Beyond the buns: Carrie Fisher as a writer

No topic of her life hides from the spotlight.

By Nat Kaemmerer | May 1, 2017

Tags: Books

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Carrie Fisher, product of “Hollywood inbreeding,” as she said in Wishful Drinking was in the spotlight her whole life. However, she was launched to superstardom when she landed the iconic role of Star Wars’ Princess Leia at only 19.

Before Leia, during Leia and long, long after Leia, Fisher was also a writer. Her first book, Postcards from the Edge, was a semi-autobiographical novel written in 1987. She wrote three other novels throughout her career — Surrender the Pink in 1990, Delusions of Grandma in 1994 and The Best Awful (originally titled The Best Awful There Is) in 2004. Postcards from the Edge and The Best Awful follow the same characters.

In 2008 she wrote her first autobiography Wishful Drinking. She followed it up with Shockaholic in 2011 and The Princess Diarist in 2016.

Postcards from the Edge was turned into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine in 1990, and Wishful Drinking was based on Fisher’s one-woman stage show and became an HBO documentary in 2010.

Fisher struggled with bipolar disorder and drug addiction, namely to cocaine, throughout her life and was very public about it. Later in life, she began receiving electroconvulsive therapy for reasons including that she was “profoundly depressed,” as she said in Wishful Drinking. Fisher was also a vocal advocate for mental health support and treatment and was against stigma that surrounds it. Fisher’s books each deal with mental illness or substance abuse in some form. Usually, like in Postcards from the Edge, The Best Awful and all her autobiographies, the main character is herself or based on herself, and the story involves a trip to a mental hospital and quite a few different drugs.

I’ve read two of her books, Wishful Drinking and The Princess Diarist, and I’ve read some of Postcards from the Edge.

I was reading The Princess Diarist when Fisher died on December 27, 2016. Released in late 2016, the book pulls from diaries and journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars film and recounts her experiences on set. For the first time, she writes in depth about her affair with Harrison Ford and their secret weekend jaunts to smoke weed and have sex.

“But then who would I be?” Fisher writes in a chapter titled “Carrison.” “More than likely not someone who, at nineteen, found herself having an affair with her fourteen-years-older married costar without first ever having had with him a linear, meaningful conversation while clothed.”

Throughout the book, she talks about the affair as a “very long one-night stand.” She says that she herself didn’t even fully approve of it, but it happened, so here’s the story.

“Also, if I didn’t write about it someone else would,” she said. “Someone without direct knowledge of the ‘situation.’ Someone who would wait — cowardly — until after my passing to speculate on what happened and make me look bad. No.”

Reading this days before she died, and again and again afterward, made me very emotional. She said it just in time! Oh, what a coincidence. Fisher herself would probably find this hilarious.

The Princess Diarist includes pages full of poems and rambling musings Fisher wrote during the shooting of the film. Many of them involve her thoughts on Ford, but some have hints of self-doubt and some light foreshadowing of her mental health and drug issues.

The latter half of the book devotes many pages to reenacting encounters with fans, many of whom act like they know her personally, or reintroduce themselves as though she’d have remembered them from that one appearance last year. The intense amplification of the spotlight on her whole life would make it easy to forgive her for hating the fans, but she says she never did.

“I need you to know I’m not cynical about the fans,” she said between stories of a fan who acted like an old friend and a kid who cried when Fisher didn’t look like the movie version of herself. “I’m moved by them.”

Her non-hatred of the spotlight baffles me. (I can’t say she loved it, because she certainly did not. She just didn’t totally loathe it.) She hugged babies, signed some free autographs and saw the spotlight as the byproduct of her rockstar fame.

Wishful Drinking might be my favorite of her’s I’ve read so far. Her first autobiography is expansive, covering everything from the time her grandmother got her and her mother (the late Debbie Reynolds) vibrators for Christmas to the craziness of her family tree (how does Elizabeth Taylor fit in there, exactly?). Fisher also really, really loves her daughter Billie. She’s kind of amazed that her daughter is so wonderful, and that honestly makes me want to cry.

This is also the book in which she makes that famous quip about her eulogy.

“I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra,” she said.

With or without context, this is one of the greatest eulogies of all time. However, the backstory is that George Lucas told her that she couldn’t wear a bra under the iconic white Leia dress of the original movie. He said there was no underwear in space. A bra wouldn’t be accurate.

Fisher’s witty sarcasm is rampant in the whole book. No topic is off limits. It’s like she’s reliving all this for the first time and breaking it down for both her audience and herself. She quips about the tragic time a friend died in her bed, her trips to rehab, the reasons she underwent ECT, her second husband leaving her for a man and all the Leia ephemera that’s around the world.

Did you know there’s a Princess Leia sex doll? Fisher did. She got ahold of one once, after someone yelled at her to go do something rather rude and she realized that she had the unique opportunity of doing just what he’d said.

“Anyway, at about 3:30 a.m. I tried to get the doll to something with her hand, and it just fell off,” she says. “So finally at about 4:00 a.m., I think, oh my God, epiphany! The doll is heterosexual.”

Snarky anecdotes like this make you realize that Fisher probably had some point in her star-studded life where she just truly, deeply, with her whole entire being … stopped caring. It’s wonderful.

Fisher speaks of her mother with such admiration throughout the book. She talks about her and her brother Todd Fisher worshipping their beautiful movie-star mother as children and how her closet was the place where she went from being their mother to being the world’s Debbie Reynolds. As kids, she and Todd tried to spend as much time with their mother as they could.

She characterizes her mother with a kind of breathy eccentricity. In this book Debbie Reynolds is often described through stories which are strange for someone to have about their mother. Like the time she pitched an opportunity for her and Fisher to smoke weed together, since Reynolds figured she’d do it at some point. Or the time Todd shot himself in the leg with a blank and Reynolds ever-so-calmly informed Fisher. In their later years, Fisher and Reynolds lived next to each other. She refers to this in the book, and it seems like they had fun together.

I’d tell you more, but you had to be there. You have to read this one. It’s the best rendition of the classic feelings dump I’ve ever seen.

Postcards from the Edge, her first novel, is based heavily on Fisher’s own life and her relationship with her mother. I’m currently on page 37, and so far it has a lot of the same snarky tone as her autobiographies. However, this time, it follows Suzanne, the main character who’s based on Fisher, shortly after she gets checked into a mental hospital.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have given the guy who pumped my stomach my phone number, but who cares?”

This is how she opens the book. Makes you wonder — did that actually happen? Suzanne’s voice is so much like Fisher’s that it’s hard to tell how much she actually fictionalized. The line is constantly blurry in this book, from what I’ve seen.

I think the world still misses Carrie Fisher. Her humor and realness regarding a whole life in the spotlight were different from nearly anyone else in Hollywood. I highly recommend reading any of her books, for a variety of reasons. If you struggle with mental illness, it’ll give you a relatable reason to laugh at yourself and a famous person. If you like Star Wars, it’ll give you insight to the iconic actress. If you like taking in some quality humor, you’ll never be disappointed.

Edited by Libby Stanford | lstanford@themaneater.com

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