Fisher, Eddie (1928—)

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Fisher, Eddie (1928—)

For a brief time, Eddie Fisher was the most popular male vocalist in America, but for a longer period, the affable crooner was the center of a highly-publicized series of romantic entanglements, involving some of the most famous celebrities of his generation.

One of seven children of a Jewish grocer in South Philadelphia, Edward Fisher had a Depression-era childhood of poverty and frequent moves. He sought a singing career from an early age, and became a regular performer on Philadelphia radio by the age of fifteen. Two years later, the seventeen-year-old Fisher obtained a tryout with the Buddy Morrow band in New York, but he was only employed for a few weeks. Calling himself Sonny Edwards, Fisher haunted the city's nightclubs for months, searching for work. In an audition at the Copacabana, Fisher impressed the owner with his voice, but his immature looks and manner detracted from his talent. Fortunately, the nightclub owner put Fisher in touch with publicist and celebrity manager, Milton Blackstone, who in turn found the youthful entertainer a summer job at Grossinger's resort hotel in the Catskills. There Fisher set about learning as much as possible, not only by honing his own skills, but also by studying the behavior of the famous acts that performed at Grossinger's.

In the fall of 1946 Fisher returned to the Copacabana, where he was given a small job, and the ambitious young singer spent the next three years in a vain effort at becoming a star. Frustrated with his progress, in 1949 Fisher put himself fully under the control of Blackstone, and made one last effort at establishing himself as a singing sensation. Now 21, he was more mature and his stage presence had greatly improved, so Blackstone decided to manufacture a groundswell of popularity for Fisher, and persuaded the famous comedian Eddie Cantor to "discover" Fisher during a performance at Grossinger's.

Blackstone paid for "fans" to sit throughout the hall, and to cheer wildly during Fisher's act. Cantor set up the audience to love Eddie Fisher, and Fisher performed very well. Several reporters, who had been alerted by Milton Blackstone of a breaking show-business story, covered the "discovery" for major newspapers. A star was born in one hour of conniving, where four years of talented and honest effort had achieved nothing.

Cantor then took Eddie Fisher under his wing, giving him a place on his current national tour and television show, and even wrangling invitations for the young singer on other major television programs. Finally, Cantor and Blackstone arranged for Fisher to sign with RCA Victor, one of the biggest recording companies. Throughout the rest of 1949 and all of 1950, Fisher's career grew at a rapid pace. He had several hit records, performed frequently on television and on tour, and was given Billboard magazine's award as Most Promising Male Vocalist of 1950.

Early in 1951, Eddie Fisher was drafted into the Army during the Korean War. But Blackstone used his influence to ensure that Fisher would spend his two years in the military crooning with the U.S. Army Band. In fact, given that his recording dates, television appearances, and tours continued without a hitch, Fisher's career probably benefited from his military service. Not until Fisher made a personal request to President Truman did the Army allow him to visit Korea and entertain fighting troops.

Returning to civilian life in early 1953, Fisher found that his handlers had set up a television program for him to host, a twice-weekly show on NBC. Sponsored by the Coca Cola corporation, the show was called Coke Time, as Fisher's popularity with teenagers made soft drinks a logical sponsor. The show lasted over three years on radio as well as on television; when it ended, NBC found another show (albeit a less successful one) for him until 1959.

Television was just part of Fisher's hectic performance schedule, which included tours as well as frequent live shows in New York. After excessive singing began to harm his voice, Fisher was taken to celebrity physician Dr. Max Jacobson and given an injection of special vitamins, or so he was told. He felt better immediately, and turned to Dr. Jacobson more and more often in the years to come. The shots were a mixture of substances, but mostly amphetamines or "speed;" Jacobson would eventually lose his license to practice medicine, but not before Eddie Fisher had become a confirmed drug addict.

Fisher's youth, fame, and wealth carried him through the next several years, and his records continued to sell well. Drug use made Fisher easier for his handlers, who booked him into almost continuous performances, to manage. His income and popularity soared. In 1954 Fisher won the Cash Box magazine Top Male Vocalist award.

In the same year, Fisher began seeing a young but already established movie star named Debbie Reynolds. His base of operations in New York and hers in Los Angeles limited their interaction, but they became close. The media quickly promoted Fisher and Reynolds as America's sweethearts, but when marriage began to appear imminent Fisher's fans (mostly young and female) turned on him. Record sales declined, and Fisher's managers attempted to block the marriage. Finally in late 1955 Fisher and Reynolds were married at Grossinger's.

Throughout 1956 Fisher experienced a career decline. Coca Cola cancelled his program, his records were not selling well, and rock and roll was erupting into the popular music scene. Almost from the outset, Fisher's marriage was in trouble too. The media once again made much of this celebrity couple, chronicling the supposed ups and downs of the marriage, casting Fisher as the thoughtless villain and Reynolds, whose film career as a sweet young thing was at its height, as the put-upon wife. There was a lot of truth in what the reporters wrote. Fisher was a dope addict, an irresponsible husband and father, and a compulsive gambler. He still made a huge income, but he was virtually spending it all.

After the death of one of Fisher's closest friends, the producer Mike Todd, Fisher's marriage disintegrated completely, and he began dating Todd's widow, actress Elizabeth Taylor. The media responded predictably to this famous romantic triangle, casting Taylor as the evil "other woman." Eddie and Debbie were divorced in February 1959. (Their daughter, Carrie, would go on to become famous as Star Wars ' Princess Leia and as a bestselling author.) Three months later, Eddie married Liz. Fisher's career had slipped so badly by that point that he has never been able to make an effective comeback.

Fisher had hoped to parlay his singing success into a movie career, and in 1956 he had starred with then-wife Reynolds in Bundle of Joy. It was no more successful than his performance opposite Taylor in Butterfield 8 in 1960; she won the Academy Award for Best Actress, but Fisher was never again invited to act in a major film. A year later on another film set, the epic Cleopatra, Taylor switched allegiances once more, this time to co-star Richard Burton. Fisher was the media's innocent, sympathetic character this time, in an orgy of gossip reporting that outdid all earlier efforts.

The next several decades followed a sad pattern for Eddie Fisher—high profile romantic involvements, attempts to get off drugs, failed comebacks, and tax troubles. Even a former celebrity can earn a lot of money in America, but Fisher could never get ahead. His drug habit and erratic behavior kept him from building a strong second career from the wreckage of the first. He was the last of the old-style crooners, and the least capable of recovering from changes in American popular music.

—David Lonergan

Further Reading:

Fisher, Eddie. Eddie: My Life, My Loves. New York, Harper and Row, 1981.

Greene, Myrna. The Eddie Fisher Story. Middlebury, Vermont, Paul S. Eriksson, 1978.

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Fisher, Eddie (1928—)

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