SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher were mother and daughter, best friends and rivals, old Hollywood royalty and a new Hollywood princess. Carrie Fisher died in December 2016, just before New Years, after ingesting a smorgasbord of drugs. Her mother Debbie Reynolds died the next day. Many saw something poetic in that. Todd Fisher, a loving son and brother, has written a memoir of their lifetimes and family love that features big stars, backstage shenanigans and chicanery, hound-like husbands, mental challenges and emotional roller coasters - his book, "My Girls." Todd Fisher, the producer, director and cinematographer, joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.
TODD FISHER: My pleasure. Thank you.
SIMON: I have to begin this way. You lost both your sister and your mother - both life-changing events - at the same time. I'm sorry. How are you?
FISHER: Well, first of all, those two ladies are just amazing people to be around. And you've spent your whole life with them. And one minute later, one is gone - and then the next day, the next. And there certainly is a black hole where they were. And that is in effect what caused me to set sail on doing this book. You know, we have our faith and belief that we shall all meet again. And that makes it a little bit easier. But there is a void, no doubt. And my mom would be pissed if we weren't getting on. I could tell you that.
SIMON: Let me ask about your childhood.
SIMON: You grew up playing on Hollywood sets.
FISHER: Oh, yes.
SIMON: I mean, if you wanted to play cowboy, you just didn't do it in the living room. You did it on, like, the set of - oh, I don't know - "High Noon" or something.
FISHER: That's right. Well, MGM was my playground most of the time because my mother worked there a lot. And so she would take Carrie and I to the lot. Sometimes, Carrie would stay with her on the set. And I would typically say, you know, what fantasy do we want to go with today? And we'd rock off to the Western town but also to the Indian villages or the showboat from "Show Boat." All these things were in my inventory of imagination.
SIMON: But I have to ask. What was behind that that wasn't so easy to see sometimes?
FISHER: Well, Carrie used to say, I had an unhappy childhood. She was talking about herself. And then I used to say wait a minute. I didn't have that experience. The truth is we lead this amazing privileged, beautiful, magical childhood. Now, within the framework of that, of course, is the father that is not - that wasn't. You know, but I wasn't so affected by that as much as Carrie. So if you met my dad, by the way, you would think he's an awesome guy. He had a great charisma and just charming. He'd charm your socks off.
SIMON: But I've read your book. It's going to be hard for me to meet your father. I got to tell you.
FISHER: Well, that's why I wrote the book, right? There are explanations for why things turned out the way they did in many categories. There's even a great explanation as to why Carrie became the princess because, you know, she was brought up as a princess in that environment we've just been talking about. And so it's no shock that George Lucas would someday look at her and say, wow, you know, she's the princess.
SIMON: Can I get you to talk about what turned out to be those final five days for both your sister and mother?
FISHER: Sure. I mean, my mother, at this point in her life, had suffered a stroke. She had come back from the stroke, like Molly Brown has a tendency to do. There was...
SIMON: That was her show, "The Unsinkable Molly Brown."
FISHER: That's right. During that time, my sister and I were afraid. We saw that our mother would not be with us potentially that much longer. And we were mapping out our life without Debbie. And Carrie, she went away to finish the film.
SIMON: "Star Wars 9" or whatever.
FISHER: Yeah, "Star Wars 72," as Carrie used to joke. And she was coming home for Christmas. My mother was desperate to have her home for Christmas. In fact, my mother had this dream that she came to us with and some of her friends. And, you know, when my mother had a dream, you better watch out. It was pretty amazing. So she said she had a dream that Carrie's plane went down. Now, I didn't know how to respond to this other than say, well, you know, we'll get her home. And I mean, I kind of didn't take it too seriously. But if you think about it, Carrie did die while the plane was going down. It was on descent that, you know, Carrie suffered the stroke. So that was pretty traumatizing - probably more for me. My mother almost seemed - I mean, she just rose to the occasion, like Debbie does, of course. But, I mean, it was ironic that instead of being there with my sister talking about my mother being gone, I was sitting there with my mother talking about my sister being gone.
SIMON: And then, a few hours later.
FISHER: Yeah. Here's the thing. Debbie leaving a few hours later was kind of magical because it was her will. And she said she really needed to be with Carrie. And she closed her eyes and went to sleep and never woke up. And I was two feet away from her sitting in her bed with her when this happened. And I just thought she kind of fell asleep in my face, you know. And I thought, OK, well, that's all right. But it looked kind of strange. It looked like something I'd never quite seen before. And eventually, it really got to concern me. We couldn't kind of rouse her up. And, of course, you know, we famously take her to the hospital. And they'd say, hey, she had a hemorrhage in her spine, and she's not coming back. Now, when that happened, I mean, obviously there's no word to describe what it felt like at that moment. But I paused for a second at that hospital. And I saw her sitting there. And I just kind of reflected back on that exit. I thought, wow, what a gift it was to give me - to tell me you're going, and then you go and let me see it. It was magical.
SIMON: Todd, when you look at yourself today, you do see traces of Carrie and Debbie?
FISHER: Oh, well, I'm more my mother than Carrie was. I mean, Carrie used to say this. She says, you know, my brother is like my mother when she wakes up in the morning before the world has, you know, roughed her up a bit. I'm like her at the end of the day after she's really feisty. And, you know, that was a very good observation. I mean, how could you not when that was your entire upbringing? And the years and the journey and the struggles, you mirror these things. And what a better mirror than her - what a better person to take after than her. Why did Carrie survive all these years of things that most people don't? But she survived it - not just survived it. She got in its face and said, no, I'm going to create art with this pain and did.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN")
CARRIE FISHER: (Singing) Happy days are here again.
SIMON: Todd Fisher - his book, "My Girls: A Lifetime With Carrie And Debbie." Thanks so much for being with us.
FISHER: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN")
FISHER: (Singing) So let's sing a song of cheer again. Happy days are here again. All together... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.