Carrie Fisher’s life is a perfect storm of funny. Not many folks are privileged enough to have Bob Dylan show up at one of their cocktail parties wearing a parka and sunglasses. Even fewer are capable of coming up with the perfect zinger for the occasion: “Thank God you wore that, Bob, because sometimes late at night here the sun gets really, really bright, then it snows.” Fisher’s big, beautiful brain is the perfect filter for a life too trippy and surreal for fiction.
I like to think that in every soul-shattering trauma lies an amusing anecdote. Fisher’s life beautifully illustrates my theory: she’s capable of wringing the breeziest of laughs from the most horrifying of experiences. Her delightful new memoir Wishful Drinking delves deep into the seldom-explored lighter side of alcoholism, parental abandonment, drug addiction, manic-depression, and what used to be called “electro-shock therapy” but now is known by the more sensitive term, “frying yer brain up but good to chase away them demons and spooks and brain-bogeymen and whatnot”. Oh, and waking up one morning next to a dead gay Republican. And marrying a gay man. Yes, Fisher has learned to laugh long and hard at unspeakable traumas: madness, death, divorce and most harrowing of all, the dialogue of George Lucas.
Fisher has lived to tell the tale, and what a tale it is. Fisher was born in the white-hot epicenter of fame, the progeny of Singing In The Rain superstar Debbie Reynolds and Jewish crooner Eddie Fisher, who the lady-author lovingly depicts as a neglectful, perpetually pot-addled gold-digger and shameless media whore. Seriously. Fisher accomplishes the formidable feat of crafting thumbnail satirical sketches of George Lucas, ex-husband Paul Simon and her dear old dad that are unsparing yet strangely affectionate. Fisher’s chapter on Star Wars for example, begins,
“Forty-three years ago George Lucas ruined my life. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. And now, seventy-two years later, people are still asking me if I knew Star Wars was going to bee that big of a hit.
Yes, of course I knew. We all knew. The only one who didn’t know was George Lucas. We kept it from him, because we wanted to see what his face looked like when it changed expression—and he fooled us even then. He got Industrial Light and Magic to change his facial expression for him and THX sound to make the noise of a face-changing expression.
Not only was he virtually expressionless in those days, but he hardly talked at all. His only two directions to the three of us in the first film were “faster” and “more intense.”
Incidentally I like to think that if anyone is ever crazy enough to let me direct a movie my only two directions will be, “More gay!” and “Less gay!” What more really needs to be said? In Fisher’s telling, Lucas comes off as a sort of emotionally retarded idiot-savant, an overgrown boy genius utterly devoid of social skills yet blessed with a fierce conviction that there is no underwear in outer space. Hence Princess Leia’s fabled bralessness.
Fisher grew up with a bifurcated perception of Reynolds as both her mom and as a magical creature of show business, a genially insane glamourpuss with only a vague conception of how human beings are supposed to behave. For example Reynolds was so terrified by Fisher’s youthful experimentation with hallucinogens that she had Cary Grant, who famously dabbled with LSD for psychoanalytic reasons, call Fisher, who he had never met, and deliver a stern lecture to her on the dangers of LSD.
Fisher possesses both the kind of surreal experiences no one else has and the ability to distill those peculiar events into the perfect anecdote. In the case of the Grant story, Fisher transforms that bizarre conversation into a free-floating, digressive tangent that touches upon receiving an unexpected, Reynolds-engineered call from Ava Gardner, making a Wizard Of Oz-themed film with Chevy Chase, Eve Arden and a small army little people and her fame-crazed dad strolling up to Grant at Grace Kelly’s funeral and blurting out “something along the lines of, ‘My daughter Carrie is addicted to acid, and I’m very worried about her. Would you mind maybe having a talk with her?” Blam! Cue second concerned phone conversation with Grant about Fisher’s non-existent LSD addiction.
Life has given Fisher an embarrassment of riches to write about as well as a rich treasure trove of embarrassments, most, if not all, inflicted upon her by her well-meaning but extravagantly clueless parents. Despite Fisher’s Hollywood pedigree and strange history as masturbatory fodder for multiple generations of hairy-palmed sci-fi geeks I saw a lot of myself in her. I suspect anyone who has ever wrestled with the black dog will feel the same way.
Wishful Drinking began as a one-woman show. It doesn’t always transcend its roots. It sometimes feels less like a proper book or memoir than a generous collection of kick-ass cocktail party anecdotes. At worst, Fisher’s tendency to reduce the world to an endless procession of one-liners feels glib and cheap and some of her zingers are redolent of quip-happy hacks for hire like Bruce Villanch. It’s neat that Fisher is able to glean such goofy, self-deprecating humor out of her battles with mental illness but there’s something to be said for letting trauma ache and bleed a little.
At one hundred and fifty-six photo-heavy, text-light pages, the punningly/terribly titled Wishful Drinking is over not long after it begins. But its breeziness proves much of its charm. Fisher is terrific company, even if she inevitably leaves us hungry for more.
Next up on Silly Little Show-Biz Book Club: The Sordid Secrets of Eddie Munster