Excerpt: 'Wishful Drinking'
Chapter Two: Scandal Outshining Celebrity
Hollywood inbreeding is sort of like royal inbreeding. And after all, celebrity is sort of like American royalty. So my brother and I are like those sad, sad cases like King Charles the Second of Spain. The last of the Habsburgs.
Charles was so horribly inbred that his aunt was also his grandmother. And his tongue was so large that he couldn't chew or be understood, and he drooled. Another little challenge was that his organs were dying inside his body (the one on the outside didn't work that well either because he died childless). But because his organs were dying, he actually smelled. So the people around him would put this perfume on him when he met prospective wives. (And by the way, we sell that perfume out in the lobby at my show.) Another issue for Charles was that he had these little seizures all the time and he would fall over, so the perfume people put weights in his shoes. Anyway, it worked because Charlie actually managed to marry twice, (probably someone with nursing ambitions), which just goes to show that there's a lid for every pot. Sometimes there are as many as nine lids for the same pot. Also when I was a teenager I could buy pot in lids. But I don't think you can anymore ... can you?
Oh, and Charles's death caused the War of the Spanish Succession, which I know a lot of you have been discussing at length recently.
So my brother and I grew up smelling and drooling and having seizures, and we did all this in our house, which I called "the Embassy" because it looked less like a house than a place you would get your passport stamped.
Where would you put the Christmas wreath on something like that?
It was a modern house and it had things that most normal houses don't have. We had eight little pink refrigerators (you know, in case Snow White and the seven dwarfs came over) and we had a lanai and utility closets. Oh ... and we had three pools ... you know, in case two broke.
There was also my mother's closet — which I always thought of as The Church of Latter Day Debbie. There was a certain hush, a certain smell of Abolene cream and White Shoulders perfume. It was very quiet; it was very dark; it was subject to its own laws like the phone booth where Clark Kent was transformed into Superman. My mother's closet was the magical place that she entered as my mom and emerged as Debbie Reynolds.
Her closet was huge, like an enormous room, with an entrance and an exit, lined on each side by clothes of every sort — gowns, slacks, blouses, shoes and hat boxes, all manner of attire imaginable — and even the unimaginable. I remember she had these long pale gowns made out of beads. One in particular was a blue gown shimmering with blue beads. It even had blue fur on the sleeves and on the hem; she could float through a room in a movie star gown. Then, there was a long, shimmery, white chest of drawers where she kept all of her underwear and bras, and slips and stockings all neatly folded up and smelling of sachet. She had this weird, giant underwear that went over her belly button — big underpants and huge bras. I remember thinking, wow, some day when I'm grown up, maybe I'll get my own enormously big breasts. I used to watch while my mom lifted up her huge fun bags so she could wash underneath them. I eventually did get those big breasts, and now I'm sorry.
My mother's closet wasn't off limits, but it was very much hers and, therefore, my younger brother, Todd, and I valued it. It was prized because of how highly we prized our mother. She was often away, and when we missed her, we could go into her closet and do stuff like put our faces into a bunch of clothes and inhale the powdery, flowery scent of her. We would put on shows together in the closet, playing some kind of airplane game and restaurant game. And then there was this hat we for some reason called the "bum-bum" hat. It was this big straw hat with a brim that continued over your eyes with this green mesh you could see out of. We loved nothing more than to put on the bum-bum hat and look through the green mesh at our suddenly transformed surroundings.
My mother was magnificent when she was decked out in all her glory. When she was ablaze with all manner of jewelry and gems, shimmering diamond earrings and her neck encircled with bright stones that caught the light, a gown with matching shoes and stockings, makeup and her tall wig, carefully coiffed by her hairdresser Sidney Guileroff or "Uncle Sidney" as we were encouraged to call him. Sidney's name could be found in the credits of some of the more classic MGM films of all time. My mother would emerge from her dressing room a vision, so glamorous and so not of this world.
When my mother was at home on weekends, we stayed with her as much as possible, which frequently meant we were very involved in watching our mother. Right next to her closet there was this huge bathroom with magenta marble and mirrors everywhere. I remember the smells of her perfume — L'air du Temps — and of creams, like Ponds or Albolene. On the bathtub, there were always two or three monogrammed facecloths laid out — with her initials — DRK. Debbie Reynolds Karl. And then there was The Shrine of the Wigs, which was at the end of one countertop, along with what seemed to me like hundreds and hundreds of lipsticks and eyebrow pencils and false eyelashes. My mother was unbelievably meticulous at all of this. She'd twirl her hair up into pincurls that she'd use to pull her face tighter, then she'd put on her makeup base with a sponge. The base went low when the dress was low cut, which it usually was. Then she applied eye makeup and false lashes, so she didn't need mascara, but there was lots of eyeliner. Next came lipstick and rouge and powder — great puffs of glittering clouds of powder, followed by hair, which was a big deal, getting the wig on right. Then came the earrings, then she'd step into her clothes, and then came her stockings and her tiny little size five shoes. When she was completely finished, her Debbie Reynolds movie star accent got stronger, her posture got better, and she looked incredibly beautiful. When our mother dressed, the man behind the curtain became the great and powerful Oz.
From Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher. Copyright © 2008 by Deliquesce Inc. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.