I needed a comic monologue for an audition, and I could never find one in those monologue compilation books. I was 20, and either the characters were too old for me, or they were too young for me. Nothing worked, but I had to come up with something.
Then it hit me.
You know how I always seem to be struggling, even when the situation doesn't call for it? Well, I finally found a place where my struggling fits right in: the sunny Middle East. Brooding and moping doesn't seem overdramatic in Israel or Egypt or Turkey. Today I stood in a bombed out train station. I looked at the charred, twisted metal and I thought, "Finally, my outsides match my insides." Maybe I should take a tour of the world's trouble spots and really relax.
I coupled that with another section that began,
Maybe I shouldn't have given the guy who pumped my stomach my phone number....
These words were, likely, also a stretch for me to pull off. Nevertheless, the ideas literally made me laugh out loud, and I figured - if it makes me laugh, I can make other people laugh with it.
I garnered some chuckles, but afterwards I realized what a tall order it was to attempt to put on the wit and cadence of the writer.
While Carrie will for all eternity be Princess and General Leia Organa, and that in and of itself would be more than enough, for me it was -Carrie Fisher The Writer- that looms largest in my mind. Princess Leia is almost a footnote compared to how I feel about Carrie's turns of phrase and use of language.
In 1990, the opening of her novel, Surrender the Pink, solidified her as my favorite author.
Dinah Kaufman lost her virginity a total of three times. Not because it was so large that it took three times to knock it out, but because she thought losing your virginity was supposed to mean something and it took her three strikes to feel she was even remotely in the meaning ball game.
I loved that opening passage so much that I stole it and appropriated it to my own life when I would have conversations with people about "my first time." I wasn't exactly lying either; it actually fit.
The title of her third novel, Delusions of Grandma was witty enough on its own, but within the book, Carrie was once again adept at spinning moments from "real life" and turning them into genuinely funny fictionalized characters and situations.
It was close to ten years between Delusions of Grandma and her final novel, The Best Awful, which found her re-visiting her 'Suzanne Vale' alter-ego from Postcards From the Edge.
The opening chapter title? "The Man That Got The Man That Got Away." You see,
Suzanne had a child with a man who forgot to tell her he was gay. He forgot to tell her, and she forgot to notice.
The Best Awful is about Suzanne's continuing struggle with mental problems, while overcoming the sadness of loving a man who can't love her back in the way she wants and trying to be the best mother she can to her daughter. It all becomes too much, and soon, Suzanne is off her meds for a length of time that leads to a psychotic break.
In reality, Carrie Fisher did marry a gay man, and had a child with him. She also experienced a psychotic break in the years between Delusions of Grandma and The Best Awful, which explained the nearly decade long stretch between books. Carrie did spend time in a mental institution, and at the time, doctors were not certain her brain would recover to a point she would even be able to write!
Thankfully, for us, she bounced back.
Despite the easy (but incorrect) assumption of many that her fictions were in fact, truth, one of the most riveting passages of The Best Awful was not pulled from reality.
When Suzanne's psychotic break is at its peak, she travels to Tijuana with a tattoo artist named Tony in order to find OxyContin and get high. Fisher writes this section in an amazing 'stream of consciousness' form. It's a two or three page rant that completely lets us inside the mind of someone with major mental difficulties.
In press interviews, she explained that she wrote this section as a "metaphor" for her experiences. The tremendous skill it took to accomplish that and make it so vividly real - it reads as though she wrote it while it was happening - stunned me.
Fisher was always adept at balancing the disturbing with the hilarious. As a title, The Best Awful certainly infers the duality and counterpoint of life. Carrie spoke often about the pains of life having some sort of comedy to it.
For example, I also loved a section where Suzanne summons her more powerful self, which she calls Lucrezia, in order to seduce a straight movie actor for the sole purpose of proving she can still attract a straight man.
After The Best Awful, Carrie's books stayed strictly in memoir / autobiographical territory.
Wishful Drinking is an all-encompassing life overview that is as entertaining a read as it was to see as a performance piece at the Geffen Playhouse in LA coming up on ten years ago (January 2007). It was also turned into an HBO special that is just as good.
Her hilarious tales relating to the Star Wars merchandise created with her likeness - in particular a blow up Princess Leia doll - threw these immortal words into the lexicon: "Galaxy Snatch." (which I don't believe made it into the special, but slayed me the night I heard it).
Shockaholic focuses on her decision to undergo electro-shock therapy (ECT) in order to maintain a sense of mental balance. She has said it is the only treatment that has helped her feel a sense of normalcy or "happy."
The procedure would knock out three or four months of memory, so she tended to explain to new people she met not to be offended if she forgets them the next time they meet.
Both Shockaholic and Wishful Drinking enabled Carrie to put a face on the seriousness of manic-depression and mental illness. One of the anecdotes in Wishful Drinking is that her photo is actually in a medical textbook, but of course, the photo they chose for 'the face of mental illness' is one of her as Princess Leia.
"See - I'm not crazy. THAT bitch is!"
Just last month, The Princess Diarist was published. It's framed with the Carrie of today ruminating on aspects of Star Wars once again while the middle portion is a reprint of the diaries she kept during the making of the movie in 1976.
The first frame focuses on how she was cast and the hilarity with which she looks back on putting together "Princess Leia," while the latter frame focuses on her experience at fan conventions.
A favorite moment from the first section: she auditioned for Brian DePalma and George Lucas at the same time. DePalma was casting "Carrie." So, if she had been cast in THAT film, the tag line might have been
Carrie AS Carrie IN 'Carrie.'
The diaries are mostly an expression what was happening in her mind during her affair with Harrison Ford while making the movie. While the affair is big news right now, not so much to me. In earlier writing, Carrie spoke of an affair during Star Wars but only referred to her paramour as the "Marlboro Man." It wasn't a stretch to think Harrison might have been that man.
It is fascinating to compare the 19-year-old voice of Carrie to the woman she became. The intelligence and depth is the same, but (obviously) the tone is quite different.
In terms of her screen legacy, there is one performance I don't think gets remembered enough despite it being part of another modern classic she appears in. Her role as "Marie" in When Harry Met Sally contributed as much to that film as Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, in my opinion. (You can add Bruno Kirby to that as well, by the way).
I worked at a movie theater at the time When Harry Met Sally was out in 1989, and it used to kill me that a major aspect of Carrie's character seemed to go over people's heads.
Every time "Marie" would say "You're right. You're right. I know you're right." (after the first time) I would laugh. No one else seemed to get it. People would turn and look at me like, "What are you laughing at?"
Attention, people. Attention.
I thought it was a robbery when Carrie didn't get a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination that year. Perhaps her comic timing was so good that most of Hollywood (who likely knew her personally) thought she was just being herself. If so, that's a shame.
While she may not be in the movie, she is obviously all over the film version of Postcards From the Edge, since she wrote it. It's so great that I'm sad it was her only feature film as a credited writer. It's widely known she was mostly a "script doctor" after that and I would love to know the complete list of films she helped with!
So many other moments to remember. The iconic scene between her and John Belushi in The Blues Brothers. Carrie and Martin Short onstage at the Oscars in 1989.
A candid two-part interview with Madonna in Rolling Stone. A TV interview where she explained that her ex-husband wanted the pool, so the reason she was having that area of her property dug up was so she could bag all the dirt and leave it for him on his front lawn!
Her AFI roast of George Lucas.
Brilliant cameos in movies like Soapdish and Scream 3. Banter between her and mother Debbie Reynolds at the Oscars in 1997, not to mention a terrific and moving interview with the two of them on Oprah's show in 2011, including a moment where they sing together. An unforgettably funny turn in an episode during Season 3 of Sex and the City.
Her takedown of people being nasty towards her for "breaking the contract" and not staying the way she looked in 1983 forever. Her appearances on TV for promotion, and her love for her dog, Gary.
....and then there is her priceless commentary on the DVDs/BluRays for the original Star Wars trilogy. Her thoughts are interspersed with many other people who worked on the movies, but her comments are so good that you wish they'd just had her sit for her own solo track and riff on everything over the two hours of each movie.
My personal favorite moment comes in the commentary for Return of the Jedi. I won't ruin it for those who haven't listened, but look out for the moment Han Solo embraces Princess Leia after Leia's big conversation with Luke. While I'm at it, her commentary for Postcards is quite good as well.
In the next few months, we will likely see the HBO documentary (Bright Lights) that has been prepared about Carrie and her mother Debbie Reynolds. That certainly will take on a whole new meaning, as will any of Carrie's moments in Star Wars Episode 8.
If I can even display a tenth of the Carrie Fisher's wit in my own writing, it would be a very good day. I am grateful for her, the myriad of ways she inspired me, and that her work will live on in so many forms.
Read her books. All of them.
Carrie Fisher wanted her obit to read:
"She was drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra."
Yet there is one other moment from Wishful Drinking that I wish to close with. You see, as Carrie wrote....
I have something stuck in my brain. And it's because it's in there I frequently get lost on my way to people's houses, I always forget people's names, and I leave stuff everywhere so that my husband, Dick Tater, has to pick up after me. And at times I forget part of my show, which is how this whole thing got started. So now I've written it down at least.
Anyway, the following is the 'something' that I have stuck in my brain which I go about trying to systematically forget publicly here in these pages! (And if you understood that, you're in desperate need of medication.)
It's a poem. A poem, by George Lucas.
'General Kenobi, years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars; now he begs you to help him in his struggle against the Empire. I regret that I am unable to present my father's request to you in person; but my ship has fallen under attack, and my mission to bring you to Alderaan has failed. I have placed information vital to the survival of the rebellion into the memory systems of this R2 unit. My father will know how to retrieve it. You must see this droid safely delivered to him on Alderaan. This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi - you're my only hope.'
I can't forget that stupid, fucking hologram speech. That's why I did dope!
So long, Princess.