As this is a SF/F blog (mostly) I would be remiss if I did not write something about the passing of Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds.
I’m old enough…but not so old…that both actresses are actually a part of that firmament of childhood memories that arches above me and so many of my friends. When I was a kid in the early 70s Ms. Reynolds danced and sang her way into our living room in TV network specials. Somehow CBS or NBC managed to edit and run pseudo-full-length versions of Singin’ In The Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. These broadcasts always seemed to coincide with some major holiday. School was out and we were allowed to stay up late to see these now-legendary productions in their entirety. My mother was a big fan of Debbie Reynolds and, through some form of symbiotic convection, so was I and the rest of our family.
Watching these films now I never appreciated how young Ms. Reynolds was when she appeared in those movies. Dancing with the likes of Gene Kelly when she was 19 years old now seems to me like nothing less than some explosive phenomenon of nature. If you had some sort of instrument that could measure her special combination of talent-charm-chutzpah surely the meter would peg and her ability would register off the charts. We had the vinyl LP soundtrack for Unsinkable and my Mom would play it when cleaning house. I can still hear the ebullient Debbie Reynolds belting out “Belly Up to the Bar, Boys” while furniture was polished and rugs were vacuumed. And I still smile at this song and the sheer youthfulness embodied in that voice.
I first saw Star Wars in May of 1977 when I was 14 years old. Up on the big screen that little blockade runner slides past our view just after the now-famous opening title scroll. Somewhere aboard that troubled ship are Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia and two very worried robots. She appears briefly and is very enigmatic in those opening scenes. Yet Ms. Fisher establishes the character’s very determined persona and overall verve by defying the first deadly storm-troopers that she encounters. We are hooked not so much by the dazzling special effects and first shoot-em-up sequences but by a need to know exactly what will happen next to this young woman.
Yet despite being enthralled, like so many others, by Star Wars I would say that my favorite Carrie Fisher role was as the Mystery Woman in The Blues Brothers. Sure, the need to get the band back together to hold a concert that will save the orphanage is the story’s great MacGuffin. But the Mystery Woman very much propels Jake and Elwood along, reminding them that life and fate and the Mission they are on are very tenuous things indeed. The movie’s director timed her appearances perfectly. Like Jake, you almost forget about her until things get slow and she suddenly shows up at the door.
Ms. Fisher had her difficulties. But a gift for communicating through her books and appearances helped many, many people. She changed the map for the better in terms of how society should view people who have mental health disorders. She was also a strong female role model and someone I don’t mind my own daughter looking up to.
I think my favorite memory of Ms. Fisher will be a recent one. She appeared early this month on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. She brought along her dog Gary. The diminutive and one-of-a-kind Gary sat next to her while Colbert conducted the interview. Carrie Fisher was equal parts adorable, mischievous, wise, and over-the-top funny. She gave me the first real and true laugh I had had in some time. The audience seemed to agree and was laughing as hard as I was at home. It takes real talent to lift the spirits of complete strangers who may be far or near.
And that is not a bad way to exit or be remembered.
(Note: The photo above was taken in 1963 by Lawrence Schiller. A story about this photo and Mr. Schiller is at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/movies/debbie-reynolds-carrie-fisher-photo.html)