Monday, September 27, 2010

The Fisher King

This isn't an obituary for Eddie Fisher, who died last week at the age of 82. Not even an appreciation. I mean, I liked his voice. A little schmaltzy, but pleasant. "Oh, My Papa" got to me. That plaintive tenor."Wish You Were Here": nice. He was a nice Jewish boy who sounded Italian. He could have been called Tony Fisher.

All the other obits go right to his marriages, of course. Debbie Reynolds...Elizabeth Taylor... and later, since he couldn't go back to Debbie, Connie Stevens. And that is how he's mainly remembered. That, and maybe as Carrie Fisher's dad.

But when you hear about the death of someone famous, you have your own flash reaction. There's this little "Oh!" from the news, kind of an ouch, like a stone hitting the water, and then the spreading ripples of your associations. And for me, with Eddie Fisher (young, earnest, curly-haired, always on the radio), those ripples encompass pretty much the whole black-and-white fifties of my childhood.

In fact, there was one glossy black-and-white photo in particular. When my dad was director of public relations for the New York Heart Association, he often enlisted the help of celebrities for promotional things, and one was having a well-loved, high-profile couple serve as the "King and Queen of Hearts," coinciding with the Valentine's Day fund-raising campaign. Who could it have been but Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, America's sweethearts in 1955 or 1956, whenever it was? Before Liz Taylor, anyway. And I remember the big glossy of the two of them, smiling radiantly, their majesty both conferred by and reflecting back on my father, their prime minister.

Of course there was that other, more complicated, grown-up, side to the fifties that Eddie Fisher was part of. The seductive Elizabeth Taylor side. The Peyton Place side. Coinciding with my dawning awareness of divorce and sex. Nowadays, Eddie Fisher's indiscretions would be part of a very big company. Carrie Fisher calls Eddie, Debbie, and Liz the Brad, Jen, and Angelina of their day. But they were the pioneers. When Eddie left Debbie for Liz, some kind of Code of Innocence was broken for young Cub Scouts like me. Of course it was a fictional code to begin with—even my dad had been married once before. This was different, though. This was the King and Queen of Hearts.

But, hey. You can't choose your Eddie Fisher. Well, actually you can, as long as it's understood that you're being selective. So, farewell, Eddie Fisher, all of you, but especially the one of my cozy, innocent childhood. The guy on the radio, in the glossy. Wish you were here.

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