The story behind that photo of Carrie Fisher watching Debbie Reynolds: 'She was mesmerized'
Upon hearing of Debbie Reynolds‘ passing at the age of 84 just one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died of a heart attack, many fans paid tribute to the screen icons by posting a touching photo of a young Fisher waiting in the wings as her mother performed on stage.
The black and white snapshot, taken by Lawrence Schiller during an assignment he says lasted only two or three days, depicts a 6-year-old Fisher sitting on a stool and watching Reynolds on stage at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas in 1963. The Sin City hotel also left the world in this year — the Strip’s first high-rise was demolished this summer after closing its doors in May 2015.
Schiller tells PEOPLE that Fisher was “inseparable” from her mother, giving the nanny tasked with watching her an easy job.
“She didn’t have to be shepherded around,” recalls Schiller. “Every place her mother walked, she would walk after her.”
In the photo, Fisher gazes at her mother as Reynolds stands in the center of the stage in the spotlight, arms outstretched to the audience.
When the photograph was taken, someone had brought Fisher a stool because she was standing by the curtains and couldn’t get a good view of Reynolds on stage.
“I remember she just sat there for the whole performance. It wasn’t like she was there for two minutes then ran away or started to cry,” Schiller says. “She was just mesmerized by her mother.”
Although Fisher would go on to have her own successful film career, Schiller says at the time she was simply “Debbie Reynolds’ daughter.”
“I think at that time, quite honestly, as a photographer, her name — Carrie — didn’t even come into my mind,” he says.
Reynolds had made her nightclub debut at the Riviera in 1962, a decade after starring in Singin’ in the Rain, during the hotel and casino’s Rat Pack heyday.
For 10 years, the screen star headlined for about three months a year at the casino. Reynolds told the Los Angeles Times in 1966 that she enjoyed live shows even though it was “was extremely strenuous.”
“With a performing schedule of two shows a night, seven nights a week, it’s probably the toughest kind of show business.” she said. “But in my opinion, the most rewarding. I like the feeling of being able to change stage bits and business when I want. You can’t do that in motion pictures or TV.”
The gig also offered some stability for Reynolds’ two young children with ex-husband Eddie Fisher, Carrie (born in 1956) and Todd (1958).
In a 2015 interview with PEOPLE’s Lynette Rice, Reynolds reflected on raising her children in Hollywood.
“Aren’t they beautiful?” she said, gazing at an old press photo with her two children as toddlers. “I always loved to put little outfits together for them. They were raised on the MGM backlot. I was very blessed, very blessed to have these children. I was just lucky.”