Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher – from America’s Favorite Couple to the epicenter of Tinsletown’s most scandalous love affair.
Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher Meet
Like many before him, Fisher first saw Reynolds on a film screen. A chance meeting between the two occurred in 1951 when they were both in Korea to entertain wounded soldiers.
Three years later, they were reunited when Fisher paid a visit to the set where Reynolds was shooting the romantic comedy Athena. “He asked me to marry him on our third date,” Reynolds once claimed.
“Then about a month later, he gave me the biggest diamond ring I’d ever seen in the history of the world, something like 11 carats.” They were married on September 26, 1955.
The Couple Who Works Together, Still Has Problems
In the Summer of 1956, Reynolds – pregnant with the couple’s first child, Carrie Frances – and Fisher appeared in the feature film Bundle of Joy, a Technicolor musical about the discovery of an abandoned infant and the resultant screwball antics.
The film wound up bombing at the box office and the resultant blowback severely affected both actors’ career trajectory, which in turn soured their romance. The only respite that seemed available to the couple were their frequent excursions with another celebrity pairing – producer Mike Todd and Elizabeth Taylor.
The former was a great pal of Fisher’s and the latter had been Reynolds’ girlfriend for years. When Todd and Taylor made their relationship legal, Fisher served as best man, and Reynolds – who spent the morning of the wedding washing and styling Taylor’s hair – was maid of honor. The quad’s abiding love for each other was exemplified by the Fishers naming their second child Todd.
The Beginning of the End
March 22, 1958 – the day that precipitated the end of both the Fisher and Todd marriages. In the early hours of that morning, a twin-engine Lockheed Lodestar crashed, killing its four occupants – Bill Verner (pilot), Tom Barclay (co-pilot), screenwriter Art Cohn, and Mike Todd.
The events that followed were succinctly summarized by the couple’s daughter, Carrie Fisher, who humorously explained that her father, “rushed to her [Taylor] side, gradually moving to her front.”
“He went with my blessing,” Reynolds later revealed. “The four of us were so close, I was sure he could comfort her.” She had no idea how much comfort he would end up providing.
Despite her (misplaced) faith in her husband, Reynolds finally grew suspicious of his continued absence and the frequency in which he was spotted in what some gossip mavens were calling romantic clinches with the supposedly grieving widow.
As she explained to Oprah Winfrey in 2011, “I’d heard the rumors and he had gone to New York for some business, but I didn’t know it was monkey business. Anyway I called his room and he wasn’t there, so I called Elizabeth’s room and Eddie took the call. Then I heard Elizabeth saying, ‘who is it darling?’ and I said, ‘would you just roll over and put Elizabeth on the phone?’ so he did, but she wouldn’t take the call.”
Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher Make The Split Official
On December 5, 1958, Reynolds took the first necessary steps to extricate herself from the fractious three-year-old union – she filed a cruelty complaint against Fisher that alleged he had treated her with extreme cruelty and inflicted grievous mental suffering. There is no mention of Taylor, nor is there a reference to an extramarital affair.
Two months later, on February 19, 1959, the divorce decree was handed down. Under the approved property settlement agreement, Reynolds stood poised to claim about $1 million. However, according to the future Oscar nominee, “He [Fisher] never sent any money…”
The years immediately following the divorce were not kind to Eddie Fisher. His eponymous variety series – which had been broadcast on NBC since 1953 – was cancelled, as were endorsement deals and previous performance bookings.
Desperate for cash after a failed comeback tour in 1983, Fisher released an autobiography – Eddie: My Life, My Loves. On the subject of Reynolds, he claimed that he had barely gotten to know her before being bullied into a proposal by the media and studio executives.
Not content with one self-serving tome, Fisher penned another one 16 years later. Been There, Done That was even more scathing, especially in reference to Reynolds, whom Fisher described as, “self-centered, totally driven, insecure, untruthful, phony.”
While the passage of time seemingly embittered Fisher, it softened Reynolds, who was able to gain a new perspective on her marital bust-up, thanks to a friendship-renewing reunion with Taylor.
In an interview with People, she declared, “I felt you can’t make a man leave, you can’t make him do something he doesn’t want to do. He obviously chose to leave, didn’t he? She didn’t lasso him. She was just beautiful Elizabeth Taylor. And he wanted her, and he wanted to be her lover, so he left and he was. He was the selfish one. She just gave him what he wanted.”