Wishful Drinking at the Huntington
Carrie Fisher’s Favorite Books:
Best books … chosen by Carrie Fisher
Actress and best-selling author Carrie Fisher has just published a memoir, Wishful Drinking. Adapted from her one-woman stage show, it describes her life growing up as Hollywood royalty.
Middlemarch by George Eliot (Penguin Classics, $10) One of the greatest books ever written by a woman, especially in those early days. Although Mary Anne Evans gave herself a male pen name, she showed incredible ambition and scope in her writing—the world she created, the characters she imagined. I love that line in the book that reads: “The really delightful marriage must be that where your husband was a sort of father, and could teach you Hebrew, if you wished it.” It was hard to be a woman in those days, but her storytelling was exceptional.
Naked by David Sedaris (Back Bay Books, $14.99) This collection of personal essays made me laugh as hard as any book I’ve ever read. I also discovered that I needed glasses when reading this, but still it’s one of the funniest books ever.
Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $13) I love her use of spare narrative throughout this story about an unfulfilled actress looking for purpose in her life. I admired the style then and have tried to pattern some of my own writing in that fashion.
My Old Sweetheart by Susanna Moore (Vintage, $12) She’s an extremely talented writer. Her first novel, set in the 1950s, is about a woman who grew up with a very eccentric mother, which, of course, is why I related to it.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (Penguin, $15) I love Salman. He’s a friend of mine, but I loved this book—which allegorically weaves a family’s story with the history of modern India—even before I knew him. I’m just showing off that I know him.
Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust (Penguin Classics, $16) I’m also showing off that I’ve actually gotten through Swann’s Way, the first volume in Proust’s monumental work In Search of Lost Time. Just getting through those first 100 pages, where he could not fall asleep until his mother kissed him good night, was an achievement alone.
Books She’s Written: (from the official website)
|Carrie’s books all feature a unique writing style that is marked by a fresh, witty perspective on life. She is known for featuring characters in atypical, less-than ideal situations that both learn to make the best of things and actually enjoy their lives. If perhaps she can be said to present a common message, it can only be that, while hard times or even tragedy may strike the best of us, through humor and true friends we can not only survive but also thrive. Truly, Carrie’s readers often look to her as an inspirational author that can always bring a lasting smile.|
|The Best Awful There Is (2004)
This is Carrie’s newest book that will be coming to a bookstore near you. It is semi-officially the sequel to her literary debut, ‘Postcards from the Edge’.
The Best Awful There Is is about a young woman who plummets into madness and then, with determination and humor, struggles her way out again.
|Hollywood Moms (2001)
(Introduction by Carrie Fisher.) A touching celebration of the special relationship between mothers and daughters, Hollywood Moms is a collection of beautiful photographs of celebrities posing with their moms or daughters. From Michelle Pfeiffer, who appears with her mother and two sisters, to Madonna and her daughter, Lourdes, the book shines a light on the personal experiences of these famous women through images and the accompanying text. Poems, stories, and songs are paired with the photographs, offering glimpses into the bonds between each mother and daughter and highlighting the common ground between these famous faces and the ones we know from our own families.
|Delusions of Grandma (1993)
The book is a narrative from Cora Sharpe, a Hollywood script writer that is about to have a baby. The book also features some of Cora’s letters written to her unborn child. Writing these letters causes her to recall the events that led to her current situation. The storyline includes a discussion about the father, Ray, who has removed himself from the picture, and Cora’s attempt to assist friend who has AIDS. The book winds up with an in-depth look at the expectations of Cora’s mother and soon-to-be grandmother.
|Surrender the Pink (1991)
Dinah Kaufman writes scripts for a living, and it fits: her life is full of bad lines. Particularly with men. They are all losers. Worse, they turn her down. Imagine her feelings when she finds a real man, Rudy Gendler, polished and successful, who loves her and wants to get married. Alas, he is not what he seems and the marriage ends just short of disaster. Dinah pulls herself together and finds…that she still loves Rudy! How can she win him back?
|Postcards from the Edge (1987)
Suzanne Vale is funny and famous, a thirty-ish actress who has crash-landed in rehab, and navigated the humorous and harrowing byways of all of her addictions…even love. Tough yet fragile, she’s hanging on — and she’s not sure why. There is her unsupporting cast of friends and lovers: Alex, an arrogantly handsome TV writer. Suzanne has a place in his heart…and maybe even in his new script. Jack, a producer and super-stud. His relationship with Suzanne is heavy on analysis and light on commitment. Lucy, her trusted gal pal. When the going gets rough, they charge away their blues on Rodeo Drive. Jesse, a novelist and the almost-too-good-to-be-true result of a “dating accident.” His Niceness is boring Suzanne to death — and driving her crazy with love.
Carrie Fisher hasn’t had your average life. Of course, she’s started out with an abnormal beginning: two celebrities for parents. With her book on the New York Times Bestseller list, she is again in the spotlight. Look at the interviews below and see who Carrie Fisher is beyond “Princess Leia.”
Interview: The Fisher Queen
The actress and writer Carrie Fisher deals with manic depression, her drug use, and her personal life.
By: Lybi Ma
“How manic am I?” asks Carrie Fisher as she climbs around her hillside with a potted plant. Dressed in a sleek black suit, she positions the shrub in an empty spot. “How’s that?” she asks. Later, she points to a horticulture article highlighting a garden in a rainbow of color. “That’s what I want.” She confesses that lately, while she’s writing, she looks at her garden and gets up to readjust the trees and flowers that are yet to be planted. The garden is her latest obsession.
Fisher has a lot of obsessions. At first glance, she doesn’t seem any crazier than the rest of us. But when she pulls out her medications, you tend to think twice. All the little capsules and tablets—prescription drugs to tame her bipolar disorder—are organized in a weekly container. “Sunday, Monday, Tuesday,” she mimics that famous scene from The Godfather.
She takes nearly two dozen pills a day. But when she blows off her dosages, the result is havoc. Once, she embarked on a weeklong escapade that ended in a tattoo parlor on the west side of Los Angeles. Her manic side drives her to impulses. “The impulses become edicts from the Vatican.” Fortunately, for her sake, two of her friends accompanied her to the tattoo parlor. “They were concerned about me.” And with good reason.
Some years ago, the writer and actress suffered what she calls a “psychotic break.” At the time, she was experiencing a deep depression—just getting out of bed to pick up her then eight-year-old daughter Billie was a major feat. She was also improperly medicated. All of which landed her in the hospital. While there she was riveted to CNN, convinced that she was both the serial killer Andrew Cunanan as well as the police who were seeking him. “I was concerned that when he was caught, I would be caught,” she recalls.
Her brother, filmmaker Todd Fisher, feared that he was going to lose her. “The doctors said she might not come back.” Awake for six days and six nights, she recalls hallucinating that a beautiful golden light was coming out of her head. Yet the confusing thing about her mania, says Todd, is her ability to remain articulate, clever and funny. Todd says she launched into Don Rickles-like diatribes, “ripping everyone who came into her room.”
Ex-partner Bryan Lourd, who has remained a friend, was by her side. She said to him, “She’s in the chair, she let me out. I have to talk to you. I can’t take care of Billie on my own.”
At the hospital, she couldn’t bear seeing her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, and asked that she not visit. Today, the two remain close—Reynolds now owns the house next door.
Fisher rolls around on her bed doing somersaults. “I have to get out of here,” she pleads. We hop into her station wagon and head for the San Fernando Valley. At a garden nursery, we walk up and down the footpaths looking for color. She picks up purple roses and orange star clusters. While she talks about her garden, “I want everything to be right,” she is all too aware of her obsessive tendencies. Yet her mania may well be an important part of her creativity.
The daughter of Reynolds and 1950s crooner Eddie Fisher, Carrie watched her father run off with actress Elizabeth Taylor. “An unpleasant experience,” as she puts it. Although she had an absent father, she knows she resembles him in the most worrisome way. She notes that he is an undiagnosed manic-depressive, “He bought 200 suits in Hong Kong, was married six times, and bankrupt four. It’s crazy.”
In her teens, what she wanted most was to be near her mother, so Carrie made her Broadway debut in Irene at age 15. Reynolds was the star of the show. Not long after, Fisher played the scene-stealing nymphet in the movie Shampoo, then she was immortalized as Princess Leia in that metal bikini. Her role in the Star Wars trilogy shot her into superstardom.
That kind of celebrity, though, comes with trappings. It was sex, drugs, and late-night partying with Hollywood heavies like John Belushi and Dan Akroyd. One night, she was so high Akroyd made her eat. After which she choked on a Brussels sprout, prompting him to perform the Heimlich maneuver. Then he proposed to her.
Her longtime friend, director and actor Griffin Dunne, says she made partying look fun. “Getting stoned was a part of all our lives when we were younger. Her abuse only became apparent later. I told her she was taking too many pills, but of course I was drunk at the time, so I wasn’t making a lot of sense either.”
Marijuana, acid, cocaine, pharmaceuticals—she tried them all. Being on the manic side of bipolar disorder, her drug use was a way to “dial down” the manic in her. And in some respects it was a form of self-medication. “Drugs made me feel more normal,” she says. “They contained me.”
But her addictions were serious. At her worst, she took 30 Percodan a day. “You don’t even get high. It’s like a job, you punch in,” she recalls. “I was lying to doctors and looking through people’s drawers and medicine cabinets for drugs.” Such relentless abuse landed her in rehab, at age 28, with a tube down her throat to pump her stomach. In the end, her misadventures were recounted in her autobiographical novel, Postcards from the Edge.
Writing, her secret ambition, helped her stay focused. Postcards won her wide acclaim. Later still, she continued to gain adulation when she wrote the book’s screenplay. The film version, in fact, starred her friend Meryl Streep.
When she wrote Postcards, she says she was, “uber-involved” in her 12-step recovery and subsequent addiction support groups, but not all her issues were addressed. Her friend Richard Dreyfuss told her that she suffered from more than just drug addiction. “You don’t walk down the street, it’s a parade.”
Dunne never thought of Fisher’s problem as a mental illness. That is, until he misplaced a rug she had lent him. She was very understanding and told him not to worry. Yet, four years later, Fisher brought up the rug. “She was furious about it, as if it just happened. Then we talked a few days later and the rug wasn’t even a memory.”
At first, Fisher may have ignored her friends’ pleas, but she eventually found a psychiatrist, and a support group for manic-depressives. “When the group started talking about their medications, it was such a relief,” she remembers. She has since become vocal in the struggle for mental health care—for example, lobbying for more funding to treat mental illness.
Fisher has two moods, Roy the manic extrovert and Pam the quiet introvert. “Roy decorated my house and Pam has to live in it,” she quips. If a home is any indication of one’s state of mind, then Fisher’s mind is both playful and bizarre. A chandelier dangles from a tree along the driveway and signs such as “beware of trains” hang everywhere.
Her 1933 ranch style home, once owned by Bette Davis, is littered with details that reveal her comic and bizarre nature. One painting in her bedroom depicts Queen Victoria tossing a dwarf. And inside a triptych in the dining room you find an effigy of Princess Leia.
Throughout the house, there are irreverent references to the Princess. But as Fisher puts it, “Leia follows me like a vague smell.” Her metal bikinied space babe is perhaps one of the most downloaded images on the Web. You would think, though, that Fisher’s accomplishments as a writer might have eclipsed any memories of Leia. Since she wrote Postcards, she has written two additional novels.
One, Surrender the Pink, was about her relationship with ex-husband and pop icon Paul Simon, to whom she was married for 11 months. For Fisher, her ex-husband’s words had a certain soothing rhythm. “Except when the words are organized against you, of course.” She says she really didn’t fit the stereotype of wife. In fact, Fisher and Simon were two flowers and no gardener.
Fisher is perhaps one of the more productive manic-depressives in Hollywood. She has script-doctored countless films including Milk Money and Sister Act. She has even hosted a talk show for Oxygen Media. And in recent years, she has written screenplays; one for Showtime is about a manic depressive writer who ends up in a mental hospital. Sounds a little too familiar.
While working with her, Streep found how very disciplined Fisher is. She is focused and stays on task. “She has wonderful, undeluded inspirations. She has told me that she is sometimes reluctant to ameliorate a productive state by dulling it with medication,” says Streep.
Friend and actress Meg Ryan agrees that Fisher has the tendency to mess with herself, but she gets herself back in line. “She manages this disease with enormous integrity. She’s a great example of how to do it, and she’s very serious about it. And she’s serious about being a good mom and a good friend.”
Indeed, Fisher takes her role as parent very seriously. In fact, she will not take on any projects that might compromise her time with Billie. Streep notes that she speaks to her daughter like a friend. “Some mothers tend to use a high-pitched voice with their children. Carrie doesn’t.”
That loyal family and friends surround her is a testament to her character. After her hospitalization, she threw a well-attended party. “I was worried about how everyone would react to me.” But as always, her humor saved her. She rented an ambulance and a gurney that had a life-size cutout of Princess Leia hooked up to an IV. “She plucks out that thing that would destroy the rest of us. Then she makes fun of it,” says Streep. “I’m sure it saves her.”
1956: Born to Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher
1972: Broadway debut in Irene, starring her mom
1975: Attended Central School of Speech and Drama, London. Appeared in first film, Shampoo
1977 through 1983: Appeared in the classic Star Wars film trilogy as Princess Leia
1983: Married pop icon Paul Simon, divorced after 11 months
1987: Wrote autobiographical novel, Postcards From the Edge
1990: Wrote novel Surrender the Pink, about her marriage to Simon and wrote screenplay for Postcards
1992: Gave birth to daughter, Billie Catherine
1994: Wrote novel, Delusions of Grandma
2000: Cowrote These Old Broads, starring Debbie Reynolds
1980s: Appeared in films—including When Harry Met Sally as witty best friend
1990s: Script-doctored films including Hook, Lethal Weapon 3, Outbreak, The Wedding Singer
Get me to the funny bar’
Her childhood was catastrophic, her husband left her for a man, and she has battled with alcohol, drugs and manic depression. But Carrie Fisher can’t understand why celebrities are such whingers
o Emma Brockes
o The Guardian, Monday 16 February 2004
On a good day, Carrie Fisher enjoys herself the way only a manic depressive can. “Gaaaad,” she exclaims, flopping into a chair in the suite of a Dublin hotel. “I just got my hair done but ONLY because I can’t do it myself, not out of vanity.” Today is a good day. Yesterday was not such a good day. If we had done the interview yesterday, says Declan, her publicist, things might have been – he averts his eyes – difficult. “So I was watching the TV in my hotel room,” roars Fisher, “and there was this show on and swear to God it was in the language of the elves.” She pitches in her chair as if she is stabilising the roll of a ship. “What the hell language is that? I know it’s not Welsh, I know it’s not Latvian.”
“It’s called Gaelic,” says Declan stonily.
“Really? People actually speak that?”
Fisher in this mood is like a throwback to that bygone age when stars occasionally slipped the PR net and drank whisky and railed to eager journalists about their lousy ex-husbands. Today she is on stupendous form, a 47-year-old in a defiantly short skirt – her stance against the evil agents of anorexia – and a gob on her like the Wife of Bath’s, which seems at every blast to affirm: push me in the fire and I’ll walk straight through it. Over the course of an hour she does indeed take on her lousy ex-husband, her sister-in-law’s lousy ex-husband, her crazy mother, her “schmuck of a father” who, she reveals, is sleeping with a yoga teacher 20 years his junior, and all the “creepy” people who populate Hollywood. “Shit, now I’ve said too much,” she drawls at the end, although she hasn’t seriously maligned anyone. “You’re gonna write a piece making fun of me, right? Taking the piss out of manic depression?” On the contrary, I say, the Guardian is the manic depressive’s friend, in fact there are probably quite a few on the staff. “You’d better believe it,” says Fisher, and before she can stop herself she has reeled off three big-name, closet depressives, a director and two actors who are variously treating their problem with “dope, dope and lithium”. Fisher shoots me an incendiary look. “Now THAT is off the record.”
Her third book The Best Awful, surely one of the worst titles in publishing history, rolls off the page in exactly the same tone of voice; super-bitchy, witty and less of a novel than an extended piece of therapy, since it is based on the unhappy story of Fisher’s husband, the agent Bryan Lourd, leaving her for a man. “It would be a pretty profound failing to have someone leave you for a man, right?” she croaks. “I actually had an interviewer ask me, wouldn’t it be better to be left for a man, because it’s, like, NOT PERSONAL? You know, like in the Godfather? ‘Tell Michael it was business.’ Actually, no.” She’s yelling again. “I DIDN’T LOOK AT IT THAT WAY. That wasn’t funny to me for a long time.”
It is, however, funny to her now, partly because the couple’s 11-year-old daughter Billie needs it to be so, and partly because, after years of manic depression, Fisher has come to the conclusion that it is better to laugh than to cry. This is a brave route littered with the bones of people who couldn’t quite pull it off. Fisher’s friend Roseanne was for years a successful proponent of the smile-though-your-heart-is-breaking school, and then there is Liza Minnelli, to whom the cost of keeping cheerful has evidently been too dear. Fisher, on today’s evidence, is more robust than that, although I wouldn’t like to see her in a black mood.
“The one’s who don’t laugh,” she says, “- and I know plenty – are heavy and devastated and they’re having a shit time. Whereas I’m like, get me to the funny bar. It’s Chicken Soup for the Fag Widow! If I can be funny, thank you, please God, then let me. I don’t want to be a victim. And I have a child, in which case it’s best that everything’s out in the open. It wasn’t always like that. I grew up around a little … unpleasantness.”
When she was a year old, her father, the entertainer Eddie Fisher, left her actress mother Debbie Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor. Fisher never visited; Reynolds took to drink. “That was my adolescence.” Years later, Eddie wrote a memoir which he described as “an extraordinary life, worth telling”, and his daughter describes as “a classy tale of all the women he’d ever screwed and how they were in bed. You know, everything you want your dad to write about.”
By the time she was 30, Carrie Fisher had tried drink, drugs, an overdose and a spell in mental hospital, the common pit-stops of children of the famous. Not that she blames her parents; in fact, she says, she despises people who whine about their parents into adulthood. “In a weird way, I don’t think I do badly with what I’m given. I’m not running around saying, ‘boo hoo’. Like, the other day I had my mother say to me about someone, ‘Well, you know, the town turned its back on her.’ And I said, that’s the big tragedy? If you go into showbusiness, it’s going to happen sooner or later. It’s going to happen TO ALL OF THEM.”
Fisher thinks Hollywood is “creepy” and celebrity is “disgusting”, a position she has held since childhood. She never had any intention of becoming famous. But then, she says, she “fluked” her way into the role of Princess Leia in Star Wars, one thing led to another and before she knew it, she’d fallen for its charms and was “serving time as a celebrity”.
“Two of the saddest words in the English language are, ‘What party?’ And LA is the ‘What party?’ capital of the world. Everyone is sucking up. My mother’s career was over at 40 but she was still trying to be everyone’s buddy, always smiling for the cameras.” She pulls a terrifying grin. “I just found it a little frightening.”
Fisher’s mother now lives next door to her in LA. If it was up to her, says Fisher, she would live as far away from the place as possible – in London, say – but Billie’s father lives in LA and having been without a dad herself, she won’t deny her daughter one. So, I ask hesitantly, is Eddie Fisher still alive?
“Oh yeah,” she rolls her eyes. “He really is. But I hardly ever know it. He’s a very strange guy, my father. I can’t get mad at him because he’s so adorable.” She says this with heavy sarcasm and I ask what she means. “When you are in a room with him, you are the greatest thing he’s ever met; you’re so amazingly HOT and FUNNY and SMART. And then he could walk into the hallway and see a jacket he likes and he wouldn’t remember even having run into you.”
Does she let him see his granddaughter? “Actually, he rang the other day and said he was coming over to see Billie. And I waited and waited and waited. It was my whole childhood relived. By the end of the day I called my brother and I said, ‘Well, you’re never gonna guess who didn’t come see me today!’ And it’s all the more heartbreaking, because YOU LOVE HIM. I’ll be 75 years old and still saying, ‘Daddy’s coming! Make up the bed! Kill the hog!’ How stoopid is that?” She summons all her energies. “Schmuck!”she spits, and falls about laughing.
Fisher has high hopes for her daughter Billie, who shows every sign of not wanting to go into showbusiness. Billie associates fame with her parents and consequently finds it mortifying; she hates it when people ask if she’s Princess Leia’s daughter. The only part of her mother’s background she digs is the time she spent in the mental hospital. This, says Fisher wryly, has been designated by Billie’s friends as “way cool”. Her one regret is that Billie’s eminently sensible attitude doesn’t soften a little when it comes to her grandmother.
“She doesn’t get it about Debbie – you know, Singing in the Rain and all that. And she probably won’t until it’s too late. And that’s a shame because my mother is hilarious and great and Billie just thinks of her as…”
“Very weird. It’s sad. Listen to what happened – I’m not even sure I should tell you this, it’s so sad: there was a grandparents day at school and Billie didn’t tell us. I said, ‘Oh baby’. That hurt me so much for my mom. But my mother is not a regular grandmother; she’s going to show up in a wig. And then my father did show up, at Bryan’s behest, and my daughter FREAKED. He was wearing orange clothes and bright blue shoes and dyed black hair and he started singing when he saw her. She’s 11 and super hip. So she runs up to Bryan and hisses, ‘He’s making a fool out of me!’ with real tears in her eyes. And I call my brother later and say, ‘You know how we would’ve hacked off an arm to get our father to show up at school? He goes to Billie’s thing, and she’s mortified.’” She shakes her head. “Perfect.”
I ask whether Fisher still holds a grudge against Liz Taylor. She cackles. “I was at a party once and someone came up and said, ‘Elizabeth is very hurt that you haven’t come and said hello to her.’ I mean, CHRIST, only in Hollywood. She steals my father and I have to make the first move? So I went up and she said to me -” Fisher re-enacts the conversation:
Taylor: I heard your book is really good. [that's her first book, Postcards from the Edge].
Fisher: Well, it’s about alcoholism and you were in Betty Ford, weren’t you, and so was my father.
Taylor: How is your father?
Fisher: I wouldn’t know, I didn’t really see him growing up.
Taylor: Maybe you didn’t miss that much.
Jeez, I say. “I know,” she says, “isn’t it great? And then I saw her another time and told her I’d heard she’d been bad-mouthing my mother. And people don’t talk to Liz Taylor like that. So she says to me, ‘I’m going to push you in my pool.’ I said, OK. She said, ‘You’ll pull me in with you.’ I said, ‘No I won’t’. I said, ‘PUSH ME IN THE POOL’. And she did.” It turned out to be cathartic for both of them. “In some stupid way, I was telling her that she couldn’t hurt me any more. We have been great friends ever since.”
Debbie Reynolds doesn’t date any more. “My mother says ‘the store is closed’ and I say to her, I just wanna know, what was for sale?” Eddie Fisher is seeing his yoga teacher. And Carrie Fisher is single. Who, I wonder, has been the love of her life?
“Ugh,” she says and falls silent for a record two seconds. “It’s gonna have to be, in some freaked out planet of darkness, Paul Simon. [They were married for 13 years.] And a little bit of Bryan; the people I spent time with. But there really hasn’t been one. Not really.”
The Best Awful, it turns out, refers to the experience of mania, “which is enormous fun until it becomes way too much fun. Then it’s too much of a good thing.” Fisher thinks Hollywood is just as cruel and hypocritical as it always was. But there is something to be said for the gentler language of her parents’ age, the pre-clinical speak that encouraged a stoicism you don’t often see in what she calls whingeing celebrities. “The old terms sounded like things that could just kinda happen to you in a bar. He’s ‘melancholic’. You know? But these new ones they come up with – dysphoria, bipolar, manic depression – I mean,” she looks her devilish best, “who’d want to be any of those?”