Carrie Fisher Was a Wit, a Survivor – and Yes, a Princess (Appreciation)

Tabloid-adjacent since infancy, Fisher’s humor helped her through fame, pain and “Star Wars”

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Carrie Fisher died too young at 60, but in many ways, she was the ultimate Hollywood survivor. After all, she was tabloid-adjacent back when she was a 2-year-old: Her father, singer Eddie Fisher, left her mother, America’s Sweetheart Debbie Reynolds, for the widow of Eddie’s best friend, Elizabeth Taylor, in what still counts as the Big Bang of the gossip industry.

Growing up around the movie biz, she entered it herself before the age of 20, nabbing a plum role as a sexually precocious teenager in Hal Ashby’s “Shampoo,” one of the shining lights of the 1970s New Hollywood movement. Then, two years later, she would co-star in the blockbuster that would help kill that very movement. And while one could argue that Hollywood didn’t know what to do with her after “Star Wars” — to be fair, they never quite figured out what to do with Mark Hamill or, for a while at least, Harrison Ford — Fisher found her voice in comedy, as both an actress and a writer.

Her non-Leia on-camera work rarely received its due, but Fisher’s skill as a witty second banana ranks alongside such immortals as Eve Arden and Thelma Ritter. In films like “When Harry Met Sally…” (she and Bruno Kirby deserved their own spin-off movie, wagon-wheel coffee table and all), “Amazon Women on the Moon” (where she brilliantly spoofs wide-eyed naïveté and bad acting in a parody of sex-ed scare films) and “Soapdish” (her sexually predatory casting agent was played for laughs, but the joke was never about her being unattractive or non-viable), she skillfully came on, got the laughs, and exited stage right.

It’s as a writer where Fisher truly came into her own. Like Dorothy Parker before her, Fisher could dazzle you with a one-liner and then hit you in the gut with an uncomfortable truth, all in the same paragraph. Her autobiographical roman à clef “Postcards From the Edge” gave her the opportunity to begin exorcising her Beverly Hills childhood and her bouts with addiction and mental illness, and she brought that frankness — never self-pitying, always humane and hilarious — to her best work as a novelist and memoirist.

Fisher was also quite good at being funny for hire, in dozens of movies in which her name never appears. But if you laughed at the witty banter in “Sister Act” or “The Wedding Singer” or even the animated “Anastasia,” it’s quite possible that Fisher deserves the credit.

She even eventually wrote a TV movie, “These Old Broads,” which offered plum roles for Reynolds… and Taylor. In her one-woman stage show, “Wishful Drinking,” Fisher explained that Eddie’s various ex-wives (including Connie Stevens) and children (including actress Joely Fisher) formed an extended family of their own.

But for the last 40 years, despite her varied accomplishments as an author, actress, advocate and mother, Princess Leia has always been first and foremost in the minds of the culture. Fisher accepted that, too, with a sense of humor. And as much as Leia inspired a generation of young women to seek adventure or at least acceptance within the sci-fi geek community — just visit — the character continued to be a role model as an older woman.

In a beautiful string of tweets the day Fisher died, Canadian writer Anne Thériault observed that General Leia Organa from “The Force Awakens” was the version that meant the most to her. “This is the Leia that has lost everything: her world, her parents, her son to the dark side, her brother to who knows where, her lover. This is the Leia that could easily have broken down or given up. But she was stronger than literally every man in her life. She kept going. Because for Leia fighting for what is right and just is more important than her feelings or her personal life. She. Is. A. F—ing. Fighter.”

And so was the woman who played her.

In a world where women, and certainly actresses, and most certainly the daughters of famous actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age, learn at an early age to keep quiet and demure, and never to discuss their problems in public, and never to call out the ridiculous as ridiculous, Carrie Fisher was frank and funny and fearless.

Long may she reign.