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Posted at 9:55 AM ET, 09/24/2010

Eddie Fisher: A singer best remembered for scandal

By Jen Chaney

The original bizarre love triangle: Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds in June 1958. (AP) | More Fisher Photos

If there is such a thing as a pioneer in the world of celebrity scandal, Eddie Fisher might have been it.

The pop singer may have recorded 32 hit songs, but what most people remember about him is the fact that he stood smack in the middle of one of the most high-profile cheating controversies of all time, one that made it clear how hungry the American public was to read about the sordid private lives of its glossiest stars.

Any publication or blog that covers the rich and glamorous -- and that includes this one -- owes a strange debt, in a way, to Mr. Fisher. For those of you Celebritologists whose knowledge of scandalous Hollywood affairs doesn't go much farther back than the Meg Ryan/Russell Crowe era, allow me to explain.

In the late '40s and '50s, Eddie Fisher rose to fame as a benign pop crooner -- the kind of guy who earnestly and sweetly sang tunes like "Oh My Papa" and prompted teen girls to call him dreamy.

In 1955, he married Debbie Reynolds, an actress with a radiating-sunshine smile and a resume that included roles in "Singin' in the Rain" and "The Affairs of Dobie Gillis." Together, the two seemed to seep fairy-tale bliss from their pores; this was the perfect, black-and-white-photo-ready marriage. They had two children together, one of whom would eventually grow up to become enslaved by Jabba the Hutt while wearing a metal bikini. All was right with the world.

Then it all fell apart. In 1958, movie producer Mike Todd -- one of Fisher's closest friends -- died in a plane crash. Fisher reportedly tried to console Todd's widow, who happened to be Elizabeth Taylor, a friend of both Fisher's and Reynolds's. The two eventually began an affair, and not long after, Fisher asked for a divorce from Reynolds, as recounted in a profile of Reynolds that earlier this year in London's Daily Mail:

Lonely at home, while Eddie was away on tour, she telephoned her best friend Elizabeth Taylor at her hotel for a chat.
To her great shock, Fisher answered.
"Suddenly, a lot of things clicked into place," she recalls. "I could hear her voice asking him who was calling - they were obviously in bed together. I yelled at him, 'Roll over, darling and let me speak to Elizabeth.'"
Fisher slammed the receiver down and rushed home for a face-to-face confrontation. "I'm sorry," he told her. "Elizabeth and I are in love and I want a divorce."
Debbie replied: "If you marry her, she will throw you out within 18 months."

Reynolds was almost right. In 1964, after four years of marriage, Taylor divorced Fisher and married Richard Burton shortly thereafter. (This blog post has been updated to reflect the proper dates of Fisher and Taylor's marriage. Apologies for the previous error.) It was all so ugly and sad, and the celebrity magazines at the time couldn't get enough of it.

To put this in contemporary context, if the equivalent of this love triangle broke today, TMZ would have to hire a new reporter solely to track all developments on the Reynolds/Fisher/Taylor beat. (Which, of course, would involve writing stories with headlines like: "Debbie to Liz: Stay away from my man!")

But of course, there is no equivalent to this story. The Fisher/Reynolds breakup had a shock factor of the Sandra Bullock/Jesse James split, times 10. This all happened in the 1950s, after all, an era when nice people didn't get divorced and women were supposed to make meat loaf for dinner while wearing high heels and flouncy, June Cleaver-esque house dresses. There are women who grew up during this time who, to this day, remain forever loyal to Debbie Reynolds because they feel so passionately that she was publicly, horribly wronged. I know this for a fact. One of those women is my mother.

Fisher's career pretty much dribbled down the drain after the whole debacle. Of course, if the same thing happened in the present day, he undoubtedly would have bounced back after a few high-profile interviews and an impressive turn on "Dancing With the Stars." But Eddie Fisher was a product of another era, one in which American society hadn't yet mastered the art of managing scandal.

Publicists, the media and members of the public all know the image-rehab drill by now. But Fisher -- either fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective -- happened to cheat at a time when the public couldn't quite handle it. I suppose one could say we've progressed since then. Yet progress, somehow ... well, that doesn't seem like quite the right word.

By Jen Chaney  | September 24, 2010; 9:55 AM ET
Categories:  Celebrities, Obits  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Nancy Wilson and Cameron Crowe getting divorced; Eddie Fisher dies; Lindsay Lohan in court today
Next: The 'Catfish' filmmakers: A Q&A and some advice

Comments

it wasn't that he cheated. it's that he GLOATED.

and even worse, he had an affair with a woman he was trying to "console"...

Yuck.

Posted by: newagent99 | September 24, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

RIP Eddie Fisher.

All we know about Debbie Reynolds is she played sweet innocent girls in movies. We have no clue what she was really like at home. If the marriage is happy, no one strays. They might have gotten divorced anyway. Even if the rest of America didn't divorce in the 1950s, Hollywood sure did.

Posted by: epjd | September 24, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

The closest comparison I could think of would be the Aniston/Pitt/Jolie breakup/marriage thing.

Aniston would be Reynolds, Jolie would be Liz, & Brad would be Eddie, only with more talent & a history of good things behind him & not just being Mr. Debbie Reynolds or Mr. Liz Taylor.

I sad in the other thread, Liz has buried a lot of ex-husbands & one husband.

She's gonna outlive 'em all outta spite!!

Posted by: wadejg | September 24, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

The photo at the top (1958) makes me think of Betty and Veronica!

Posted by: kirk2 | September 24, 2010 10:45 AM | Report abuse

I agree with the Aniston/Pitt/Jolie comprison...I thought the same thing.

Also, I found several sources that list Fisher/Taylor marriage as from 1959-1964. Where did the authors get the information?

Posted by: kbfonner | September 24, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

I have always thought the the downfall of America started in this "Dean Martin Era".
America had won the war, we were right, we could do no wrong... Then came hollyweird, with their perverted "values" and absolute amoral behavior.
My picture of this time is D. Martin with a both arms draped around two bimbos, a drink in one hand a cig in the other; Play, Play, Play and to h*** with the consequences. Sound familiar? In a good society, Fisher and what's her name would never have been on screen again.

Posted by: mjc1900 | September 24, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Did you know the number of divorces in this country is greatly exaggerated by the press because of lazy reporting and the desire to cause controversy? The press gets the 50% divorce rate number from the Census Bureau. Just about everybody believes that to be the number but actually here is why that is wrong: 75% of all first time married couples stay married. So where does the 50% divorce rate come from? It's because the other 25% of couples get divorced and remarry on average 3 times, therefore, they skew the divorce rate figure up and make it look like half of all married couples end in divorce, which categorically is NOT true.

Posted by: deejoshy | September 24, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Jen, Eddie and Liz were married 1959-64.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | September 24, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

The previous two posts brought to you by Americans for Clean Minds, which obviously have no place in any celebrity chat, particularly this one.

Posted by: reddragon1 | September 24, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Well OK, not the previous two. But you know which two I mean.

Posted by: reddragon1 | September 24, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

A really well written, fun story. I remember Eddie Fisher and those awful songs he recorded. The fifties were a real drag. The music was awful, the fashions were awful, the movies were boring, TV was boring, the whole decade was boring - anybody who is nostalgic for that era probably wasn't alive at the time.

Posted by: tiktin | September 24, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

A really well written, fun story. I remember Eddie Fisher and those awful songs he recorded. The fifties were a real drag. The music was awful, the fashions were awful, the movies were boring, TV was boring, the whole decade was boring - anybody who is nostalgic for that era probably wasn't alive at the time.

Posted by: tiktin | September 24, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Ah, come on, let's hear about his drug use and gambling, too. When Carrie Fisher threatens to change her last name to Reynolds...

Posted by: kabuki3 | September 24, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I also thought that Martin's rep as an alkie was part of his schtick, that he wasn't constantly drunk. I recall Johnny Carson saying something along those lines also. Not that Martin didn't drink, I just don't think his persona carried over off stage.

From wiki:
Despite Martin's reputation as a heavy drinker — a reputation perpetuated via his vanity license plates reading 'DRUNKY' — he was remarkably self-disciplined. He was often the first to call it a night, and when not on tour or on a film location liked to go home to see his wife and children. Phyllis Diller recently confirmed that Martin was indeed drinking alcohol onstage and not apple juice. She also commented that he while not being drunk was not really sober either but had very strict rules when it came to performances. He borrowed the lovable-drunk shtick from Joe E. Lewis, but his convincing portrayals of heavy boozers in Some Came Running and Howard Hawks's Rio Bravo led to unsubstantiated claims of alcoholism. More often than not, Martin's idea of a good time was playing golf or watching TV, particularly westerns – not staying with Rat Pack friends Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. into the early hours of the morning.

Posted by: wadejg | September 24, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

reddragon, you make a good point. Apparently there was considerable lag time between the start of the Taylor-Burton affair and the legal termination of the Taylor-Fisher marriage. Clearly more research is called for (which would sure beat working this afternoon).

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | September 24, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

reddragon, you make a good point. Apparently there was considerable lag time between the start of the Taylor-Burton affair and the legal termination of the Taylor-Fisher marriage. Clearly more research is called for (which would sure beat working this afternoon).

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | September 24, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Great picture. Liz looks incredible. I love all three. Affairs... maschmairs! Some posting here need to get a grip if smearing the dead and those associated with them is like a badge of honor. These 3 contributed more for our entertainment and pleasure than all of us posting combined including the author. It's not even close. P.S. And as far as comparing artists from different eras... Stupid.

Posted by: venice1 | September 24, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Sorry for the double post. The first time I hit "Submit" I got an error msg., so assumed my post had failed to, um, post.


Off topic: As a measure of how prevalent breast implants have become, note in the photo of Taylor-Fisher-Reynolds above that even the voluptuous Liz' "shoes" (let alone Debbie's) appear almost modest by 21st-century Hollywood standards.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | September 24, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

venice1, daughter Carrie Fisher herself has done a pretty good job of smearing her father for years. And Debbie and Liz get along better with one another than they did with Eddie for a long time. Eddie's just reaping a bit of what he sowed, so to speak.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | September 24, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Eddie Fisher's career didn't end because of the scandal, it ended because his limited musical ability made him lucky to have had a career in the first place.

Posted by: cjbass55 | September 24, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Nosy_Parker,

i truly pity your mentality, appetite for disease, and inane comparative associations. What someone says about someone else's relative is their business and does not give you a license to denigrate or enjoy another's perceived deformities or demons. But I guess those that search out and espouse negativity in others are just projecting their core values. Peace and out.

Posted by: venice1 | September 24, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

wadejg, in fairness to Fisher, he was a star before he ever married Reynolds. However, my money's on Debbie to outlive Liz; she's as unsinkable as the Molly Brown she played.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | September 24, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

venice, you're new here, aren't you? Snarking is the Lizard Island raison d'être.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | September 24, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

I dunno nosy, it seems as though at least once a month for the last 20 years we've been on death watch for Liz, it's like she's got more than 9 lives.

They're both in their late 70s but Debbie is still the one kicking & performing everywhere.

But seriously, I hope they both live much, much longer though, love both of them.

Good call on the implants

Posted by: wadejg | September 24, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Agree, wadejg, with your hope that both Debbie and Liz stay around and continue to be outspoken for a long time more.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | September 24, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Debbie's a pretty bawdy broad. My bet is that she has more sense and depth than the other two combined and survived it all just fine.

Liz Taylor sure was purty then. But if you put Eddie Fisher in a lineup with Vic Damone and Al Martino and made each sing, I wouldn't be able to tell them apart.

And mjc1900, I love the concept of the "Dean Martin Era" and your comments. Sad but too true. Yet here we are talking about them....

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | September 24, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

td, Debbie definitely has great "sense and depth"!

I'd also give Liz mad props for daring to pioneer celebrity support for HIV/AIDS treatment and research, back when it was still a VERY risky stance to take. She became involved with this in great part due to her friendship with long-ago co-star Rock Hudson.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | September 24, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Nosy, I don't care what Venice says - I, for one, truly envy your mentality and appetite for disease. I say that as someone who didn't even know you belonged to any inane comparative associations.

There are few people with whom I would more enjoy another's perceived deformities or demons.

Posted by: byoolin1 | September 24, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

I don't care as long as we got Carrie Fisher out of the deal....

Posted by: Wildthing1 | September 24, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

byoolin
I say that as someone who didn't even know you belonged to any inane comparative associations.

To paraphrase Will Rogers, "I belong to an inane comparative association. I am a Democrat."

Barkeep, an umbrella-topped Tiki drink, please, for the distinguished Monsieur byoolin!

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | September 24, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Let's not forget that Ryan O'Neil "consoled" Farrah Fawcett Majors while Lee, his "best" friend was away shooting on location. Takes two to console.

Posted by: aloha1965 | September 24, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

1st & foremost he was a "Wanna Be" Whimp !

Posted by: PaulPagnatoSr | September 24, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

This pathetic man's last claim to fame was almost 50 years ago. Must be nice to be able to sit back, collect royalties from golden oldie tunes and autobiographies trashing the mothers of your children, and not have to do another thing for decades and still live comfortably

Posted by: Nghbrhdwatch | September 24, 2010 8:21 PM | Report abuse

If the marriage is happy, no one strays.
-------

Now that's a really stupid statement. It's not that simple, numbnuts.

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Posted by: shoestrade28 | September 24, 2010 9:42 PM | Report abuse

Concur - "progress, somehow?

... well, that doesn't seem like quite the right word."

Regress is the word - regression into a strange land befitting ignorant savages with no foundation in morality or ethics.

And the band plays on...

Posted by: txoh | September 24, 2010 11:00 PM | Report abuse

I never found Eddie Fisher appealing. Good singer; short, scrawny guy. Richard Burton was a real man. No way that Fisher could compete with a real man. I can only presume that Taylor was so distraught after Mike Todd's death that she wasn't thinking straight. Nobody can blame her.

Posted by: barnabytwist | September 25, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

We might be better off if we did have a little of the past still in our lives. We don't seem a bit happier now for all our "freedom". Freedom from or for what? To do as we please, thinking only of ourselves?

Posted by: littleoldlady | September 25, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

We might be better off if we did have a little of the past still in our lives. We don't seem a bit happier now for all our "freedom". Freedom from or for what? To do as we please, thinking only of ourselves?

Posted by: littleoldlady | September 25, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

This was all before cheating and divorce became availalbe to everyone, and every man or woman could be the star of their own love triangle without anyone raising an eyebrow. Well he/she just fell out of love and you gotta live your life, wink, wink, nod, nod. Those old middle class values were just holding the average person back from the joy the stars were having.

Posted by: captn_ahab | September 25, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

If any guy had the opportunity to shtup Elizabeth Taylor in the 50's when she was the most beautiful woman in the world I bet no one would turn it down. As for marrying her, that was a different thing since she already had 3 previous husbands.

Posted by: msjn1 | September 25, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

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