Our Movie Gods are Only Human After All
Ford & Fisher take a break from filming the Star Wars Holiday Special in 1978. (AP/George Brich)
The duel deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds last week were such a blow that I popped a blood vessel in my eye from crying so much. For some, it might be hard to understand how the deaths of people we didn’t know personally can affect us on such a personal level, but sometimes they just do.
Carrie, in the form of Princess Leia, was my first hero (you can read my tribute to her over at my author website). When I later realized that Leia was in fact a character portrayed by a real person, my first cinefile passion project was launched as I tried to see every film she had made. I even watched Shampoo in its entirety, even though I was nine didn’t know what the hell was going on. Carrie went on to have many struggles and so publicly shared her personal insecurities, but she was still this heroic mythical being to me.
When her latest memoir, The Princess Diarist came out in November, I was aware that it would include mention of the 3-month affair Fisher had with Harrison Ford during the filming of Star Wars. I wasn’t surprised by this revelation. Even as a kid I could read her face as she gazed at him during public appearances. What I wasn’t expecting was that the diary entries reproduced in the book are almost exclusively centered on the relationship, which sounds like it was purely physical for Ford while very emotional for Fisher. Here she was, only 19-years-old and in her first starring film role, finally establishing herself independent of her famous mother, yet she was completely consumed with was having fallen for this emotionally (and legally, he was married) unavailable man.
I found the book very hard to read because the raw emotions presented were all too familiar. I was 19-20 when I first fell hard for a guy, and Fisher’s book brought all of those long suppressed memories. Sure, I had had crushes along the way, but this was the real deal. Unfortunately, (or in retrospect, fortunately) the feelings were not reciprocated, though he did keep me around long enough to boost his ego and have me write a few of his college assignments for him. Yes, I once read an entire book on Bolivia in the name of love (or something). There would be other loves and additional heartbreak, but nothing that matched that period when I was wallowing in the all consuming depths of first rejection while listening to The White Album, which for some reason reflected my mood. What I took away from The Princess Diarist was; our movie gods are all too human, and 19-20 is a terrible age to fall in love.
Which brings us to Ann Dvorak.
Ann was 20 when she fell in love for the first time, and to say it was all-consuming might be an understatement. Leslie Fenton became her sun, moon, stars, and earth and arguably is the reason her career stalled and then slowly fizzled for two decades. I think she experienced the most extreme emotional highs of her life during her marriage to Fenton. However, long after the dissolution of the relationship and in looking back on her life, she did express regret at sacrificing her career for love when she was so young and Hollywood was promising so much.
I have sometimes thought about what I would have done had I been in Ann’s shoes in 1932 when Leslie Fenton convinced her to breach her Warner Bros. contract and traipse around Europe. Had I been 25 or 30 (or older), hell no. I would have had my eye on the career prize. But at 20? I would have been on that boat so quick Jack Warner’s head would have flown off from spinning so fast.
All in all, I made out ok with my first encounter with uncontrollable love, lust, or whatever it was. Other than wounded pride and bitter cynicism about romantic relationships that lasted a few years I was able to move on, marry an amazing man, and haven’t seen that other guy in 20 years. Fisher on the other hand, spent the last 40 years being tied to Ford through Star Wars, and Ann, well – we know how Ann and Leslie Fenton’s story ultimately played out.
This week, I raise a glass to Ms. Fisher and Ms. Dvorak. My two movie heroes who turned out to be human after all.