When I saw singer Eddie Fisher's book, "Been There, Done That" on the shelf at a friend's house recently, I thought to myself, "oh no another 'tell-all' type of gossip memoir. Yet the journalist in me immediately sprang up and chimed in with, "yeah but what about his side of the story?"
The familiar and now-legendary break up of Fisher to movie star Debbie Reynolds amid a supposed 'love-triangle' scandal between Fisher Reynolds and mega-star Elizabeth Taylor has been mostly told by those speaking on behalf of Reynolds. Or it has been recounted from the view point of Taylor, who divorced Fisher after five years.
Yet, something within this reporter was curious to just get a glimpse of what "his side of the story was." And, I just wanted to exercise some objectivity as all reporters are urged to do.
One thing that struck me right away about Fisher's memoir was his recollections. For this reporter, those recollections of how life was when he was growing up were perhaps more valuable than anything else. The reason why I say this is because he looks back much on the people in his life, their history, where they came from, what the world was like back then.
Fisher provides a very heart-felt and seemingly sincere look at the years of his youth, the start of his career, etc. especially about his parents, grandparents and the hardships they faced. Life for many immigrant families was not easy. And for Eddie who was one of seven children, poverty and doing with less was an everyday occurrence.
Fisher describes his singing talent as something that came very easy to him, something he enjoyed and did not need to practice much at. Yet, like other biographies of stars from similar backgrounds, I see there is one common thread that they share.
Even if love between the parents was strained, there was always someone there (like a grandparent, a "bubbe" who had a bit of insight to help prepare for a future). And, Fisher had one of his greatest fans in his grandmother who taught him all the folk songs.
Naturally, there was some resentment on the part of his father, who he described as a "tyrant." Yet, as I read through these recollections of Fisher, I saw similarities to other movie stars, like Tony Curtis, Barbra Striesand,Danny Kaye, and Jerry Lewis, etc.
They too talked about the hard times growing up and how much discord there was when money was scarce and tensions flared.
They too talk about the histories of the various relatives, where they came from in "the old country" and how life there was not only difficult but very restricted. Ugly incidents like "pogroms" and humiliating discriminating customs that dated back centuries as caste systems were set in place with each regime that took power over the people.
Going to America was a ray of hope in a dismal existence for many immigrants, especially in Eastern Europe. Fisher's biography and other movie stars I have read all seem to share this basic outline in common.
Fisher noted that while his father was harsh with him, he saw his father cry once when Fisher sang for services at the synagogue. Having someone "make it" in the world, especially the new world was important to all immigrant families. Fisher expresses this with fervor and also with some depth that makes it more than just a gossip book. Well, at least in certain parts of the book, not all.
Of course, each star has their own take on events and people they knew. Yet in that bias there is still the recollection of some aspect of matter-of-fact history and the social consciousness of the times in which they lived. This for me, makes any biography or memoir interesting. I skipped over the banter about his romantic exploits, even the ones where he tells his side of life with Reynolds and Taylor.
That type of retelling just did not appeal to me as much as his recollections of the people and events of his early years. Of how he thought when he was little that his voice made him special and that he did not think much of school, etc. Recounting such as that provides much more insight and clarity than telling tales of dalliances, liaisons and fornication. Even from a guy's point of view, after about the third or fourth spill out of gossip, it gets tired. Even the Washington Post book review by Jonathan Yardley in 1999 when the book was published, made note of that. So, Fisher had an affair with Marlene Dietrich, okay, we understand, move along.
And yet mentioning how movie studios controlled people's lives, that I think is more important to know. Or, talk of what was the social and political climate of the time that shaped people's points of view, yeah I think that should be included, more so than how many times he had had a liaison or secret rendezvous, who really cares!
There is some conceit and self-centeredness in Fisher's memoirs and it seems rather counter-productive. One review mentions that conceit and also notes what his children think of him. He admits he could have been a better parent. I pushed passed the bitter stuff as well as his bragging. This is why I streamed more toward the family background and over-all basic historical accounts rather than his tattle tale exploits.
Fisher does speak candidly about his mistakes which when compared to today's gossip columns and tabloid tattles, seems not so shocking. Yet I can see why so many in one blog review site I went to expressed indifference to his side of the story. For those who like Hollywood gossip material, Fisher's "Been There, Done That has plenty. But I call attention to the other histories mentioned in his unusual life that made up the background, they I think are far more richer and insightful.