Married to one, focused on another: That’s Eddie and Mrs. Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, with friend Elizabeth Taylor. How does one guy manage to romance two of the most beautiful women in the world at the same time? Whatever the answer, Eddie had “it” — and the rest of us don’t.
If ever a performer proved unable to deal with the heady lifestyle brought on by pop success, it was Eddie Fisher. Perhaps only Elvis Presley was less equipped to deal with the trappings of fame.
Legend has it that Eddie Fisher was “discovered” at Grossinger’s Resort in the Catskills by comic showman Eddie Cantor. Legend also has it that the discovery was arranged by manager Milton Blackstone, who conveniently persuaded Cantor to see the show, and a phalanx of press photographers to see the discovery.
Add to this the celebrity marriages and break-ups, the Liz and Debbie love triangle, the stories of drug addiction, gambling debts, and an ever-changing stream of liaisons with leading Hollywood ladies, and you’ve still just managed to scratch the surface of the Eddie Fisher legend.
We provide this preamble not to trot out yet another scandal article, but rather to properly set the stage for Popularsong.org’s perspective on Eddie Fisher. Here’s an incredibly talented man, done in by his personality, personal demons, and desire to experience all that his unusual life had to offer. Despite his train wreck of a life, Fisher made a significant contribution to American popular song. And believe it or not, he helped pave the way for rock and roll.
Fisher was born in South Philadelphia, and took on the attitude of a “Philly kid” through and through. Like the fictional Rocky Balboa, the general attitude is that life is a fight, people are out to get you, claw your way up, conquest, fight, don’t be a fool. Young Eddie Fisher wasn’t a tough guy, but he was nobody’s fool and willing to pursue his career like a bulldog. A natural vocalist, Fisher hit the road during his teenage years and promptly struggled. His talent was undeniable, but his age was…young. Too young, in fact, to be taken seriously on stage. Fisher worked at his craft for about five years, when supposedly Blackstone first heard him somewhere in the city and set up the Grossinger’s “discovery.”
Cantor put Fisher on his show, and a star was born. Eddie soon landed a deal with RCA, and a small role in a movie. After a couple of minor hits in 1949, Fisher struck the charts hard with “Thinking Of You” and “Turn Back The Hands Of Time” in 1950. These were followed by “Any Time” and a cover of the Four Aces’ “Tell Me Why” in 1951.
With a young star exploding on the scene, RCA next moved Fisher to team with the well-established Perry Como. Como, who was starting to find himself a bit aged for the screaming bobby-soxers, for his part was glad to be associated with the up and coming Fisher — until they entered the studio. Eddie had his own sense of timing, while Perry followed the charts perfectly. In this way Fisher presaged the rock and roll style that was right around the corner.
In any event, Como was nonplussed, but worked with Fisher and adapted his own performance. The result was “Watermelon Weather,” which scored as a sizable hit. More importantly, it gave Como’s career a bit of energy (not that he was in any great danger of sliding off the charts) and gave Fisher some further credibility.
1951 saw Fisher drafted into the Army, where he became a vocal soloist with various Army bands. His stateside service enabled him to continue recording, and his records promptly marched up the charts. 1952’s biggest was “”Wish You Were Here” and a duet, “A Man Chases A Girl (Until She Catches Him)” with another rising star named Debbie Reynolds. At times the press didn’t take Fisher’s military service seriously; it is said that he ultimately made a plea to President Eisenhower to perform for the troops in Korea. When it finally happened, the resulting publicity and photos pushed Fisher further into the stratosphere.
1953 would be Eddie’s year. NBC debuted a television show called Coke Time with Eddie Fisher, sponsored by the popular soft drink giant. It became the top show among teen audiences. Four hit singles pounded the charts in ’53, including “I’m Walking Behind You” a duet with Sally Sweetland that hit #1, “Outside of Heaven,” “Many Times,” and the massive hit “Oh My Pa-Pa.” The latter vaulted to the top of the charts in December 1953, and returned to the top spot in February 1954. The song coincidentally battled Tony Bennett’s “Rags to Riches;” the two singers were friends and mutually admired each other’s styles. Had Fisher not debilatated himself through years of drug addiciton and hard living, it’s likely he would’ve enjoyed the same popularity late in life that Bennett has.
“Oh My Pa-Pa” would become Fisher’s signature song. It also set the stage for his fall from popularity. While crooners like Como, Bennett, Sinatra and others were able to shed their bobby-soxer audience and move on to an adult audience, Fisher was still very much a teen idol when the rock and roll phenomonon hit.
It’s possible that Fisher could’ve made the transition to appeal to a rock and roll audience, but by the time Elvis hit, he was old news. Fisher could’ve sang the new style; a 1956 tune called “Cindy Oh Cindy” just about makes it as a rock ballad. But when he married Debbie Reynolds it made him seem old and — gasp — square. Although he was not quite 30 years old, his star was clearly fading.
A Very Talented Caricature
By the late 1950s Fisher had lost his teen audience and his knack for hit records. He became tabloid fodder and began to take prescription drugs. As the 1960s rolled in, he dumped Debbie for Liz, who in turn dumped Eddie for Richard Burton. Debbie and Liz then teamed up on stage to make a bit of mockery of an ex-husband named “Freddie.”
While his personal life disintegrated in the 1960s, Eddie turned to the one thing he could count on: His vocals. The video above provides a good look at what a skilled and polished performer he had become despite the demons he was battling. He also made some excellent record albums. Fisher fans guaranteed moderate sales, but otherwise the record buying public took little notice. A couple of minor hits from the 1960s were “Sunrise, Sunset” and the enjoyable “Games That Lovers Play.”
Considering his tough workaday roots and years of dead-end struggling for success, it’s easy to see how Fisher lived for the here and now. Had he known that he would live into his 80s, it’s likely that Eddie Fisher would’ve been a different man. His legacy is that Eddie was one of the last of the classic crooners, and his new style of timing helped paved the way for the early rock and roll ballads. Hounded by drugs and personal problems, Fisher seldom gets proper credit for his vocal skills, showmanship, and work ethic.
Do, Re, Mi…One of the all-time great televsion vocal performances featured three of the younger vocalists from the “crooner” era, broadcast on the Andy Williams Show in the 1960s. In the segment, Eddie Fisher directs Bobby Darin and Andy Williams in a breathtaking version of “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music. Although his career was by then firmly in retread status, Fisher’s command of the stage is quite apparent, and he obviously relished the brief comedic exchanges with Darin. Williams, always a class act, made a quip or two but then stepped back and let Eddie take the spotlight — perhaps Andy knew that this was a special moment on his show. Despite the stunning performance, Fisher’s strain and quiet desperation are apparent in the video. Knowing that he and Williams were the same age, it’s also apparent that Fisher’s high-profile lifestyle and drug problems had taken quite a toll. But Eddie’s vocal talents were still very much intact. If you can find this video on “Youtube” or any other outlet, the performance is simply stunning.