BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
By Eddie Fisher with David Fisher
Thomas Dunne Books
341 pages, $24.95
After reading the autobiography of singer Eddie Fisher, I wanted to sit down and write a fan letter -- to Carrie Fisher. How she grew up semi-sane, bright and funny, with parents like Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, is beyond belief.
"Been There, Done That" is a literary one-night stand, a must-read for anyone who has ever bought a National Enquirer or watched "Entertainment Tonight." After all, who can resist the recollections of a man who has had love affairs with some of the most beautiful and famous women in the world? Especially when many of them, including ex-wives Elizabeth Taylor, Connie Stevens and Debbie Reynolds, are still alive.
Anyone who has read Carrie Fisher's work knows that Reynolds was not exactly easy to live with, but Eddie gets right to the point: "Debbie Reynolds was indeed the girl next door. But only if you lived next door to a self-centered, totally driven, insecure, untruthful phony."
According to her ex-husband, everything about Reynolds was orchestrated, including her appearing in her back yard hanging laundry with diaper pins attached to her blouse when the tabloid reporters came to ask about Fisher leaving her for the worldly Liz Taylor.
The writings about the conflicted and complicated Taylor are the most compelling: "Sexually, she was every man's dream; she had the face of an angel and the morals of a truck driver." He paints a disturbing picture of Taylor not only as a fellow addict, but a woman who loved abuse. He reveals that Taylor got pregnant by Frank Sinatra while she was married to Michael Wilding and that Sinatra's manager took her to Mexico for an abortion. According to Fisher, she never forgave Sinatra for that.
Taylor's husband, Mike Todd, was Eddie Fisher's best friend -- Fisher was best man at their wedding and even named his son Todd. But Eddie claims that, until she became Todd's widow, he had never before viewed Liz as anything but his best friend's wife. A tad hard to believe, considering that he rarely refers to a woman as anything but a sex object. But their happiness was not to last. In a chapter that should be titled "What Goes Around Comes Around," he describes the way his life was shattered during the filming of "Cleopatra" when he discovered her affair with Richard Burton.
I've seen what love can do to a man. I remember Robert Wagner, inconsolable, bursting into my bungalow in hysterics when he found out Natalie Wood was having an affair with Warren Beatty. He was so in love with her, so desperately in love, that his heart was just broken. . . . I remember William Holden, crying like a baby as he pleaded on the phone with Capucine, "Please come back to me, I'll die without you." I remember Frank Sinatra putting his arm around my shoulder on "The Eddie Cantor Show," exposing the thin cuts on his wrists he made when supposedly he tried to commit suicide over Ava Gardner -- the one woman in his life he couldn't control.
The last time he saw Taylor was in the late 1970s at Sardi's restaurant in New York. They spoke a few warm words, after which she said, "Shalom, Eddie," and he said, "Shalom, Elizabeth." A fitting farewell, as her conversion to Judaism had been a big scandal. He was amazed that he could look at her and feel nothing since at the time she left him, he was at the lowest point in his life. But happily, fate intervened.
"Once again a woman I loved was leaving me. . . . I knew it would be a long time, maybe forever, before I gave my heart to another woman. And as I walked through the lobby of the Plaza I bumped into Connie Stevens. . . . That night we slept together for the first time." (At this point I had a mental image of Bill Clinton wearing an "Eddie Fisher Is God" T-shirt.)
Speaking of presidents with lively libidos, Fisher actually co-produced the famous birthday party for John F. Kennedy at the Waldorf-Astoria. "People remember Marilyn Monroe's incredibly suggestive rendition of 'Happy Birthday' to him, but Ann-Margret's dance just buried that. She was so bold. . . . Kennedy and I actually had several things in common in addition to an attraction to Ann-Margret. They were Angie Dickinson, Judith Exner and a gorgeous German model named Renata Boeck."
His other connection with JFK was more costly. For 38 years, he was addicted to drugs, beginning with shots administered to him as a young singer by Max Jacobson (a k a "Dr. Feelgood"), who also treated JFK and Elvis. Fisher describes accompanying Jacobson to the White House several times and reveals that the doctor occasionally treated Jackie as well. Among Fisher's lovers was Pamela Turnure, Jackie's press secretary, who told him that on the plane after JFK's assassination, Jackie turned to her and said, "Lyndon Johnson did it."
(I'm telling you, this book has everything -- pop singers, movie stars, sex, drugs -- and a little political conspiracy thrown in for good measure. If this isn't made into a TV movie of the week, I'll eat my father's old 45 rpm of "Oh Mein Papa.")
Fisher has a good sense of humor about the mistakes he has made -- in addition to his poor money management (he was making $1 million in 1952 when it meant something), his business decisions were consistently horrible. At the height of his fame, he was offered a number of deals that would have set him for life, but he rejected them. (He turned down a piece of Caesars Palace because Caesar was the character Richard Burton played in "Cleopatra.")
The book ends with Chapter 11, in which Fisher's world comes crashing down around him. He ends up at the Betty Ford Clinic to shake his 30-year-old drug addiction and faces his shortcomings as a father to his children -- Carrie and Todd Fisher by Reynolds; Joely and Trisha Leigh by Stevens, and Maria, whom he adopted with Taylor just before their divorce.
Eddie Fisher has written what may go down in the world of celebrity memoirs as the definitive exercise in ego gratification. Those mentioned in the book will no doubt greet its promotional tour with some fear and loathing. (And if his stint with daughter Joely on "Ellen" a few years back was any indication, audiences may feel the same way. As a result of countless face lifts -- not mentioned in the book -- he looks more than a little creepy.)
But not all of his ex-wives are bitter. Perhaps the well-known philosopher Connie Stevens put it best when she said to him: "I wish you good luck, good health, wealth and happiness in your own time and on your own terms. I do not wish you love, as you wouldn't know what to do with it."