Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Carrie Fisher: Where's Her Star?

"Instant gratification takes too long." ~Meryl Streep as actress Suzanne Vale in Postcards From The Edge.
 This 1990 comedy is one of my favorite Hollywood-on-Hollywood films with one of my favorite Meryl Streep performances.  She's the middle-aged actress fresh out of detox who's still treated like a child by her aging former queen-of-movie musicals mother.  Not since Lana Turner's Georgia Lorrison in Vincente Minnelli's 1952 classic, The Bad and the Beautiful, has Hollywood offspring displayed such fabulous female co-dependent behavior. Mike Nichols directed Streep to another Best Actress Oscar nomination.  The screenplay was written by another actress -- Carrie Fisher.  Carrie picked me up once in New York City.  Literally.  She was one of my wonderful guests when I just started hosting talk shows on VH1 in the late 1980s.  I was slimmer then.  Carrie, after we'd finished our taping, claimed she could pick me up.  Before I could finish saying, "No way!," she'd already done it.  I was off the ground for a second or two, lifted by Princess Leia, and someone snapped a Polaroid of that moment.  I still have the Polaroid.  The interview, by the way, was terrific.  Carrie was promoting her first novel, Postcards from the Edge.  That book truly did make me laugh out loud.  I felt like I had known Suzanne Vale for years.  She was like a former high school classmate to me.  Yes, I'm a hardcore Carrie Fisher fan.  Occasionally, back then in the late 80s and early 90s, I felt like I needed therapy.  But I couldn't afford it.  So I read Carrie Fisher novels instead.  I didn't always discover a solution to my problems but they sure made my problems seem funny when I recognized similar quirks in her characters.  Her writing rings true.  One of my other favorite guests on VH1 was Carrie's famous mother, Debbie Reynolds.  She was a top MGM movie star by the time half the guys on my floor crew were born.  They loved her.  Debbie came on and killed.  She talked about her book, MGM, Madonna and her lack or orgasms during her first Hollywood marriage.  She was too damn funny.  And motherly.
Debbie strode onto our VH1 set, heading towards me with a million dollar smile and sweetly noted, "Darling, you're going to need a junior."  As she entered, she'd scoped the entire set and, with human computer-like accuracy, spotted exactly what lighting adjustments needed to be made.  Politely, but definitely, she told the young crew members how to make the lighting on me better before we started rolling.  She'd spent decades toiling on Hollywood soundstages.  She knew her light.  They did what she requested.  I never looked better thanks to Debbie Reynolds.  I taped another interview for my half-hour show after we wrapped with Debbie.  Debbie didn't leave the studio.  She stuck around and watched me tape my next interview.  The next one was with a young actress who'd starred  in three big Oscar-winning hit movies of the 1980s.  But she wasn't a very fun guest.  She seemed phony.  The crew didn't like her.  Debbie didn't like her.  However, Debbie stood a distance behind her during the interview, out of camera range, and motioned for me to cheat my head out a certain way to keep the light good on my face.  I thought of that very moment when I saw Shirley MacLaine as Suzanne's movie star mom motion for Suzanne to remove her denim jacket while singing at the "Welcome Home from Rehab" party mom had tossed for her.
 When I interviewed Carrie, plans were underway to film her book.  Mike Nichols wanted actress Lee Remick for the role of the unsinkable Doris Mann.  Carrie confirmed that her mother, Debbie, was campaigning to do the role.  It went to Shirley MacLaine.  When I interviewed Shirley on my VH1 show, she confirmed that she was slated to star in The Unsinkable Molly Brown for MGM but Debbie got the role -- and an Oscar nomination -- for that lavish musical.  Shirley playfully added that it was karma.  Why am I blogging all this?  On Wednesday, Feb. 22nd, Jennifer Aniston gets a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Carrie doesn't have one.  Come on!  Rachel from Friends gets a star but Princess Leia from Star Wars doesn't?  How can that be?  OK, I know those stars can be purchased.  Carrie deserves a purchase.  First of all, remember the colossal international box office and pop culture impact the original Stars Wars trilogy made?  Phenomenal!  Carrie's Princess Leia became an iconic movie character.  With an iconic movie hairdo to match.
Decades later, that hairdo is still instantly recognizable.
That Star Wars hairdo made its debut in the 1970s.  Rachel's 'do on Friends came along in the 1990s.  And what are the names of Aniston's three international box office blockbusters with action figure marketing tie-ins?  I forget.  If you want to experience how seriously talented and creative Carrie Fisher is, read the book Postcards from the Edge and then see the movie.  She pretty much wrote a whole new product.  Suzanne's mother is not a prominent character in the novel.  Doris is only on about ten pages or less of the book.  The movie version expands the mother/daughter story.  Not long after my Debbie Reynolds interview, I had to do some VH1 taping in L.A.  While there, I was invited to have dinner with the co-writer of Debbie's new book and his partner, an executive with our L.A. corporate offices.  They'd recently read the first draft of Carrie's screenplay, which she titled Hollywood & Vine because it was quite different from Postcards from the Edge.  The characters were the same from her book but her screenplay adaptation varied in story and tone.  Nichols wisely had her retain the book's title.  The writing partner said, "There's a staircase scene that's not in the book."  They both raved about how good that scene was on paper.  Carrie based it on a real argument she'd once had with her mother.  That staircase scene became of the best and most quotable scenes in the movie.  It's the storm before the calm.  Two women, two actresses with their addictions at the ready, are having it out.  Suzanne conceals pills.  Doris, the over-protective mother and Hollywood warhorse, grips a breakfast shake laced with vodka.  She bellows "It twirled up!" when contradicting the story about her dress at Suzanne's teen birthday party. What an excellent scene, brilliantly played by MacLaine and Streep.
This may not be grand drama like Sophie's Choice or Out of Africa but Carrie Fisher gave Streep a great "kitchen sink" character to inhabit.  Suzanne's a non-big star, working class actress in L.A.  Streep got that Southern California thing just right.  Vocally, physically, attitude-wise.  And I felt like I understood the spine of the character.  There's a scene where she's dangling from a fake ledge trying to make sense out of emotional chaos while working in a business of make-believe.  I totally understood how she felt.  Fisher provided Streep with one of those roles that utilized and revealed her comedy skills.
Meryl Streep was nominated for Best Actress.  Shirley MacLaine should've been nominated for Best Supporting Actress.  Carrie Fisher should've been nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.  She wrote some marvelous scenes.  That fake ledge dangling movie-within-a-movie- sequence, the staircase mother/daughter showdown and the voicover looping scene.  Suzanne, in recovery, reunites with the director whose movie she was making when she overdosed.  Gene Hackman played the no-nonsense director.  He sees the specialness in Suzanne that she rarely sees in herself.  When she wistfully comments, "...I don't want life to imitate art.  I want life to be art," it always puts a few tears in my eyes.  Beautiful scene. So poignant.  Carrie Fisher is a wonderful writer.  Memorable dialogue.  Memorable characters.  A wickedly funny and touching story showing us the family ties that bind in Hollywood.  Carrie Fisher's first screenplay was a winner.
Here's some trivia for you:  Meryl Streep had a scene in Postcards from the Edge with a popular TV game show host.  He had a talk show at the time and, in one scene, Suzanne was a guest on that talk show.  Do you know who it is?  Pat Sajak.  During his CBS late night stint,  he got to act opposite La Streep.  Unfortunately, the scene wound up on the cutting room floor.
Debbie Reynolds got the part Shirley MacLaine wanted in The Unsinkable Molly Brown.  Shirley MacLaine got the part Debbie Reynolds wanted in Postcards from the Edge.  Debbie and Shirley were scheduled to interview each other one morning on the Today show but they got bumped due to breaking news of the Northridge California earthquake of 1994.  I brought that up to Shirley in a future interview. She replied same as before, "Ha!  Karma!"

As for Debbie's daughter -- performances in the original Star Wars trilogy, Hannah and Her Sisters, When Harry Met Sally and Shampoo...her under-appreciated screenplay  for Postcards from the Edge based on her novel of the same name...and surviving life as the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and singing star Eddie Fisher.  If Jennifer Aniston rates a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, then certainly Carrie Fisher does too.  She's Hollywood royalty.

Oh.  One more thing about Debbie from my 1988 talk show interview:  I asked her what MGM would've done with Madonna had she been a pop star in Debbie's heyday and placed under studio contract.  Her immediate response was that MGM professionals would've assigned Madonna a vocal coach to improve her singing and someone to teach her how to lower her speaking voice.  In TV interviews promoting her performance as Evita in 1996, I heard Madonna say that she worked with a vocal coach to improve her singing for that film role and she also lowered her speaking voice.  And there you have it.  Help us, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Help us get Carrie Fisher a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  May the Force be with you.

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