My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie
Did you grow up having stars in your eyes? Hollywood stars more precisely? The glitz and the glam of the Beverly Hills lifestyles of the rich and famous portrayed in teen magazines got many hooked on learning about the biggest celebrities of the day.
Well, imagine actually living this lifestyle. Todd Fisher, in his memoir My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie reveals an authentic, no holds barred account of growing up the son of a power couple and the brother of a talented but tragic superstar.
His rich descriptions of his mother Debbie Reynolds’ opulent homes in Beverly Hills would lead one to envy. But sometimes there are stories behind the scenes that evoke the sadness of his family’s real world.
Debbie Reynolds, mega star who got her start in Singin’ in the Rain, with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, delighted fans for many years. In the fifties she married teen heartthrob Eddie Fisher and first had daughter Carrie Fisher in 1956, followed a mere 16 months later by son Todd in early 1958.
Todd reveals that by the time he was conceived, his parents’ marriage was already deteriorating. Debbie had to beg Eddie for a second child. Soon after Todd was born, one of the biggest scandals for fifties’ tabloids was when Eddie Fisher left Debbie Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor, one of Debbie’s best friends.
Todd traces the course of his mother’s colorful celebrity life—following almost every movie she made—which nurtured Todd’s fascination with behind the scenes action and ultimately led to his illustrious career as a cinematographer.
We learn of his obsessions with state of the art movie equipment and cameras from an early age, yet his mom made him sing for his supper by making him earn his much coveted professional gear. Not your typical spoiled Hollywood brat.
We are with him throughout Debbie’s three marriages, all of which ended in deceit and devastation. Starting with the demise of his biological parents’ marriage as referenced above, Debbie soon married Harry Karl, whom Todd found quirky (read: hiring “manicurists” to “visit” their home while Debbie was away on movie sets; and Todd actually videotaped Harry in the act with some early movie equipment). But Todd admitted to genuinely loving him.
Providing another tabloid scandal, Debbie divorced Harry Karl for misappropriating her funds, and after a lonely, vulnerable time, she married Richard Hamlett, who turned out to be yet another conniver for her fortunes.
And then there was Carrie. Carrie Fisher, who was also known as the celebrated Princess Leia of the Star Wars franchise, was a talented writer, actor, and singer in her own right. But as we know now, she suffered from bipolar disorder and addiction.
Despite everything, loyal Todd was always there for both of “My Girls.” He rescued Carrie from overdoses, watched as she did all sorts of drugs because he just accepted it. One sensed the futility and pervasive gloom he felt throughout his life at his inability to do more than be a patient little brother to her.
But through the sorrow, Todd seemed to still find the best qualities in people.
Todd liked older women. Todd’s first marriage at a relatively early age to Donna Freberg ended in divorce when he found her with one of his close friends. Sounds like a soap opera? You bet. He then dated actress and model, Rene Russo.
His second, longer-term marriage ended in tragedy when Christi Zabel, former wife of singer Johnny Rivers, succumbed to cancer after they were together almost 20 years. Todd often alluded to her alcoholism but that she was a brilliant Mensa member and talented artist to the very end of her life.
His 2012 marriage to Catherine Hickland finally came at just the right time in Todd’s life—when Carrie had to convince him it was time to start dating again. Todd was so busy trying to keep Debbie’s dream alive of desperately holding on to her vast acquisitions of MGM old screen costumes and memorabilia that it became a full-time obsession; and with that he had remained celibate for a few years. How un-Hollywood-like was that?
Yet this marriage to “Cat” now seems to be healthy, stable, and successful. With all Todd has had to deal with throughout his life—the ups and downs of his mother’s ill-advised business dealings and marriages, and his sister’s highly publicized trials and tribulations—we are left rooting for the kind and gentle, often enabler, that is Todd Fisher.
A pet alligator growing up? No problem. Nannies, Beverly Hills mansions, robberies, routine betrayal, hanging with the biggest names from the Jaggers, Mama Cass Elliot (the night before she died), Paul Simon (Carrie’s first husband,) to Warren Beatty and Agnes Moorehead among many others was commonplace. What mere mortals would deem a roller coaster life was reality for Todd Fisher.
Throughout, we sense Todd’s deep love for his girls and his complete lack of love for his biological father. At the very end, when Eddie Fisher passed away in 2010, Carrie took care of him and willed herself to be loved by him, whereas deeply Christian yet ambivalent Todd commented about honoring thy father and mother, but “I guess in the end, I’m fine leaving it as a simple ‘Thanks, Eddie.’”
No detail is missed in this memoir. We learn of his mom’s numerous health challenges towards the end of her life, but how she kept rebounding because she never believed in the words, “I can’t.”
A charmed life? One would think. But with My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie, you get the reality of growing up in Hollywood, Las Vegas, and New York—with side trips all around the world—opulent yet down and dirty, gritty and beautifully written. Can we give a memoir more than five stars? If so, this one has earned every one of those stars.