One of Hollywood’s most scandalous love triangles: Debbie Reynolds’ son tells how his father Eddie Fisher left his mother for her best friend Elizabeth Taylor (then married her on the SAME day he got a divorce)
- Todd Fisher is the son of actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher; his sister was actress Carrie Fisher, who died a day before her mother in 2016
- He has written a new book, My Girls, about his life and childhood, which offers insight into his mother’s relationship with Taylor – who was her best friend
- The actresses studied together as teens on the MGM Studios lot and Debbie was Liz’s matron of honor when she married Mike Todd – who was Eddie’s best friend
- Todd was killed in a plane crash in 1958, and Eddie left Debbie just weeks later, when his son was only a few months old; they never forged a strong bond
- Eddie wed Liz in May 1959 – three and a half hours after the divorce from Debbie was finalized
- Liz left Eddie after five years for Richard Burton, and Debbie remarried shoe magnate Harry Karl; Eddie’s career never recovered from the scandal
- Both couples ended up accidentally booked on the same cruise ship in 1966 and the two women reconciled, with Liz even attending parties at Debbie’s house
- Their friendship lasted until Liz’s death in 2011 – when she bequeathed jewelry to Debbie, to whom she had previously given a tearful apology about her behavior
Todd Fisher was only a toddler, but he remembers with vivid clarity waiting for his famous father – a man he considered a stranger – to pick him up for a visit. His older sister was more anxious, looking out the window and crying at their Los Angeles home. But it didn’t matter; their father never showed.
The man was singer Eddie Fisher, and Todd’s sister was named Carrie. The children’s mother was actress Debbie Reynolds. And Fisher had just left her for one of her best friends, Liz Taylor, considered to be one of the most glamorous women in the world.
The love triangle became one of Hollywood’s most infamous scandals, and the relationships of all involved would continue to take countless twists and turns over the years – ending in the unlikely reconciliation of the two women in their old age. Todd had a front-seat view of the seemingly never-ending drama, and it’s all chronicled in his new book, My Girls – which paints a convoluted picture of the stars’ personal lives and explores how he and Carrie processed it through the decades.
‘For as long as I can remember, people have asked me what it’s like to be the child of famous parents,’ Todd writes in the book. ‘And for as long as I can remember, I’ve wondered how I could possibly know what it’s like not to. After all, I have nothing to compare it to. It just was and is my reality, my “normal,” a circumstance I didn’t create or question or analyze. I watched Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver as a child, and I knew things weren’t like that at my house. But I never thought they were normal and we weren’t.’
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Debbie Reynolds, who grew up in a religious family in Texas, married Eddie Fisher – one of the most successful pop stars in the early 1950s – on September 26, 1955
Reynolds, right, and actress Elizabeth Taylor were close friends, having studied together on the MGM sets as teenagers; they are pictured with Fisher
His mother, Debbie – born Mary Frances Reynolds – was a young and virtuous actress who grew up in a religious Texas family before they relocated to California. She won a beauty contest as a teenager and was scouted by studios, eventually signing with Warner Brothers and later moving to MGM, starring in films such as Singin’ In The Rain. She was so innocent, she wrote in her 2013 autobiography Unsinkable, that she was horrified when Gene Kelly ‘shoved his tongue down my throat’ during a scene.
‘I ran around frantic, yelling for some Coca-Cola to cleanse my mouth. It was the early 1950s, and I was an innocent kid who had never been French-kissed. It felt like an assault. I was stunned that this thirty-nine-year-old man would do this to me.’
Eddie Fisher, for his part, was not short on confidence. The fourth of seven children born to a Russian Jewish family in Pennsylvania, he dropped out of high school after becoming a local star to pursue a singing career. He became one of the most successful pop stars of the early 1950s and married Debbie on September 26, 1955, when she was 23 and he was 27. They were the America’s Sweethearts of the time, and welcomed daughter Carrie Frances on October 21, 1956.
‘They seemed almost too good to be true,’ Todd writes in the book. ‘Which, of course, they were.’
The Fishers were incredibly close with another showbusiness couple, producer Mike Todd and starlet Elizabeth Taylor. Elizabeth and Debbie had gone to school together as teenagers on the MGM studios lot, and Mike was Eddie’s closest friend. At Elizabeth and Mike’s wedding, Eddie served as best man, while Debbie was matron of honor.
Todd Fisher – who was named for Taylor’s third husband Mike Todd, center – has written a new book about his family and his life, including details about the love triangle scandal
After Todd was killed in a 1958 plane crash, his best friend Fisher flew to his widow, Taylor – and the couple got together in about a month, devastating Reynolds, who had two young children
After Carrie was born to the Fishers, however, Eddie’s need for time and space of his own became more apparent, and the marriage grew strained. In the spring of 1957, he was performing a concert in London, and Debbie flew to meet him.
‘It speaks volumes about the state of their marriage by then that Debbie brought along her best friend from childhood, Jeanette Johnson, so she’d have someone to talk to,’ Todd writes in My Girls.
Following the show, the Fishers and Jeanette flew to the south of France, where they joined Mike and Elizabeth in a villa. Debbie later wrote how she was yearning for a second child, ideally a brother who’d be close in age to Carrie, since she herself had been close with her brother. She deliberately plied her husband with alcohol.
‘He got drunk on two beers that night. Not only that, but he became very amorous,’ the actress wrote in her 1988 book. ‘Elizabeth and Mike had put him in the mood, or he forgot whom he was with. It was a happy time with all of us entertaining each other with stories and jokes. Eventually they went off to make love and I turned to Eddie and said: ‘Why don’t we do the same?’ And so we did … I just remember praying to God that night that I would be pregnant. We had a good time and there weren’t many of those …. I just knew when I left that I was pregnant. I couldn’t have known, but I knew.’
She was right, and Todd was born nine months later, named after his father’s producer best friend. Tragically, however, the family would soon lose that friend; Mike Todd died in a New Mexico plane crash on March 22, 1958. Eddie flew to comfort his widow – and about a month later left Debbie for Elizabeth.
‘My father flew to Elizabeth’s side, gradually making his way slowly to her front,’ Carrie Fisher wrote in her book Wishful Drinking.
Elizabeth and Eddie were married for five years before the voluptuous actress left him for Richard Burton, with whom she’d been having an affair. She married Burton – twice – before eventually wedding two other men.
Todd writes that, when her husband left her for her best friend, ‘Debbie was devastated.
‘”Numb,” as she described it. “Blank … as if I were along on the top of a mountain, like floating in space.’
Reynolds and Fisher show off their daughter, Carrie; she wanted another child soon after Carrie’s birth, but Fisher was spending more and more time away from the family
Reynolds later wrote how, during a trip to the South of France with Taylor and Todd, Fisher was ‘drunk’ after downing two beers and it was then that her son Todd was conceived
Fisher and Taylor are pictured at their 1959 wedding; the marriage last five years before Taylor left the singer for actor Richard Burton – who she went on to divorce and then marry again
He writes: ‘The world was stunned. Eddie and Elizabeth were vilified. Eddie was declared a philandering, opportunistic loser, and Elizabeth was labeled a bad-girl, home-wrecking slut. Debbie, the good girl, the innocent, unsuspecting victim and single mom, was globally embraced with love and sympathy.’
He recalls that day as a child, playing on the floor with toys as Carrie, then four, stared out the window; Todd, who was just months old when Eddie left, was unruffled, other than by the fact that his sister was upset. He would never forge a good relationship with his father – whose career also took a nosedive and never recovered.
Todd’s mother, however, ended up reconciling with her former best friend, after Debbie had found love again, too, with shoe magnate Harry Karl, who lived with the actress and her two children at a home on Greenway Drive in Los Angeles.
‘It seems that, by pure coincidence, Mom and Harry had found themselves on the same cruise ship (ironically, the Queen Elizabeth) as Richard and Elizabeth,’ Todd writes, describing a vacation in 1966, when the women were about 34. ‘The four of them had dinner together on the ship, to the hysterical glee of the tabloids, and Elizabeth and Richard were welcome on Greenway Drive from that night on.’
The Greenway Drive address was famous for its parties, and a young Todd witnessed firsthand the volatile relationship between Elizabeth and Richard during one of those soirees – describing their ‘yelling, screaming, top-of-their-lungs, mutual bitch-slapping fight, and they were oblivious to the discomfort of a houseful of other guests.
Fisher and Reynolds were the America’s Sweethearts of the era after their marriage in 1955, with their son Todd writing in his new book: ‘They seemed almost too good to be true. Which, of course, they were’
Todd Fisher poses at the 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards with Reynolds and his sister Carrie; both women died the following year within a day of each other
Reynolds poses with her daughter, Carrie, in 1972; Todd recounts in the book how, following his parents’ separation, Eddie Fisher was supposed to pick his children up for a visit but never showed, as a young Carrie looked hopefully out the window waiting for him
Reynolds, after remarrying herself, reconciled with Taylor after the pair found themselves booked on the same cruise ship; Reynolds and her husband even shared dinner with Taylor and Burton, pictured
‘I remember Carrie and me gaping at them with identical incredulity. We’d never seen a couple behave like this before, let alone in public. We’d never even heard Mom and Harry raise their voices at each other. This was insane, like a train wreck happening right there in our own living room, and we couldn’t take our eyes off them. Within moments Mom pulled them aside and sent them upstairs so they could continue this ugliness in private, where it belonged in the first place.
‘What was almost even more bizarre was that after several more minutes of loud, profane yelling behind the closed door of the master suite, there was a sudden, almost deafening silence from behind that same closed door. Finally, after about another twenty minutes, Richard and Elizabeth emerged from the master suite, happy and in love again as they descended the grand stairway and rejoined the party as if nothing had happened.
‘That was the first time I had ever heard the phrase makeup sex. I was just too young to know or care what it meant.’
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As he got older, however, he would go on to have his own interactions with Elizabeth Taylor – who also became friendly with Carrie. He was at one of his sisters parties, he writes, when someone brought him over to Elizabeth, who was ‘sitting on a sofa by herself.
‘She immediately took my hand and pulled me down to sit beside her, and for the next hour she talked, in extreme detail, about nothing but how much she’d loved Mike Todd and how, no matter how many other loves might come along, she was sure no one could ever measure up to him. I sat there and listened, not especially interested but a little fascinated that this woman, who’d technically been my stepmother for about ten minutes (okay, to be accurate, more like five years) and who, along with my father, had dealt my mother my mother one of the most devastating betrayals of her life, seemed to feel connected to me, maybe because I was named after the greatest love of her life.
‘Family history aside, Elizabeth Taylor, arguably the most beautiful, most recognized face in the world, cared what I thought of her, which, come to think of it, was kind of a microcosm of the paradox of my early childhood on Greenway Drive: the extraordinary ordinary, the unusual usual, the common privilege – not right or wrong, just different, and in case I forgot to mention it, a glorious amount of fun.’
And the girlhood bond between Elizabeth and his mother only seemed to deepen as they entered old age and failing health, Todd writes. The two actresses reunited for a movie written by Carrie called These Old Broads, in which they costarred with Shirley MacLaine and Joan Collins.
Taylor and Burton had a famously volatile relationship, and Todd tells a story in the book about one particular ‘yelling, screaming, top-of-their-lungs, mutual bitch-slapping fight’ he witnessed the couple having at his parents’ Beverly Hills home – which they resolved with ‘makeup sex’
Todd writes about having a conversation with Taylor during which she described her third husband as the great love of her life; he was ‘not especially interested but a little fascinated that this woman, who’d technically been my stepmother for about ten minutes (okay, to be accurate, more like five years) and who, along with my father, had dealt my mother my mother one of the most devastating betrayals of her life, seemed to feel connected to me, maybe because I was named after the greatest love of her life’
‘There was an ironic scene in Carrie’s These Old Broads script about Elizabeth’s character stealing Mom’s character’s husband during an alcoholic blackout,’ Todd writes. ‘Before they shot the scene, Elizabeth asked Mom to come to her dressing room. Mom sat down beside her, and Elizabeth got right to the point, with tears in her eyes.
‘”Debbie,’ she said. ‘”I’m so sorry for what I did to you with Eddie.”
‘It caught Mom off guard that Elizabeth was still so emotional about it, and she pointed out, meaning it, ‘That was another lifetime. You and I made up years ago.’
Elizabeth’s voice broke. ‘I just feel so awful when I think of how I hurt you and your children.’
Mom’s voice broke too, when she told me about that conversation. She and Elizabeth spent some nice time together during the filming of These Old Broads – they even spent an evening sitting in Elizabeth’s bed watching a movie and eating a pumpkin pie Mom brought for the occasion. Mom always marveled that it was Carrie’s script that made those moments possible for two women who, despite being at the center of the greatest, most painful tabloid scandal of the 1950s, never really stopped loving each other.’
He describes another anecdote in which Debbie – an avid collector of cinematic memorabilia – wanted to buy one of Richard Burton’s Cleopatra costumes, which were being auctioned. She didn’t have enough money to buy it, so she asked her old friend for help; Elizabeth told Debbie to buy it and she’d reimburse her, which she did – for $16,000. Elizabeth sent her a check the next day.
Todd writes that his mother ‘now owned Richard’s costume from the movie that famously brought Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton together and ended the marriage of Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher.’
When Elizabeth was ‘close to death,’ Todd writes, Debbie called her and the two commiserated about how ‘getting old is really shitty.’
Debbie ‘was relieved and happy for her when she passed away and found peace,’ he writes of Taylor, who died in Los Angeles in 2011.
And even in death, despite all the bumps along the road and their tumultuous relationship, the actresses’ friendship was remembered. Elizabeth left Debbie ‘a pair of spectacular sapphire earrings and a matching bracelet and necklace.’
Debbie died five years after Elizabeth – and just one day after her daughter Carrie.
‘I’ve started writing this memoir several times, over a lot of years, but it took on a new urgency in December of 2016, when my sister and my mother suddenly died a day apart,’ Todd writes on the first page of My Girls. ‘Now it’s not just a memoir anymore. It’s a long love letter and a thank-you note to the two most pivotal, extraordinary women I’ve ever known.’
He’s referring to Carrie and Debbie, but the shadow of Elizabeth Taylor looms large throughout the story. It’s an incredible tale of betrayal and resilience, friendship and love – even in the most extraordinary of circumstances and through one of Hollywood’s most tantalizing scandals.
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