My Life With Debbie and Carrie
“I have a picture of myself at three months old here in Vegas, and I like to say I remember that occasion,” Todd Fisher says. “Of course, I really don’t.”
Fisher is the son of Hollywood legends Debbie Reynolds (star of such iconic movies as Singin’ in the Rain, How the West Was Won and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, as well as a longtime Las Vegas showroom performer) and Eddie Fisher (a pop singer and prolific actor) and the brother of actress and writer Carrie Fisher (still best known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies). He grew up in a lavish home in Beverly Hills, as he recounts in his recent memoir, My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie, but he’s been coming to Las Vegas for as long as he can remember (and even before that), and he’s now a full-time resident and enthusiastic supporter of the local community.
With the passing of his mother and sister just a day apart in December 2016, Fisher, 60, has become the caretaker of their legacies, a position he takes very seriously and which has manifested itself in several recent and upcoming projects. Fisher produced the 2017 HBO documentary Bright Lights, about the relationship between Debbie and Carrie, and My Girls focuses on Fisher’s relationship with those two vitally important women in his life. “I had no intentions of ever doing a memoir,” Fisher says of the book. “It was never even in my mind, because Carrie was such a great writer, and was doing a great job of telling little snippet stories of the family and her experiences.”
But when Fisher found himself as the only one left to tell the family’s stories, he decided he needed to make his voice heard. “I said, ‘I’m going to have to get on this, because if I don’t, other people will,’” he explains. “You’re trying to step in front of speculation, innuendo, rumors, people digging up old stories and printing it as fact.” Along with his co-writer Lindsay Harrison, Fisher conducted meticulous research on his own life, going back to interview family and friends and verify facts about events and incidents that he didn’t remember clearly (like, say, visiting Las Vegas at three months old). “My mother never wanted to let the truth get in the way of a good story,” he admits, so even anecdotes that he had heard firsthand needed to be checked.
“When I work on film projects, I have a war room that I use, and there’s three walls that are soft, pushpin walls,” Fisher says. “And I had this huge timeline up on that wall, as this thing was unfolding. I was moving things around. As I would remember another story, I would want to get it where it belonged.” Fisher then sent all the raw material to Harrison, who helped craft it into a book-length narrative. “I would dump all this material on her, and then she and I would talk, and she would record these conversations,” he says. “She began to weave it into a linear story.”
Fisher credits Harrison and Matt Harper, his editor, with shaping the book into what it became, but the book is just the beginning of his plans to tell the story of his life with his mother and sister. “We were long on stories,” he says. “I had probably another 150 pages.” Instead of another book, though, Fisher is planning to produce a TV series, based on a feature film script that he and Carrie were writing together before her death. “[When] we first wrote the screenplay—it was just the coming-of-age story of Carrie and I,” Fisher says of the script originally titled 813 Greenway, after the address of his childhood home. “It was more like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off meets Downton Abbey.” After positive response from their agents and attorneys, the siblings decided to expand the concept into a potential 30-episode series.
Now, Fisher is more determined than ever to move forward with that project. “My world really has changed so dramatically without them around, and how I approach things, and how I want to do things, and why I do things,” he says. “I have a responsibility for both of their legacies.” He imagines a series that will encompass all the highs and lows of life with these two extraordinary women. “I think the series is going to be definitive,” he says. “It’s going to be hilarious, because our life was full of fun and love, but it’s also going to be dramatic and real, and it’s going to be about things that every family faces, from drug addiction to mental illness to loss to love. All of the things that we all experience, but our family just did it a little more publicly.”
Another way that Fisher is honoring his mother’s legacy is through the creation of the Debbie Reynolds Performing Arts Scholarship at UNLV. Announced earlier this year, it will award full scholarships to three students each year to study acting, dancing, and singing—all of Reynolds’ passions. “Debbie in particular was probably the most amazing philanthropy person on Earth. When she got the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award [at the 2016 Oscars], the list just went on forever of all the organizations that she had been involved with and had helped in some way,” Fisher says. “We felt this would be very close to what Debbie would like. To find the next Debbie Reynolds.”
Although Reynolds sold off most of her extensive collection of Hollywood memorabilia in a series of auctions during the later years of her life, Fisher held on to many of the items that were specific to Reynolds’ career, including costumes from Singin’ in the Rain, and he has his own collection of vintage Hollywood cameras and other items. “I’m definitely going to build a small museum here in Vegas,” he promises, although he doesn’t have a timeline or a location in place yet. He’s also hoping to place some of the more notable items in the upcoming museum being built by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, and to loan out other items to various institutions.
For his sister, her legacy is still strongly associated with Star Wars, and Fisher is pleased that Lucasfilm and director J.J. Abrams will be incorporating previously unused footage of Carrie in the next Star Wars movie, set for release on December 20, 2019. “I think it’s magical what they’re going to do,” he says. “I’m hoping it’s going to be everything that I believe it can be. Carrie is going to be right back up there.” He’s also working to get Carrie a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and has secured a plaque honoring her at the legendary Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, next to Reynolds’ handprints in cement.
Whatever he works on, Fisher sees his future in Las Vegas. Although he’d been splitting his time between homes in Vegas and California, he’s now committed to spending his time locally. “There’s nothing about Los Angeles anymore that is holding me,” he says. He has his own production facility, Hollywood Motion Picture Experience, in the LoftWorks complex near Rainbow and Sunset, and he’s been teaching film classes at UNLV. He wants to use the HMPE facility and its $10 million worth of equipment to help encourage film production in town, including shooting up to half of the planned series based on My Girls. “I’m hoping to expand the artist community here, the filmmaking community here, by having facilities and equipment here that you don’t have to go to LA for.”
From the time he was three months old, Fisher has had that Las Vegas connection. At 10 years old, he started performing in his mother’s stage show along with his sister, although she was the only one who was enthusiastic about it. “Carrie, you could tell, just ate it up,” he says. “Me, it was a real nuisance, the idea that you had to bathe every day.” He remembers his mother performing at the Desert Inn, the Sands, and the Dunes, and his father at the Stardust and the Sahara. “I think we played every hotel there was in those days,” he recalls. For a while, Reynolds owned her own Vegas hotel-casino, and Fisher still has its front doors, which he plans to use in his eventual Reynolds museum. “Debbie always felt that she had dual citizenship,” Fisher says. “As much as she was from Hollywood, she was equally from Vegas.” Along with the rest of his family’s legacy, that’s a tradition that Fisher carries on.