Over a late-night supper at Sardi’s, the Broadway hangout, Eddie Fisher and Lyn Davis, a blond psychotherapist, were enjoying a first date—and a bottle of Dom Perignon. Just as the singer let it drop that one of his four exes, Elizabeth Taylor, loved that brand of bubbly, a buzz spread through the place: Liz had sauntered in with daughter Liza Todd and David Bowie. When she was seated, her eyes connected across the room with Eddie’s. Though the two hadn’t met in nearly 15 years, Fisher sent over a bottle of her favorite champagne. “Shalom,” nodded the woman who in 1959 had converted to Judaism to marry Eddie. “L’chayim [to life],” he responded, raising his glass.
Now, a year later, Fisher, 53, and Davis, 33, are happily toasting their constant togetherness and his autobiography, Eddie: My Life, My Loves (Harper & Row, $14.95). But Taylor hardly is cheering. In his gossipy book, Fisher’s portrait of Liz is at times loving and compassionate but mostly scathing.
As Eddie tells it, Liz first turned to him out of grief after her third husband, Mike Todd, was killed in a 1958 plane crash. At Elizabeth’s insistence, Eddie, who had been Mike’s best friend, would read to her and take her on long drives. “She could never be alone,” he writes. Then, several months after Todd’s death, they rendezvoused at the Plaza in New York. Cary Grant happened to ring up for a date and Taylor refused. “My male ego soared,” remembers Eddie.
It was to be battered, however, in their five and a half years together. Fisher depicts Taylor as temperamental, childish and addicted to painkillers and booze. “At times I thought she would die from them,” he says. In fact, one day in 1961, when a fed-up Eddie threatened to split, Liz snapped: “You’re leaving in the morning? Well, I’m leaving now.” She thereupon chugged from bottles of Seconal and Miltown, powerful sedatives, and collapsed. Eddie got a doctor to revive his wife—then paid him to keep the episode quiet. “When I married Elizabeth,” he contends, “I changed professions from entertainer to male nurse.”
At one point Fisher even volunteered to inject the painkiller Demerol into his wife’s buttocks. “I stopped when I realized I was doing harm,” he explains. Another time, when Elizabeth came down with double pneumonia, Eddie rushed her to a Manhattan hospital by ambulance. Seemingly out cold, she suddenly sat up as the car approached the emergency entrance. Pulling out a compact, Taylor ordered Fisher, “Get me my lip gloss.”
Looking back, Eddie says it was easy for him to rationalize Taylor’s excesses. “She was a young woman who had had tremendous experience with men,” he reflects. “She didn’t look ahead too far, the moment was all that mattered.” Besides, Eddie says, “Elizabeth told me I was her greatest lover.” Their lovemaking, he recalls, often followed physical combat. “She always wanted to hit me. I’d have to get her out of these moods, so I’d hold her down so long it got to be a joke.”
Then in 1961 came the making of Cleopatra, when Eddie, Liz and a little-known Welsh stage actor named Richard Burton were thrown together in Rome. At first Liz and Eddie privately joshed about Burton’s frayed shirts, dirty fingernails and drunken buffoonery. Burton, in turn, is said to have called Taylor a “no-talent Hollywood nothing.” But soon Taylor came to admire Burton’s love of parties and people and to consider Eddie her “jailer.” With Burton as a new idol, Liz boozed it up on the set, swigging brandy from a Coke bottle handed to her by her makeup lady.
To Burton, according to Eddie, Taylor was a ticket to stardom. “I thought she would see right through it,” Fisher says. Instead, Taylor was increasingly captivated by Burton’s feistiness. “She must have thrived on abuse,” shrugs Eddie. One day during the Cleopatra filming, Burton demanded of Taylor in Fisher’s presence: “Whom do you love?” “You,” she answered. “That’s the right answer, but it wasn’t quick enough,” grumbled Richard.
Eventually Eddie decided to bail out of what had become a threesome: “My mamma told me you don’t do that.” Of Burton he says, “I was told I should fight him, that if you blew on him, he would fall over, but I’m not a fighter. So I left.” Back in the U.S., the former bobby-soxer’s dream spent most of the later ’60s romancing a wide variety of women; he lists among them Jackie Kennedy’s press secretary, Pamela Turnure, Judith Campbell Exner, Ann-Margret, Mia Farrow, Juliet Prowse, Merle Oberon and Judy Garland. “After Elizabeth, I thought marriage was suicide,” he says. But Fisher had also felt bitter after his 1959 bust-up with Debbie Reynolds, and he rallied to try two more times—with actress Connie Stevens in 1968 and Louisiana beauty queen Terry Richard in 1975.
Along the way, the onetime Philadelphia slum kid doled out cash, cars and baubles. “I could afford to be foolishly generous. It made me feel important,” he explains. “And I thought that as long as I had this frog in my throat, there would always be enough money.” But that ran out in 1970, when he declared bankruptcy under the combined pressures of a waning career and 20 years of methamphetamine (speed) and, later, cocaine.
In 1973 Fisher managed to kick drugs. “I see myself as a lucky guy. Lucky to have survived,” he says. Today he would make the Oh Mein Papa of his famous 1953 song proud. A devoted dad to his children (Carrie, 25, and Todd, 23, by Reynolds and Joely, 14, and Trisha, 12, by Stevens), he is seemingly domesticated. He and Davis, the daughter of a Sacramento adman, are now fixing up their small flat on Manhattan’s West Side. Lyn, who worked as a private psychotherapist in California and is writing her Ph.D. thesis (on “the nature of cynicism”), has temporarily put all aside for Eddie. “She’s the most complete woman I’ve ever met,” he says.
Fisher hopes to do more concert appearances (his going rate: $10,000 to $15,000) and put out his first album since 1969. He is also battling down the early criticism of his book. “I got flak about kissing and telling, that a gentleman doesn’t do that,” he says of his four-year writing effort, done with collaborator Burton Beals. But his $135,000 advance—and, later, Lyn’s encouragement—helped keep him going. Near the end, Fisher was even loose enough to toss around flip titles like Star Wars and I Overcame. (Ex-wife Connie Stevens sweetly suggested Ball Breakers I Have Known.)
Is there a message in the memoirs? Yes, nods Fisher. “I used to be the boy next door. Then somewhere along the way my image changed. I want people to know I’m not such a bad guy after all.”