Carrie Fisher was sitting in her publicist’s office munching on a candy bar, drinking soda and taking on one visiting journalist after another. Each of these activities was potentially dangerous to her health, but that’s what life is like on the road when you’re promoting a new novel.
It was a dozen years ago, and she’d just written “Delusions of Grandma,” about a screenwriter who has a relationship with a Hollywood lawyer who leaves her with child. Fisher herself had had a relationship with a Hollywood agent who left her. With child.
In the hope of ingratiating myself, I started the interview by showing her a copy of a very favorable review I’d written of her previous book, “Surrender the Pink.” That was about a young writer for a TV soap opera who ever so briefly marries another writer. Carrie Fisher ever so briefly married the (song) writer and singer Paul Simon.
She skimmed the review and smiled, probably because I suggested the divorce was Simon’s loss. In the discussion that followed, Fisher spoke openly in a way few of these celeb interviews happen. (Or maybe I’m just kidding myself and she was honest with everyone.)
While it is easy to suggest that Fisher’s books are autobiography posing as fiction, that’s a simple — and simplistic — description. Certainly her work was based on life experiences. But it also managed to plumb deep and very often painful crevices in her emotional armor. And she always did it combining a wiseacre sense of humor and honesty that kept the pages humming.
Over the coming days, the internet will be filled with Carrie Fisher tributes written by her intimates. I am not one of them. All I have is the hour or so we spent together in this tiny office. And the inscription she signed on the book.
Some of what she told me is now probably well known. Some not. She was bipolar. She started therapy when she was 15. For her, writing was a natural extension of reading. “I did a lot of reading,” she told me. “It took me out of the world, and I liked entering into other people’s worlds.”
Being a teenager is always difficult, but being the teenage daughter of two celebrities — the singer Eddie Fisher and the actress Debbie Reynolds — added baggage to her life. People assumed she was the spoiled Beverly Hills rich kid. So she turned to self-deprecating humor as a defense mechanism. “I just kept putting myself down. I became hyperaware of myself so I could make the joke about me first,” she told me. “To me I think the average person has a nice life. People don’t have a lot of preconceived notions about you. They don’t assume you have a nice life. Yes, it really was privileged. I understand that. The idea of having a bad time (growing up) was patently self-indulgent, absurd. There are people who don’t [have enough money to] eat. But I was aware that something was missing.”
What was missing was parents. Eddie Fisher was an absentee father, and Reynolds was always working. “I was attended to a lot by household staff,” Fisher said.
One thing that surprised me and stayed with me all these years is how insecure she sais she felt about her appearance. Carrie said she was “overwhelmed” by her mom, who “was just gorgeous, it seemed to me not effortlessly, but with an effort that didn’t cost a lot. I don’t put myself down unnecessarily. I think I’m realistic about myself. I don’t like my looks. I’m okay looking, and if I’m thinner I’m better about myself. But if not, I’m just average looking. My face can get really fat. I’m a really short chick, And if I weigh more than 107 pounds it all shows up in my face.”
I reminded her about all the young boys who grew up and couldn’t get the image of Princess Leia in a gold bikini out of their heads. I suggested she might falsely be self-deprecating.
“I probably underestimated my appearance,” she said grudgingly. “You’re always self-conscious when you do films, anyway. That puts you into an arena with the incredibly beautiful women. I am not incredibly beautiful. I know that. I’m attractive enough for a smart person, and that’s good enough for me.”
The publicist stuck her head in to let me know my time was up. So I handed Fisher my copy of “Delusions” and asked her to sign it for me. She did, but I didn’t read it until I got home:
“For Curt: Thanks for the review and the interview and the best sexual experience of my life. Love, Carrie Fisher.”
Curt Schleier writes about the entertainment industry for the Forward.