The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fischer (Blue Rider Press, 2016)
It's complicated. That's the main theme of Carrie Fischer's autobiography, The Princess Diarist. Though written in crisp, fast paced prose, Carrie Fischer probes the question, where is the line that separates her, the actress/novelist, from the intergalactic Princess Warrior whom she portrayed in the Star Wars legacy? The book is painful and tormented, yet triumphant and grateful, just as Fischer's life was. Fischer's wit and cynicism dictates the tongue in cheek style that provides insight into the woman and the film star.
Fischer's search for identity begins with the experience of her parents' very public divorce, one of the most memorable marital blow-ups in Hollywood history. Fischer's adorable mother, screen sweetheart, Debbie Reynolds, was dumped by her handsome singer husband, Eddie Fischer, for Fischer's brief marriage to Elizabeth Taylor, one of Reynolds' best friends from the movie studio. Though she was very young at the time of her parents' divorce, Fischer's relationship with her parents as they struggled to cling to fading careers following the break-up of the marriage, left the teenage Fischer alone and adrift, moving toward the one career she claimed that she never wanted; acting.
Fischer's first film role was playing Lorna, the young daughter of Lee Grant in Shampoo. In her two brief scenes in the picture, Lorna, who loathes her mother, deliberately seduces her mother's hairdresser, portrayed by Warren Beatty. Only 17 at the time of the film, Fischer writes, “So why did I agree to visit the set of Shampoo knowing there might be a role in the film that I was right for? Go figure. Maybe I wanted to see what it felt like to be wanted by Warren Beatty in any capacity at all. At any rate, at seventeen I didn't see it as a career choice.” (p.12)
Fischer left Los Angeles to attend the Central School of Speech and Drama in London after making her second film, Days of Heaven. Untethered from her parents, Fischer then auditioned for the role that changed the course of her life. When her agent, Walt Melnick, called to tell her that she had gotten the part off Princess Leia, Fischer reports, “I dropped the phone and ran out into the front yard and into the street. It was raining. It didn't rain in L.A. It was raining in L.A. And I was Princess Leia. I had never been Princess Leia before and now I would be her forever. I would never not be Princess Leia. I had no idea how profoundly true that was and how long forever was.” (p.30)
Three things that impacted the young Fischer's still developing concept of self happened once she got the part of Princess Leia. The first was that the studio told Fischer that she needed to lose ten pounds off her 110 pound frame, something that she found impossible to do. The demand for the diminutive actress to shed weight sent the message to Fischer that she just wasn't pretty enough, really, to have star power.
The second influential moment for Fischer had to do with the choice of hairstyle that Princess Leia would make iconic. Less than enthralled with the “Cinna-buns” chosen for Leia, Fischer felt ridiculous in what was to become a trademark hairstyle. The inability to express how she felt about the hairstyle doomed Fischer to forever be associated with the ridiculous side buns. When George Lucas asked Fischer's opinion of the hairstyle, she states, “Now remember, I hadn't lost the requisite ten pounds and thought any minute they'd notice and fire me before the film even started. So I replied, 'I love it.'” (p.42)
The third ego buster Fischer refers to several times in the book is the humiliating metal bikini that she had to wear in the scene with the humongous space slug, Jabba the Hut. Embarrassed by the images of her nearly naked body when she made the film, Fischer continued to cringe about that costume decades later when autographing pictures of Princess Leia cowering before the giant slug.
Another of Fischer's traumatic experiences in filming Star Wars had to do with her affair with co-star, Harrison Ford. Only 19 at the time of filming, Fischer and Ford came together one night at a party and went home together. Not much of a conversationalist, Fischer and Ford's relationship was mostly physical, although she describes her favorite moment between them as successfully imitating Ford's walk as Han Solo and causing gales of laughter to come from the straight laced actor.
Although Fischer fantasized about “Carrison” as she referred to their unlikely coupling, the affair appears to have been a matter of convenience for Ford during the making of the film. While reading this section of the autobiography the reader is miffed at Ford for not exerting better self control regarding the teenager who fell for his charms, it is noteworthy that Fischer never demeans Ford and reflects on their brief encounter as something “other-worldly.” She harbors no bitterness or anger, but seems to relish their affair as something special that was part of an incredible time in her life.
The latter part of the book reveals the struggles of the aging actress to embrace the fact that she will forever remain the feisty daughter of Darth Vader in the public eye. At the many Comi-cons that Fischer attended in her later years, she loathed the prattling of fans who told her how influential Leia had been in their lives. At the same time Fischer embraced her position as the eternal symbol of youth in the film franchise that now a year after her untimely death, will forever worship Princess Leia. And, in that vein, Fischer adored her fans for being ever faithful to that image of her.
In essence, the dichotomy in Fischer's feelings toward her alter-ego is the key to understanding the demons that destroyed this talented and tormented child of Hollywood. The Princess Diarist is provocative and honest, and when one finishes the book, she has the feeling that she understands the woman who was a princess, a movie star, and a lost child.