Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher: A History of Their Mother-Daughter Collaborations
Though they belonged to different generations, Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds shared the screen — both big and small — and the stage on several occasions
Only a day after iconic actress and writer Carried Fisher died at age 60 after suffering a heart attack, her equally famous mother, Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds, died at age 84, reportedly due to a possible stroke.
Calling Debbie Reynolds’ and Carrie Fisher’s relationship “complicated” is likely an understatement. They had a fraught relationship that many Fisher used as inspiration for in some of her most famous writings, including semi-autobiographical book and subsequent film Postcards from the Edge and her 2008 memoir Wishful Drinking. The pair shared the screen, stage and page on a variety of occasions. Let’s take a look.
Fisher made her television debut as a 13-year-old in Debbie Reynolds and the Sound of Children. Fisher played a Girl Scout, which was fitting, given her mother’s well-documented love of the organization. The program — footage of which is scarce to non-existent — was based on the old “Monday’s child…” rhyme and featured Reynolds and children singing songs along those lines.
Reynolds and Fisher made their Broadway debut in the same production, 1973’s revival of Irene. Fisher was 16 and played “Debutante;” the show’s run was widely lauded and ran for nearly 600 performances. Reynolds was nominated for her only Tony Award for her role as Irene O’Dare, though she lost to Glynis Johns for A Little Night Music. (The show earned four Tony nominations in all.)
Fisher adapted her 1987 novel Postcards from the Edge into a film of the same name in 1990. Despite the obvious parallels between her relationship with Reynolds and that of the film’s central characters, both Fisher and director Mike Nichols brushed off the idea that it was drawn directly from their relationship.
“I wrote about a mother actress and a daughter actress,” she told Entertainment Weekly in 1990. “I’m not shocked that people think it’s about me and my mother. It’s easier for them to think I have no imagination for language, just a tape recorder with endless batteries.”
Fisher then reunited Reynolds with her old pal—and onetime frenemy—Elizabeth Taylor in These Old Broads, a 2001 television movie that aired on ABC. (Reynolds’ first husband (and Carrie’s dad) Eddie Fisher infamously left his family to marry Taylor in 1959.) Fisher wrote the film’s teleplay, and as Shirley MacLaine recalled to the Los Angeles Times, “It was a very serious thing for them — here’s the daughter of one, who’s the stepdaughter of the other. The three of them met and decided what they would and wouldn’t say. It was really quite Hollywoodishly historical.” The film notably included moments where Reynolds and Taylor banter about a “Freddie Hunter” who their characters fought over some years before.
Fisher and Reynolds then turned their relationship into an actual movie with this year’s Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, from documentary veterans Fisher Stevens and Alexis Bloom.
“Carrie wanted to make Bright Lights for Debbie and Debbie wanted to make it for Carrie,” HBO Documentary Films president Sheila Nevins told Variety Wednesday.
Much of the film’s footage was shot in 2015, and HBO is weighing the pair’s death this week in its consideration of the documentary’s air date.
“If this was a Hollywood script, no one would believe it,” Nevins continued. “They just loved each other so much. The bond was just unbreakable.”