When Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher Clashed Over ‘Star Wars’ and More Memories of the Iconic Duo
Hollywood’s most iconic mother-daughter duo passed this week, leaving a treasure trove of hilarious, heartwarming, and inspiring anecdotes behind.
It’s hard enough to say goodbye to two film legends in as many days. It’s even harder when the two women—Hollywood icon Debbie Reynolds and the beloved Carrie Fisher—were also a stunning mother-daughter duo. Any thorough homage to Reynolds should start at her lengthy resume, which includes musicals like Singin’ in the Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which earned her an Oscar nomination. As a career entertainer, Reynolds has racked up an impressive range of accomplishments, from a No. 1 single called “Tammy” to starring in her own NBC sitcom. Of course, to the fans who love her, Reynolds was more than a long list of performances and accolades. She stood for old school Hollywood glamour, maintaining an air of grace and professionalism even through three highly publicized divorces. In January 2015, Reynolds received the SAG Awards’ Life Achievement Award, telling the audience, “In [Molly Brown] I got to sing a wonderful song called, ‘I Ain’t Down Yet.’…Well, I ain’t.”
Like her mother, Carrie Fisher has lived many lives, from her star turn as Princess Leia to her career as a writer and memoirist. While Fisher will always be associated with her breakout role, she will also be remembered for her work as a mental health advocate; after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Fisher became one of the few celebrities to openly and honestly discuss her mental health. From fellow sufferers to feminists to Star Wars fans, it’s impossible to articulate just how many people Carrie Fisher meant the world to. And while we may still be in mourning, there are a million memories to celebrate—anecdotes about Fisher and Reynolds that have been flooding our newsfeed and timelines, reminding us of what we’ve gained and who we’ve lost.
That incredible picture
Upon learning that Reynolds had passed, joining her recently deceased daughter, fans flooded social media with images and homages to the beloved duo. One picture has been particularly popular—a black and white 1963 shot of a young Carrie Fisher watching her mother perform onstage. The photographer, Lawrence Schiller, remembered capturing the 6-year-old Fisher as she waited in the wings of Las Vegas’ Riviera Hotel. “I remember she just sat there for the whole performance. It wasn’t like she was there for two minutes then ran away or started to cry,” Schiller said. “She was just mesmerized by her mother.” Apparently, a stool was brought out especially for Fisher, to give her a better view. “She didn’t have to be shepherded around,” recalled Schiller. “Every place her mother walked, she would walk after her.” They were “inseparable,” he said.
When Debbie Reynolds unapologetically made bank
Reynolds, who amassed a huge collection of movie memorabilia during her career, began auctioning it off in June 2011. Items included the white dress Marilyn Monroe wore over a subway grate in 1955’s The Seven Year Itch (for $4.6 million); a pair of Judy Garland’s red slippers from The Wizard of Oz (1939); a Harpo Marx hat and wig; and costumes from Ben-Hur (1959) and Mutiny on the Bounty (1962). In May 2014, she auctioned off even more items, like a hat that Vivien Leigh donned in Gone With the Wind (1939) and Gregory Peck’s military jacket from MacArthur (1977). She explained, “I still have a lot of my things, but I decided to become rich.”
This note from Carrie Fisher’s former assistant, Byron Lane
“Her nicknames for me were Byronius and Cock Ring. She once got a text alert from weather.com saying the northern lights were gonna be big... so that night I had to book flights and the next day we were there. When [her therapy dog] Gary had to pee on a plane she took him and a wee-wee pad into the lavatory and how they worked it out is one of life's great mysteries. Most of my time with her involved me staring at her, wide-eyed and in blissful shock that one person could live a life so fully. We rode dog sleds in Canada, swam hot springs in Japan, pet koalas in Australia. That's how she lived. Extraordinary. Brilliant. Hilarious. And generous! Not every assistant job is like that. I was with her for nearly 3 years. Every moment is a treasure, inspiration…she was exactly the same in private as in public. Authentic. Honest. Real. A champion for mental health, veterans, feminism. She did anything for her family, loved her friends, embodied aliveness.”
When Carrie Fisher roasted George Lucas
In 2005, Star Wars creator George Lucas won a Life Achievement Award from The American Film Institute. More importantly, Carrie Fisher totally dragged him. “Hi, I’m Mrs. Han Solo and I’m an alcoholic,” Fisher began. “I’m an alcoholic because George Lucas ruined my life.” She went on to call Lucas a sadist, adding that, “like any abused child wearing a metal bikini, chained to a giant slug about to die, I keep coming back for more.” She continued to praise the filmmaker, while calling out the Hollywood-style sexism that pervades his work. She singled out “Queen Amadillo, or whatever her name is” in the prequel series, who changed hairstyles and outfits “practically every time she walks through a door.”
“I bet she even got to wear a bra, even though you told me I couldn’t, because there was no underwear in space!” Fisher shouted, referencing the much-shared anecdote from her autobiography Wishful Drinking. “I’m only slightly bitter because you, my formerly silent friend, are an extraordinary talent, and let’s face it, an artist,” she concluded, “the like of which is seen perhaps once in a generation. Who helps define that generation, and who deserves every award I now spend the latter half of my Leia-laden life helping to hurl your way.”
…and that time she called Donald Trump a cokehead
When Fisher spoke up about industry double standards
In addition to her transparency about mental health issues, Carrie Fisher has always been a vocal feminist, standing up for women in an overwhelmingly ageist and sexist industry. Her various public shamings are too numerous to include here, but a recent one sticks out. In 2015, Fisher gave an interview explaining that she was pressured to lose over 35 pounds to reprise her iconic role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. “They don’t want to hire all of me – only about three-quarters!” Fisher told Good Housekeeping. “Nothing changes, it’s an appearance-driven thing. I’m in a business where the only thing that matters is weight and appearance. That is so messed up. They might as well say get younger, because that’s how easy it is.” Apparently, her weight was monitored by Lucasfilm for a year before shooting the film, during which she defiantly stuck to her diet of cigarettes and Coca-Cola, despite her trainer pouring her soda supply down the drain. “When I do lose the weight, I don’t like that it makes me feel good about myself. It’s not who I am,” she added. “My problem is they talk to me like an actress, but I hear them like a writer…We treat beauty like an accomplishment and that is insane.”
Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor's touching reconciliation
When Debbie Reynolds’ first husband—Carrie’s father—left her for her best friend Elizabeth Taylor, the split was anything but amicable. Still, Reynolds somehow managed to find the humor in it. In a 2011 Oprah Winfrey interview, Reynolds, accompanied by her daughter, mined the dramatic affair for a quick quip. She recalled attempting to get in touch with her philandering husband from Los Angeles. When she got no answer at his New York hotel room, she rang up Taylor’s room, and he picked up the phone. Reynolds could hear Taylor in the background, asking who was on the line, and said to her husband—with implied exasperation—“Would you just roll over and put Elizabeth on the phone?”
While Taylor and Reynolds fell out over the affair, they astonishingly managed to reconcile a few years later—on a cruise ship. As Reynolds told The Daily Beast editor Tim Teeman in 2011,“Elizabeth said, ‘I made a foolish mistake and I’m very sorry if I hurt you in any way.’ I said, ‘Well, you did, but it’s past now and we’re going to go on,’ which we were adult enough to do. You have to let go of painful situations and I always liked Elizabeth.” She continued, “[Taylor] made an error. It wasn’t really her fault. Eddie wanted to leave. I didn’t chase him out. I was absolutely heartbroken. This was the father of my two children, my first marriage, my first love. But I had to accept it and I did after a couple of years.” In 2001, Reynolds and Taylor starred in a sendup of their love triangle—These Old Broads, written by Carrie Fisher.
When Debbie Reynolds insisted that her daughter fly first class for Star Wars
During pre-production for the first Star Wars film, Reynolds reportedly clashed with George Lucas over his frugal tendencies. The budget for A New Hope was so tight that Lucas opted to fly his cast and crew from the U.S. to the U.K. in economy, not first class. When Reynolds heard about her daughter’s less-than-star treatment, the protective mom promptly picked up the phone and called Lucas to complain on Fisher’s behalf. Unfortunately, her daughter happened to be nearby Lucas at the time, and managed to intercept the call, saying, “Mother, I want to fly coach, will you fuck off?!” before hanging up.
Debbie Reynolds’ astounding professionalism in the face of pain
In 1997, Reynolds appeared on the sitcom Roseanne as Dan’s mother, who was recently released from a psychiatric institution. At one point in the episode, which was written by Carrie Fisher, Reynolds’ character is digging a hole in the backyard to bury her son in when she and Roseanne get into a wrestling match. Years later, when Reynolds was a guest on Roseanne’s talk show, she revealed that Roseanne broke one of Reynolds’ ribs during the fight—Reynolds now calls it her “Roseanne rib.” When Roseanne expressed her disbelief, exclaiming, “You didn’t sue me or anything!” Reynolds replied, “If it was anybody, I’m glad it was you.”
When Fred Astaire was Debbie Reynolds’ tutor
Reynolds’ starred in the legendary musical Singin’ In The Rain at the remarkable age of 19. Alongside pros like Gene Kelly, a teenaged Reynolds struggled to keep up with the demanding pace. According to old stories, she used to crawl under the piano to cry when things got tough. One day a pair of legs walked past, and inquired after the girl hiding beneath the instrument. The legs belonged to Fred Astaire, who proceeded to break his established rules by letting Reynolds watch him rehearse. Apparently, he wanted to show her that even a legend like himself occasionally struggles to nail a routine. He then sent her back to the set to grapple with her own demanding choreography.
When Carrie Fisher revealed that she and Harrison Ford were doing it
Earlier this year, Fisher rocked the internet with a confession about her and Harrison Ford’s time on the original Star Wars set. According to her last memoir, The Princess Diarist, the young actress had a three-month affair with her married co-star, who was also 15 years her senior. While Fisher kept her revelations fairly PG, she shared some memories from the “Carrison” era, claiming that Ford’s quiet, manly-man persona often drove her over the edge. Still, she deemed him “my Achilles heart”—the kind of guy who could “take the hill, win the duel, be leader of the gluten-free world, all without breaking a sweat.” “It was so intense," Fisher later told People of the secret fling. “It was Han and Leia during the week, and Carrie and Harrison during the weekend.”
Everything Debbie Reynolds has ever said about her exes
In an Oprah interview, Reynolds made a gesture implying that her first husband was not well endowed. She corroborated that little fact to The Daily Beast, adding, “Yes, and besides that his brain wasn’t that big either…Carrie says he turned out to be the nicest of my husbands. But he didn’t support the children. He didn’t call them or send Christmas or birthday presents, or cared about their education or their lives. Why should I respect that? I married very poorly. If I knew why, I would go back and redo it all.”
Her second husband [Harry Karl, married 1960-73] was “a very sweet man but didn’t have any sense about money,” she said. “He was a gamble-oholic, so he lost all of his money, which was millions and millions, and all my money which was millions. My third husband [Richard Hamlett, married 1984-96] was a tragedy.” Reynolds said she had financially supported Hamlett in opening a small hotel and casino, which was a massive failure. “I’m waiting to read that somebody runs him off a cliff somewhere.”
This 2011 Debbie Reynolds quote
“My lowest point in Carrie’s and my relationship was when we discovered that she was ill, that she had this mental health problem and that it was going to be with her forever. That was very hard. How was she going to get along in life? How could I help her life? All I could do was love her, and always shall.”