Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Carrie Fisher: No More Postcards

Two Princess Leias, a medal and some broken jewellry

Did I ever tell you about the time Carrie Fisher kissed me on the cheek? Stick around, I’ll tell it again soon.

Carrie Fisher was Princess Leia; no getting past that. Except, of course, she did. And then she stepped right back into being her last year. She was the right person to play Leia because she was the right age at the time and she is part of Hollywood royalty.

She was also the right person to have been Leia in retrospect, too. Can you imagine anyone else describing Jabba the Hutt as a “giant saliva testicle”? Anyone else who would bring an audience member up on stage to mount a Leia “sex doll” and whip it away before they get close enough to fulfil their childhood fantasy?

Actors, even those of Star Wars­­­-level fame, go in and out of the spotlight. Oh, you could spot Fisher on screen in the 1980s and 90s, but much of her hard work went on behind the scenes, as a script writer and script doctor. Hook, Sister Act, The Last Action Hero, The Wedding Singer, Scream 3. She had a hand in shaping and fixing those scripts.

She even re-wrote bits of The Empire Strikes Back, because who knows Leia better than Leia herself?

She also did uncredited re-writes on the Star Wars prequels, but not even the genius of Carrie Fisher could save those.

She wrote awards show banter for the Oscars and an episode of Roseanne for her mother, Debbie Reynolds, to guest star in.

And then there was Postcards from the Edge. I think I saw the film before I read the book, but that was her screenplay, too. It was her life. If you can write a movie of your own life and have Meryl Streep star as you, do it. That’s a great film/book about growing up as the daughter of Hollywood legends, and trying to keep it together in a crazy industry.

She hosted a show back in the early 2000s called Interviews from the Edge and I hope someone finds a way to release those for everyone’s consumption, because they were truly hilarious and insightful. The highlights, though, were her interviews with her parents – Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. Separately, of course. Genuine and moving and, as you would expect, so very funny.

She was the right person to play Leia because later in life she could write the frankly honest book, The Princess Diarist and her other great memoir, Wishful Drinking. I’ve read Wishful Drinking twice and quote it a lot. Particularly this part about George Lucas, in answer to the question “Did you know Star Wars was going to be a hit?” Carrie wrote:

Yes, of course I knew. We all knew. The only one who didn't know was George Lucas. We kept it from him because we wanted to see what his face looked like when it changed expression - and he fooled us even then. He got Industrial Light and Magic to change his facial expression for him and THX sound to make the noise of a face changing expression.

She turned that book into a stage show which she toured around the world. I saw it from the front row of the Athenaeum Theatre in Melbourne. Early in the show, her bracelet broke and pieces of it flew into the audience. A few of us scrabbled around on the floor trying to find the bits. After a few seconds, Carrie said: “Oh forget it, I don’t want it now it’s been on the floor.”

I have two pieces of that bracelet. They sit with my two Princess Leia action figures – one from Bespin and one from the forest moon of Endor. Between them sits the medal I won, during a part of the show Carrie called “Hollywood Inbreeding”.

For a while, I just sat there in awe of her. This legendary actor, star of my favourite trilogy from childhood – and probably from adulthood, too. This witty writer. This incredible story-teller.

And then this happened, as she told her story about waking up next to a dead Republican.
Carrie: “Why do they call sex ‘in the saddle’?”
Carrie looked at me, sitting in the front row.
Me: “Because there could be a riding crop involved?” And I made a whipping motion with one hand. Probably the best improvisation I’ve ever made in my life.
Carrie: “Well that says more about you than it does answer the question.” And she was back into the show and I’d had my moment.

Later, though, she started to tell tales of her famous family tree, with its convoluted structure. Her parents both married multiple times and once your father marries Elizabeth Taylor, who was married eight times, you’re suddenly related to half of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

During this part, she asked trivia questions and after our previous encounter, I felt brave enough to answer some of them. I knew most of the answers anyway, because I’m a fan of that era almost as much as I am a fan of hers.

And because I answered the most questions right, Carrie Fisher got down on her knees at the front of the stage and I stood up from my front row seat and she hung a medal around my neck and kissed me on the cheek.

I am writing this through tears, if you were wondering.

I wrote a play that was inspired by that moment, that encounter with a legend and a hero of my childhood. It’s called “You Will Be Kissed By Princess Leia” and it’s just a short play about how life never turns out like you expect, but can be amazing in many ways you cannot plan for.

Princess Leia is a key figure in another play of mine “Who Are You Supposed to Be” which is, ostensibly, my Doctor Who play, but it’s really about women in fandom and the heroes they find there. Leia is described as one of the great science fiction characters of all time, lost in an original trilogy where there’s a distinct lack of women – even in a franchise that’s been progressive enough to have had two female leads this past year.

And more Princess Leia than I would have ever expected.

*

There’s no comfort to be taken in the loss of a great woman who was only sixty years old. We’ll get to see more of her in the TV series, Catastrophe. We will get to see the great General Leia on screen in Star Wars: Episode VIII next year.

But we should have seen her in Episode IX. We should have gotten more cameos. We should have heard more stories and more biting commentary.

We have her books and her performances and our own personal memories of her.

But no more memoirs, no more tweeting, no more postcards from the edge.

Hollywood Inbreeding 101

3 comments:

Phil Kiemel said...

Great tribute, thanks for sharing.

jenmoon said...

I love this. Lucky you!

Wishful Drinking was the best.

Your plays are intriguing me as well.

Keith Gow said...

"You Will Be Kissed By Princess Leia" is available to read here.