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Q & A : Hollywood Times Three : Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher discuss Hollywood families, not-so-fictional novels--and baby Billie's there to chaperone

April 24, 1994|HILARY de VRIES | Hilary de Vries is a frequent contributor to Calendar

"Is something burning?"

From the moment Debbie Reynolds pads into her daughter's cathedral-sized living room, carrying a large kitchen knife and sniffing the air, you know you've entered the house of mirth a la Carrie Fisher. Of course, there are plenty of clues outdoors: the Santa and reindeer on the lawn, two plastic beef carcasses leaning against the fence and all those signs--No Vacancy, Lover's Lane, That Very Evening--not to mention Fisher herself, scampering down the path, barefoot, in wet hair and a floor-length panne velvet dress. The house is famous--Edith Head and Bette Davis each called this rambling, Spanish-style ranch house home before Fisher bought it last year--but now it is the distinct province of the 37-year-old writer and sometime actress who is Hollywood's de facto Dorothy Parker.

Fisher comes from Hollywood royalty--Reynolds and Eddie Fisher--but she has made her own mark in town as a script doctor and novelist. Steven Spielberg hired her to buff Tinkerbell's lines in "Hook." Whoopi Goldberg brought her on board to polish "Sister Act." Fisher's first two books, "Postcards From the Edge" and "Surrender the Pink," were best-selling chronicles of her life, her recovery from drug abuse and the breakup of her marriage to singer Paul Simon. Meryl Streep, Fisher's close friend, starred in the 1990 film of "Postcards" and Demi Moore is expected to star in "Surrender the Pink," when Fisher completes a rewrite of the script.

At the moment, Fisher is basking in the generally positive reviews for her autobiographical novel "Delusions of Grandma," which charts the birth of her first child, Billie, and the breakup of her relationship with CAA agent Bryan Lourd. She is just days from leaving for Europe, more publicity for the book, and then a week visiting Gore Vidal on Italy's Amalfi Coast. "I know the book jacket says I divide my time between Los Angeles and Florence," she says in her famously throaty voice, "but I just made that up because it sounded so great."

Fisher's household resembles nothing so much as a hotel, filled as it is with animals (including a parrot), staff, family and friends. A three-way interview with her mother and daughter about their lives in Hollywood becomes a rambling, disjointed conversation that has as many exits and entrances as a bedroom farce. A carefully orchestrated photo shoot in the back yard--Fisher, Reynolds and squirming 20-month-old Billie in a hammock--becomes its own occasion for pratfalls when the hammock unceremoniously dumps all three to the ground. "OK, OK, we're up," says Reynolds, scrambling to her feet, her face as composed as a freshly smoothed pillow.

Eventually, Fisher retires to her bedroom, where beneath the deep-blue ceiling embellished with gold stars and moons she seems to find a soothing environment. Sitting cross-legged on her massive bed, alternately smoking and fingering raw brownie dough from a dish, she confides to being a little daunted by the challenges of being a single mother in Hollywood's fast lane. Her frankest remarks about Lourd are made off the record--more sad than mean. By conversation's end, Fisher is completely prone, under her expensive hand-embroidered French sheets, thoughtfully blowing smoke at the stars above her.

*

Carrie Fisher: You know, someone came in the other day and said, "Your house is so Catholic now. But that's original (pointing to an antique-looking icon perched on a ledge up near the ceiling). It was Edith's.

Debbie Reynolds: It's Mission style.

CF: I wouldn't mind being Catholic, because they seem to get over things really quickly--they go to church, they sing, they confess. Or they become Madonna and go on TV and say (expletive) 13 times.

DR: Now, you're not making fun of Catholicism, you just like the objects. People are so sensitive about their religion, I don't want the press to think--

CF: No, I'm saying it would be good to be Catholic. I was raised Protestant but I'm half-Jewish--the wrong half. They got ticked off in Israel when I went there with Paul (Simon) and we had gotten married by an Orthodox rabbi and I hadn't converted.

DR: You have to convert to make the Orthodox happy.

CF: How long does that take?

DR: Only eight weeks, it's not a long booking.

CF: Well, how long does it take to become a Catholic, so you can go into that box and say I did this stuff and now I'm sorry?

Q: Doesn't writing thinly veiled autobiographical novels serve the same function?

CF: It's like AA--you get up and say things about yourself; I don't consider it confession, but it's acknowledging. You act like yourself and after you've done it for so long you become who you think you are.

*

Q: This novel seems fairly revealing of your private life. Doesn't writing about yourself, even in fictional form, affect you?

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