In the year 2016 we lost many who have contributed to the media world today, including a wide range of renowned musicians, singers, and writers. It has broken our hearts and we have recognized how much they have helped shaped the world as we see it now over their years with us.
We lost a number of Hollywood’s stars, including two women in particular. One voiced a compassionate spider who befriended a pig named Wilbur to save him from his fate and the other spent all her energy into a therapeutic performance as a stubborn princess who also determined to free the galaxy from an evil emperor and a dark lord.
These two are Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, a mother and daughter.
Reynolds became most known for her musicals, including Singin’ in the Rain, Two Weeks with Love, Skirts Ahoy!, Give the Girl a Break, and Hit the Deck, among several others. But Reynolds started her career participating in beauty pageants. A film scout from Warner Bros. discovered her and she played a small part in June Bride, released in 1948. A few years later, she played a bigger role in The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady and shortly after that she signed on with MGM.
Admittedly, I did not initially recognize her name at the time of her death after Christmas, but as articles appeared on my Facebook newsfeed, I became overwhelmed with devastation. I had grown up with the animated film Charlotte’s Web and on election day this past year, I had a dear friend who died. She had reminded me of Charlotte the spider because of her kind words, the time she took to cultivate those words as a means for encouragement. So in a way for me, it felt like a double loss, and I experienced grief for my friend all over again.
Despite that a character who someone plays in a movie does not encompass who the actress really is, sometimes personality can still come out. It depends on how the actress, Reynolds in this case, conducts herself in her personal life and similarities people on the outside may notice. From the looks of various news articles via the web Reynold’s sensitive nature ran even deeper in her personal life and as she died a day after her daughter.
Like Charlotte wove her webs, Reynolds engaged herself in her career, but she created a space so she could enjoy her children. But regardless, neither her daughter Carrie Fisher nor Todd felt like the weekends she spent with them was not enough, according to an online Vanity Fair article called “Inside Carrie Fisher’s Difficult Upbringing with Famous Parents” from Dec. 27, 2016. The article also said that her father Eddie left Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor and Reynolds remarked that she realized that she was not necessarily a passionate woman interested in sex and added she “was more interested in raising my children, not in pursuing my husbands.”
Meanwhile, Fisher desired to follow the image of her mother. When Fisher grew older and the two women would have outings, Reynolds had such a mass of fans that Fisher felt like she still had to share her mother and confessed she didn’t like it. At the same time, Fisher admired and envied Reynolds.
“She was so beautiful, and I dreamed of looking like her one day,” Fisher wrote in her memoir Wishful Drinking in 2008. “I think it was when I was ten that I realized with profound certainty that I would not be, and was in no way now, the beauty that my mother was. I was a clumsy-looking and intensely awkward, insecure girl… I decided then that I’d better develop something else — if I wasn’t going to be pretty, maybe I could be funny or smart.”
But just as quickly, she became aware that she was a different person. She found her comfort place in books and writing but whenever she left Reynold’s side, she overheard people who judged her.
“’She thinks she’s so great because she’s Debbie Reynolds’ daughter!’” Fisher quoted to the New York Times. “And I didn’t like it; it made me different from other people and I wanted to be the same.”
It may be that Reynolds sensed the unrest in her daughter and did what she believed was best in mind. Like Charlotte who spun webs in order to save Wilbur’s life, Reynolds may have wanted to preserve Fisher’s, except in a slightly different way. When Fisher was fifteen, Reynolds took charge of her daughter’s life direction and pulled her out of Beverly Hills High School to join her on Broadway. In a popular revival called Irene, Reynolds starred while Fisher debuted and sang on the show. However, writer Mike Miller from People said on Dec. 29, 2016: “Onstage, the two seemed happy to be with each other, but inside Fisher was longing to escape her mother’s shadow.”
Until her death, Fisher also struggled with bipolar disorder, which she had inherited from her father. The disorder may have been brought on from stress of the expectations she felt she must fulfill in order to maintain her relationship with Reynolds. In her life, Fisher struggled with drug and alcohol addictions and wrestled with it honestly as she played in movies. In addition to her memoir, she also wrote a novel, Postcards from the Edge, after she nearly died from an overdose.
But she is most known as Princess Leia, the heroine from Star Wars. She was the one teenage girls worshipped for portraying such a strong female character among male actors.
“I’m not really one of those actresses like Meryl Streep. Those actresses travel outside themselves and play characters,” Fisher told CBS in 2016. “And I’m more of an archaeologist. I play what I am.”
The public may never know the truth between the mother and daughter relationship, whether Fisher made time for her mother to appease her or Reynolds felt guilty or pushed to push her daughter in the spotlight, or whatever the case may be. All we know for ourselves is that we know how complicated family relationships tend to be. As for our celebrated actresses, they both contributed to film history through their own unique selves.