royalty, slave to a beauty queen.
For Eddie Fisher, all exits were blocked.
The gilt-edged dream of American success had tarnished into a filthy, blackened trophy of failure.
The personality kid of 1954 emerged the all-time fail guy of 1962. The bullies dug his grave. The hecklers, know-it-alls and hypocrites were only waiting to bury him.
Yet here and there, a few of us—regardless of what we think of Eddie Fisher professionally or personally—were getting angry and beginning to yell for fair play. We don’t like mob tactics and we hate bullies. We want the loudmouths to think before they speak for a change.
It is in retaliation to these vicious forces that this story is dedicated. Its purpose is to make the know-it-alls stop, reconsider, look at the record. And then decide—is Eddie Fisher a weakling to be reviled . . . or a man with more strength of purpose than any of us suspect?
It helps to go back to the beginning.
In 1954, Eddie Fisher was the hottest singer in show business. His plain, open, boyish face adorned a sea of magazine covers the way Liz’ does now. His fresh, strong voice had already sold more than eight million records. “The Eddie Fisher Show” was a hot spot on Mutual radio, “Coke Time” a hit on NBC-TV.
Eddie Fisher was Mr. Success that year. Rich. On top.
Then Success Boy met Starlet.
Debbie Reynolds had been around a long time in Hollywood, but up to then the public paid little notice. She had dated all the pretty boys and muscle men.
Then. suddenly, Debbie became M-G-M’s hottest property, and the fans fell head over heels in love with their new image—a shiny-nosed girl in dungarees, another “girl next door.”
“Saw Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds holding hands, looking like a couple of teenagers in a N.Y. record shop,” gloated Dorothy Kilgallen.
The public took it from there. They knew exactly what they wanted. Nothing would do but that Boy Scout and Girl Scout hike to the altar. The couple received unprecedented publicity. “We want time to think it over,” Eddie protested. And while they were thinking, Debbie collected her trousseau.
By 1955, the Philadelphia kid who once sang from the back of his father’s vegetable truck, was hotter than ever. At Christmas, he gifted Debbie with a red nutria coat and Thunderbird to match. He played the London Palladium in the spring, dutifully got married in June. The diamond was insured for $20.000, and the honeymoon lasted eight weeks.
In 1956, the Fishers, parents of a baby girl, attended the wedding of their good friends, Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd, in Acapulco. Ironically, a Mexican reporter saw the all-American lovebirds, surmised they were there for a divorce and published a story to that effect.
New Year’s Eve, 1957, found the Todds and Fishers flying down to Palm Springs together in Mike’s plane.
It was well after midnight that September, 1958, when Eddie picked up the phone and heard Elizabeth Taylor, widowed only a few weeks before, sobbing at the other end: “I had a terrible nightmare. Can you come over?”
He dressed and rushed out. Elizabeth poured out her grief. Eddie comforted her. Then he went home.
But after that night, nothing was ever the same.
By 1959, it had already begun to happen—the ebb in Eddie’s career.
He had sold millions of hit records, been the public’s golden boy for five years. Except he wasn’t a boy any more. He was a man. The wheel of fortune swung away.
Record sales began to drop. His TV ratings sagged.
At home, Debbie told him, “At least we’ve got one hit record in the family.” The record, of course, was “Tammy.” Hers.
Debbie was already twice the star he was.
But, even though his fans were beginning to forget him, there was someone who still had faith in him, who needed him just as he was.
That person was Elizabeth Taylor.
As far as Liz was concerned, Eddie reminded her of the happiest days of her life. The days with Mike.
Someone once compared Eddie to a young Mike Todd. Mike himself had said, “I’d be proud to have him as my kid.”
Eddie left home for two days in 1959 and came back two weeks later. During that time he committed the unpardonable sin: He decided to leave Debbie and marry Liz.
Then his public really deserted him.
When the story broke with the fury of a flood tide, Debbie was photographed with her children, a diaper pin on her blouse. Her public never forgot that picture—nor did they ever let Eddie forget. When Debbie said, pathetically, “I never knew he didn’t love me,” Eddie was doomed. He was now type-cast as the heartless villain. And if Debbie had any part in the marriage failure—and there are those of us who think a marriage is a 50-50 proposition—she gave no sign.
And Eddie kept quiet. If Debbie had ever been cold or unkind, he never said so.
When the rage of his former adoring fans threatened to drag him under, he never said, “Wait—that’s not true—listen to my side.”
He lost his TV show, he lost his following—but he never lost his dignity. And he never contested the property settlement with Debbie.
When someone asked, “Why didn’t you fight it? Why didn’t you stay with Debbie—then do what you pleased on the side, like everybody else does?” he shook his head.
The day Eddie left Debbie, she was crowned Miss Pathetic Soul in the hearts of the public. Meeting him had helped give her career the boost it needed at the right moment. Divorcing him gave her public sympathy as never before.
But for Eddie, the wheel spun in reverse. Meeting Debbie contributed to his eclipse as a unique personality in his own right. Marrying her turned Eddie’s image into “Debbie and Eddie.” Divorcing her brought him only outrage, hatred.
In the same way, fortune turned her head on Liz. Marrying a man who “belonged” to Debbie made Liz the arch villainess. She was damned as a sorceress with an angel’s face. But when she nearly died last year of pneumonia, public resentment faded and transformed into sympathy. For, after all, where would the world—no matter how disapproving—be without the world’s most beautiful woman?
Today, Liz is, if anything, a bigger star than the day she married Eddie Fisher.
Eddie, on the other hand, is one of the most pitiable victims the public has ever set out to destroy.
His descent has been as diabolically swift, as brutally sure, as if the devil of revenge himself had done the plotting.
Only a few short weeks after his marriage to Liz, Eddie told a reporter wryly: “We’ve had the usual problems of every young couple—like receiving 7000 threatening letters a week.”
When he gambled. the report circulated: “He seems to be turning into another Nicky Hilton,” in reference to Liz’ first cast-off mate.
When he signed to take a part in “Butterfield 8,” in which Liz starred. columnists sneered: “Everybody’s saying it was Liz who pleaded with her studio to hire him.”
A magazine printed the item: “She wanted to buy a monkey and he hated monkeys, and suddenly the monkey was right there in the house with him and he was wondering where he’d lost the right to assert himself.”
By late 1961, when Liz went to Italy to star in “Cleopatra,” newspapers pointed out that Eddie was rather pathetically “scouting around” for a movie to make in Europe.
Rumors of a split in the marriage seemed to be the last straw in a long series of failures since his marriage to Debbie ended and his career took a turn for the worst.
Yet the bullies still screamed for blood. They needed a scapegoat—Eddie was it.
The Eddie Fisher no one knows
Meantime, those who have known and loved him wait tensely for the outcome.
His mother waits sadly. fearfully. She remembers another day, another Eddie: “He looked and acted happier than I’d ever seen him,” she said of the day he and Liz were married. Today, he looks tired, hurt, like a man condemned for a crime he does not understand.
She remembers, too, the morning the flowers came, pink rosebuds and tiny orchids in a milk glass container, with a card that said: “Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Yom Kippur, Happy Easter, Happy Mother’s Day, Happy Birthday.” It was signed “Sonny Boy,” the pet name she has always had for Eddie. It was his way of making up for the fact that Debbie, perfection in the hearts of her fans, had never sent a note, a card or a picture of the children to a lonesome grandmother for nearly a year.
His daughter Carrie must remember him, not as a coward or weakling, but as a kind father with the firm authority children need and respect. People used to ask her, “What does your father do?” And she would say, “My father sings!”
Maybe, too, she remembers the night Eddie stood onstage at the Tropicana in Las Vegas. Her grandmother had brought her to see the show, and she had become swept up in the excitement. She bounced in her seat and called for “my daddy.” The commotion threatened to break up the show, but Eddie stopped in the middle of a song, looked straight at Carrie and said without sign of fluster or anger, “Will that little girl please sit down and be quiet.” Carrie sat.
Recently, a sorrowful friend made this comment about Eddie’s tragic fail: “We always forced him to play a part. We wanted him to be a boy. But he became a man in spite of us. We wanted him and Debbie to stay together whether they were happy or not. When Eddie had the courage to live his own life out in the open, we never forgave him for not living up to the image we had created for him. I say he showed strength, not weakness.”
Another sees it this way: “We’re such hypocrites! We go to church and talk about behaving like Christians. Yet, when somebody does turn the other cheek, the way Eddie has, the world swings around and calls him a sucker. All he gets is contempt.”
Nevertheless, the “Coke Kid” of a few years ago remained the villain. In spite of certain unalterable facts:
He has never said a word against Debbie publicly, despite her statements about him.
He has never struck back at his attackers, never answered the lies and false charges.
He has adopted and cared for another man’s children as if they were his own.
He has played second fiddle gracefully, no matter how much it may have hurt him.
He has given his wife the strength she lacks alone.
He has faced rejection as a star in his own right.
He has dared to try for a comeback even when the cards were stacked against him.
He has tried to do what he believes is right for him. in the face of overwhelming ridicule.
Does this—the record—indicate strength or weakness?
This writer, for one, believes it did take more strength on the part of Eddie Fisher than most of us can ever dream: strength to stand against the strong tide of public opinion, to keep silent when your heart breaks, to ask only peace of a world that has shown no mercy.
Once, the story goes, in a quiet moment apart from the ravages of publicity and hate, Elizabeth Taylor read the story of Rachel from the Book of Genesis. The story of Jacob who served seven years in bondage to win Rachel, but was given Leah instead, and served another seven years because it was Rachel he truly loved.
After reading the story of ageless love and one mortal man’s dauntless heart. Elizabeth turned to her husband and said: “Now you know what our marriage ought to mean to you. Now you know what you have to live up to.”
Eddie Fisher took the Bible. He read the story aloud once more. Then he looked at his wife and said: “I would have done it for you.”
In a sense, Eddie has already served nearly three years of bondage to a public that seeks not understanding, but revenge.
He has been punished, as few men are, with banishment as a star, ridicule as a man, disgrace as a husband.
Perhaps now, when the world at last knows what a toll the anguish has taken on Eddie—perhaps now the bullies will be satisfied and end their revenge.
Perhaps now people will look back and change their minds about a scapegoat named Eddie Fisher.
Perhaps now. before it is too late, more of us will recall something the bullies always forget: “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JUNE 1962