Speaking to some of those who knew Carrie Fisher best, author Sheila Weller crafted Carrie Fisher: A Life on the Edge (out Nov. 12), an anecdote-filled journey chronicling the actress and writer’s incredible life — including a fly-on-the-wall view of her wild celeb-filled house parties. Check out an exclusive excerpt below.
With money now from Star Wars, Carrie wanted an outpost in her hometown, so she bought a house next door to her friend Teri Garr’s log cabin in Laurel Canyon. It was a tiny house, and Carrie decorated it felicitously: she put a big statue of a foot on the front lawn and had cutouts of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on the stairs. When she and Paul [Simon] were in L.A., she gave parties there, where a gourmet cook was on the premises, teaching everyone cuisine. The hired chef was “supposed to give us lessons,” Teri Garr recalled, “and we’d all watch him cook and try to learn how, but mostly we’d just drink a lot of wine.”
Eventually, she rented out the Laurel Canyon house and bought a house on Oak Pass in Benedict Canyon. There, for her editor guests, especially the female ones, life at Carrie’s was like a sorority house on Friday night, and it often included the new custom in Carrie’s life, which would make her a social icon for thirty years: her legendary joint October birthday parties with Penny Marshall. A more exclusive, A-list-filled, in-demand party in Hollywood—or anywhere—didn’t exist than the Carrie-Penny parties. Nina Jacobson—now one of Hollywood’s major producers—once said to a journalist that when she and her girlfriend, Jen, first started attending them, “we felt bad for not being famous,” because the guests were, by Nina’s estimation, “85 percent incredibly famous people. We were wondering what we were doing there.”
The guest list was such that celebrities got quietly excited over fellow celebrities. At one party, early on, a friend says, “When I saw Barbra Streisand walk in, I had to walk out and hyperventilate.” (In fact it is said that Barbra wanted to hire Carrie’s housekeepers, Gloria and Mary, to serve the same southern fare at her parties, but Carrie wouldn’t let Barbra do so.)
Although these evening parties were for pleasure rather than networking, networking inevitably occurred. Albert Brooks says, “Because I met Meryl Streep at a party at Carrie’s house and I had just written Defending Your Life, I said to her, ‘You wouldn’t be interested in playing the lead in my movie, would you?'” She was and did.
Elizabeth Taylor and Carrie had long made peace (as had Debbie [Reynolds] and Elizabeth); Elizabeth was often an attendee. Says Bruce Vilanch, “I remember at one party, where there was Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, and maybe Timothy Leary, and Carrie said, ‘Excuse me, I have to go and feed Elizabeth.’ Carrie would give her special treatment. She would trot over to fix Elizabeth a plate and clear a special area where she would dine. Carrie talked about it as if it were her duty.”
Another guest remembers this: During one party, “Elizabeth was talking with her hands, and she noticed everyone staring at her huge ring from Richard Burton, the one that went almost straight to her knuckle. So,” in a showy gesture to all the gawkers, “she popped her finger in her mouth and theatrically took the ring off with her teeth.” Another time, Carrie telephoned a friend in advance of the party and said, “You have to come! Elizabeth is coming in her wheelchair, and Eddie [Fisher] is coming in his wheelchair. And Debbie”— no wheelchair! sweet justice—”will be at the door greeting them!” When the guest arrived, the friend recalls, “that is exactly what happened. Debbie Reynolds—the queen of the world—still standing!”
EXCERPTED FROM CARRIE FISHER: A LIFE ON THE EDGE BY SHEILA WELLER. PUBLISHED BY SARAH CRICHTON BOOKS, AN IMPRINT OF FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX, NOVEMBER 12, 2019. COPYRIGHT © 2019 BY SHEILA WELLER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.