Why Eddie Almost Left Debbie Waiting?
The low black sport car sped smoothly through the star-studded darkness of the desert night toward McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. It was four o’clock in the morning, and the man behind the wheel was Eddie Fisher. He was in town to look over the Tropicana, a new twelve-million-dollar hotel, where he was scheduled to begin an engagement within the next few weeks. He had stayed up late to drive two friends to the airport. But as the car drew up in front of a sign reading, “Parking to unload passengers only,” Eddie fell suddenly silent, as though he were listening for something—or to someone no one else in the car could see. A moment later he broke his strange silence to say abruptly, “I’m going back to Los Angeles with you.”
As the three parked the rented car and climbed out, someone called, “Hey, Eddie!” They turned around to find accordionist Dick Contino running toward them. He was saying goodbye to his striking blonde wife, Leigh Snowden. She was returning to L.A., but he had to stay on for an engagement at a local night club.
“Just the man I want,” Eddie said, when Dick told him this. “Do me a favor, will you? Take this car I came in back to town. Eve just decided to go back home. This town is no place to be without your wife. And besides,” he grinned, “I think I hear the baby crying.”
This is the marriage that climaxed one of the most talked-about, guessed-about, written-about engagements in history. This is, in fact, a marriage that almost didn’t happen, and might not have happened if Debbie hadn’t been wiser and more cool-headed than most women many times her age. Because midway through their long and stormy engagement period, when a great many people began to murmur that it looked as though Eddie had changed his mind and wanted to call the whole thing off—he had changed his mind. The reason for changing his mind and then, three months later, changing it back again is also the reason why, once married, theirs was destined to be one of the happiest and most durable marriages that ever happened. It is also the best possible argument for a long engagement.
What really happened? At the time this tortured indecision was going on in Eddie’s mind, and before he had mentioned it to Debbie, he was reading about himself and the girl he loved almost as though he were reading about two other people. Two strangers who happened to be named Eddie and Debbie, whose romance was fast becoming one of the greatest circulation-builders in publishing history. They were being called Romeo and Juliet, their forthcoming marriage was being hailed as “An event that will make greater headlines than any marriage since Princess Elizabeth of England wed Prince Philip.”
And then, suddenly, something happened. Their appearances apart became more frequent than their appearances together. Something seemed to be wrong. One column called it The Big Freeze. Another said the rainbow had collapsed under the weight of the Fisher entourage. A third went along with that—even quoted Debbie’s brother on Eddie’s being a puppet whose manager had mysteriously pulled the walk-away strings. One blamed religious differences. Another blamed Debbie’s mother, while another blamed Eddie’s. Others laid the rift to career competition.
They were wrong—almost to a man and to a headline. For instance, they blamed Eddie’s manager, Milton Blackstone, who is respected and admired as a man with one of the highest senses of ethics in entertainment, and who was not interjecting so much as a word. Milton had never entered Eddie’s personal life and he did not now. He maintained so complete and honest a Hands Off policy that he could have passed for Venus De Milo.
They blamed the future mothers-in-law. But in Philadelphia, Kate Fisher Stupp answered every reporter’s phone call with a polite but firm, “I have heard of no break-up. I’d suggest that you contact the children directly.” In Burbank, Mrs. Reynolds’ voice rang out candidly whenever she was queried. “I’m afraid I can’t help you. Your guess is as good as mine.”
They said Eddie and Debbie were headline-hunting. But neither Debbie nor Eddie sought the headlines. “No comment” is a poor space-grabber, yet they used the two words as often as possible.
They blamed career competition, but there has never been any career jealousy between these two. Only Debbie’s bubbling pride in Eddie’s singing—and in things like his never-equalled streak of twenty-one consecutive hit records. And Eddie’s consummate pride in her acting and comedy talents. Example: Recently a reporter asked him, during the filming of “Bundle of Joy,” if he weren’t afraid she’d steal his scenes. “No,” he grinned. “I p expect that. I’m not exactly a Paul Muni. She’s got the picture before we start. She’s the greatest.”
Religion was no barrier. They reached—like Jack Benny and Mary Livingstone, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and many other successful mixed-marrieds—a mutually respected point of view. “We see no problem,” said Debbie. “We both believe in God.”
The “entourage”—a normal acquisition for the successful performer—was no problem. When a man was a bachelor, naturally both the employees and the favor-seekers spent leisure hours as well as work time with him. When he took unto himself a wife, they just as naturally would be around less often. And so it was.
Well, then, what did cause the sudden cooling-off that looked like the prelude to the parting of the ways?
It all began with a cross-country phone call. A cross-country phone call was not unusual in their lives. With Eddie’s TV commitments in the East and Debbie’s movie commitments in the West, there had been plenty of those. And the chances are that when Debbie crossed the living room of her parents’ home that evening to pick up the phone, to hear his familiar and beloved voice, and to say, “Hello, darling,” she had nothing more on her mind than to tell Eddie about a new dress she’d added to her trousseau.
But this phone call was different. This time, Eddie’s voice sounded hesitant. It sounded ragged and uncertain. “Look—” he said, “I’ve been thinking it over and—”
No one knows the exact content of that phone call and no one ever will. No one should. But the reason for it is important because it tells us so much about the kind of wonderful people Debbie and Eddie are. The reason sprang at Eddie out of a headline. All of a sudden, a headline no more nonsensical or gooey than a dozen other headlines that had been written about them. But this particular one just hit him the wrong way. That feeling that had been slowly growing inside him—the feeling that he was reading about two people who were total strangers —gripped him, and panicked him.
“How do I know it’s Debbie I love?” he began to ask himself. “How does she know I’m the guy she loves? Maybe we’re just in love with our own publicity—in love with the love story of two people with the same names we have. Maybe we think it’s right because it seems so right. But actually, we don’t know each other at all—do we?”
That was the gist of that panicky phone call. It is easy to imagine Debbie staring down at the ring on her finger. It is easy to imagine that she may have gazed at it through a sudden misting of tears. If she did, Eddie didn’t know it. When she spoke, her voice was firm, even gay. She said that she understood, that perhaps it would be better to wait longer than they had originally planned to wait. She said that perhaps they should both see other people for a while—not on dates, of course, but in groups—his friends, her friends. The calm, quiet young voice held steadily for the duration of that phone call. What happened after that in the privacy of Debbie’s pretty, feminine bedroom is Debbie’s story. All the world knew was that it looked as though Debbie Reynolds was not to be Eddie Fisher’s bride after all.
But their love, as everyone knows, survived one of the cruelest tests to which a love can ever be put—the test of time, distance and gossip. Debbie held her head high, kept her own counsel, and waited. There is no doubt but what the courage and faith in him which Debbie displayed during those trying days is one of the things that not only brought Eddie running back to her, but makes his love for her almost worshipful.
That summer, Eddie spent a great deal of time in Hollywood. And when he returned to New York, he realized something. There was a Grand Canyon void in his life. There could be no doubt any longer. Debbie was the girl to fill that void.
In October, there was another phone call. And in that same month, a marriage.
Today, Debbie and Eddie are two of Hollywood’s happiest advertisements for marriage. They have fun together. In their bedroom sits a silver-framed first snapshot of their baby daughter, Carrie Frances, a bewildered look on her round, day-old face. Across the photo, Constance Bannister style, is the comic caption: “Who’s Eddie Fisher?”
They are honest with each other. And even with their insurance company. Recently, when defectively-wired air conditioning caused a $15,000 fire, Eddie’s clothes were smoke-filled and temporarily unwearable. A friend advised him to claim them as a total loss. Legally, he said, this was perfectly allowable. But Eddie couldn’t bring himself to do it. Instead he had them dry cleaned, aired out, and made no claim at all. Debbie’s wardrobe, on the other hand, was almost a total loss. She could have estimated many M-G-M gowns—given to her as a wedding gift—at perfectly legitimate sky-high valuations. They were made of hard-to-replace, extremely expensive materials. Instead, she estimated only what a modest replacement would cost her in each case. Busy nursing Carrie in the approved Spock manner, Debbie had no time to buy new clothes. She wore her maternity clothes for the first month after the birth. “I’d better be getting to the store quickly, though,” she said. “People are beginning to think I’m expecting a second child already.”
Debbie is an excellent mother. Cook Olivia, who has worked for dozens of Hollywood families, thinks she’s the greatest. “The way she coos to that little girl while she’s feeding her. The way she watched her diet during the pregnancy to be sure the baby would be healthy as possible—why, she didn’t even have any ice cream! And it sure is a long time since I saw anyone take the time and trouble to nurse her baby—and a long time since I’ve seen a happier baby.”
Eddie is a devoted father. He can’t pass a toy shop window without stopping to make a purchase. Recently he bought a stuffed furry elephant four feet high. “Either Eddie’s going to have to slow down on the toys,” friend Joey Forman commented, “or they’ll have to move to a bigger house.” He is a perceptive father, too. “The baby will have everything,” he says. “That’s good, but it’s dangerous, too. We’ll have to be mighty careful that she learns to share—so she won’t be spoiled.”
They have devoted friends. For their first anniversary, Eddie bought Debbie an unusual heart-shaped diamond pendant. For the baby’s day of birth, Jennie Grossinger bought a tiny replica of this from the very same jeweler. And they have either the world’s smartest baby—or a most thoughtful friend. On Debbie and Eddie’s first anniversary, a mysterious telegram arrived. “Congratulations,” it said simply but under the circumstances quite eloquently. It was signed, “Your Baby.”
They have learned to compromise. Eddie is not as extravagant as he used to be. Debbie ıs not as penny-prudent. The compromises go all the way down to such routine matters as the salad they shared at Chasen’s restaurant on their first night on the town after Carrie’s birth. Because of her nursing, Debbie couldn’t have cucumber in the Caesar Salad they ordered. Eddie told the waiter to omit them. But Chasen’s is up to meeting such problems. The white-coated waiter simply mixed two separate portions—cucumbers for Eddie, none for Debbie.
But they disagree on occasion. Fortunately, without being disagreeable. While house-hunting, they came to one the real estate man had no key to. “We’ll come back some other time,” said Eddie. “No—let’s shinny over the fence,” said adventurous Debbie. Then she had an afterthought. “Oh, papa,” she smiled, “you’re right. I keep forgetting. My fence-climbing days are over. I’m a mama now!”
Both Eddie and Debbie still have the first friends they ever made. A white checked tablecloth on Debbie’s luncheon table tells half the story—in each square is a name you wouldn’t recognize unless you attended Burbank High. Not one name belongs to a star, except Debbie’s own. Two deck chairs out at the swimming pool tell Eddie’s half of the story. Some months back, a reporter visited, asked if there were any truth to the rumors that he was feuding with his two childhood friends, Bernie Rich and Joey Forman— that they were angry at him because they couldn’t get parts in his pictures. Eddie explained that there had been a misunderstanding. The film’s producer had cast Tommy Noonan in the only part that bore any resemblance to Joey—had cast Noonan before Eddie knew about it. “Come on out to the pool,” Eddie invited the reporter. “I’d like you to meet some good friends.” Sunbathing happily were friends Joey and Bernie.
Eddie and Debbie Fisher feel they are two of the world’s luckiest people. And rightfully so. Not only do they have one another, and now a third family member, but they have fans of all ages who do everything from knitting a blanket “with love in every stitch” (a 70-year-old fan) to volunteering for baby-sitting duty (an entire California club).
So it is that in a second-floor room in a white stuccoed Mediterranean home in Beverly Hills that once belonged to Cary Grant, a baby cries. Short, almost melodic wails that Cascade out in quick, sharp splashes of sound.
In an adjoining room off the hallway, two people stand up quickly. One is chestnut-haired, petite, pert in a red jersey shirt and black toreador pants. The other is trim, lithe and black-haired, in corduroy pants which are the sand color of his textured sport shirt.
“Okay, mama, time to feed the baby bird,” the man says. He follows her down the hallway. “Can I pick her up first?” he asks. “Why sure,” she smiles, stretching the second word so that it unmistakably means she and the baby will both be disappointed if he doesn’t.
Gingerly, gently, fondly he picks the tiny pink-clad infant out of the yellow bassinet. Supporting the neck, he carefully rests the soft-haired head on his left shoulder.
The baby stops its crying. The blue-hued eyes (not color-fast yet—she’s too young) range the room quickly. They are alert, inquisitive, intelligent. They are just beginning to see objects clearly—and they seem to want to make up for the long months of darkness. Suddenly, the lids pucker down. The mouth follows suit. As though an empty stomach has inevitably telegraphed a reminder message, suddenly, the wails begin again.
“Oh-oh,” the man says. “You better take over. I guess I just don’t have it.” He hands the baby back to the mother, carefully, slowly. She takes her up tenderly, begins the feeding. The lines around the baby’s smooth little face relax. She is content now. But the bright eyes continue to roam the room—searching for something.
No one can know what Carrie Frances Fisher’s eyes are searching for. Perhaps the cuddly stuffed toy zebra that felt so warm and good against her cheek earlier today. Perhaps the other nine babies—some crying, some sleeping, some thumping their tiny feet against the sides of their bassinets—with whom she spent four days in the glass-faced nursery at Burbank’s St. Joseph’s Hospital. Perhaps for the white toy poodle, Rock, smaller even than she, who dances into her room several times a day—and is firmly shooed out before he can get a good look at her, or she at him.
But more likely, she is searching for an understanding of this new world of security and love that envelops her with more warmth and happiness than a score of the softest, richest blankets.
Carrie has this love already. She senses it now. And Doctor Charles Levy—a general practitioner who tended Debbie from the age of nine and brought Carrie into the world—could add something more.
Carrie is such a good baby. She sleeps so well. She gains so quickly. She cries so little. Indeed, she must have sensed her parents’ love for her long before she was born, a deep love, a love she can trust—and their love for each other, the same deep love, that grew out of storms and doubts, from mutual respect and understanding, into something very real and indestructible.
DON’T DARE MISS: Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher in RKO’s “Bundle of Joy.”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE FEBRUARY 1957