James Grant
July 15, 1985 12:00 PM

Since she was only 11 months old at the time, Tricia Leigh Fisher can be excused for not remembering her first meeting with Burt Reynolds. But her mom, the actress-singer Connie Stevens, remembers it well. “After Eddie [Fisher] and I divorced, I dated Burt a couple of times,” says Connie. “On one occasion he picked up Tricia and playfully tossed her in the air. Well, Tricia had never had anything like that done to her before. Instead of gliding up smoothly, she went flying toward the ceiling, screaming in terror. Burt was shocked. He said, ‘This little girl needs a man around the house.’ ”

Fifteen years passed before the two met again, and this time Reynolds sent Tricia on a high of a different kind: She plays his daughter in his current film, Stick. The role was her first professional acting assignment, and she won nothing but plaudits from Reynolds, the picture’s star and director. “She’s a natural actress,” he says. “By that I mean you can’t catch her acting.”

In fact when she first showed up to read for him Reynolds didn’t recognize Tricia after all the years or even know that she was Connie Stevens’ daughter. “It was only after he told me I had the part and was hugging me goodbye that I gave him a note from my mother,” 16-year-old Tricia explains. “It said, ‘Look at my beautiful baby. I did good, huh?’ That’s the first he knew who I was.”

Connie’s cryptic reference and motherly pride is instantly understandable to Hollywood’s denizens. After being married to actor James Stacy, she married Eddie Fisher in 1967, three years after his divorce from Elizabeth Taylor. The Fisher-Stevens marriage produced two daughters, Joely, now 18, and Tricia. But, says Connie bluntly, “No one raised the girls but me. I left Eddie when Tricia was 2 months old, and I’ve been a single parent ever since.

“I don’t blame Eddie,” Connie says in retrospect. “He has a hard time showing affection. At the time of our divorce he was not able to cope with being a parent so I took full responsibility. I’ve always encouraged Tricia and Joely to see their father, and I’ve never tried to turn them against him.”

Above all, Connie wanted a “normal” upbringing for her daughters. She fretted that their first home in Malibu was “a sort of extended ladies club; there were the cook, the maid, the secretary—I mean, there were no men whatsoever living in the house.” Explains Joely: “Mom hasn’t remained celibate,” but adds, “She’s never attempted to find a replacement for our father or another husband for herself.”

Vic Damone was the next-door neighbor on one side and Flip Wilson on the other, but that created another confusion. “Tricia grew up thinking that everybody went on television,” Connie says, “because so many of the grown-ups she saw every day did.”

Though the girls often accompanied Connie on theater and nightclub tours, their protective mother always insisted on a certain perspective. “Had it been up to me,” Tricia admits, “I would have had a career at the age of 4, but Mom would never let me be a child star. Joely and I sang in Mom’s shows, but that was family. Mom insisted on a balance, so I excelled in school and other areas—anything except acting.”

With another year to go at Beverly Hills High, Tricia is into gymnastics, ballet and Jane Fonda workouts and admits to a revolving cast of boyfriends. She enjoys sketching and keeps an easel set up in her bedroom in the family’s 27-room mansion (once the Sonja Henie estate). By now Connie is more or less resigned to the idea that both her daughters will follow her into showbiz (Joely plans to attend Syracuse University as a drama major next fall). Still, almost in unison, the sisters deny that they compete. Following their mother’s wish, half of Tricia’s earnings from her one week’s work in Stick went into Joely’s trust account. “We’re in this together,” Connie decreed. “If one wins, the other wins, too.”

An added dividend from Tricia’s first screen role came when Reynolds all but made her his “honorary daughter.” Along with a huge bouquet he sent on her birthday last December 26 was a card that sent Tricia spinning anew. “Daughter for a week,” it read. “In my heart forever!”

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