Eddie Fisher: Singer and actor whose career was overshadowed by his marriages and divorces
Saturday 25 September 2010
Eddie Fisher was a major figure in American entertainment for 20 years from the late 1940s, with a string of hit songs and albums, two television series, headlining stage shows and a few films. However, he never really recovered from the scandal of his first divorce.
Like many Russian Jews, Fisher's father changed his name when he arrived in America, though whether it was originally Fisch or Tisch is unclear. He never had great success: he got the entire family to work in a delicatessen that he set up with the compensation from a car accident but it failed after a year. According to Fisher, his embittered father "never had too much to do with us until I became famous."
The fourth of seven children, Fisher was a talented singer at school. He was conscious of his Jewish heritage: though he didn't practise, Fisher sang Jewish songs as a child and modelled himself on Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor ("the godfather of my career"): "I wanted to be like them ... showbusiness Jews". His ambition did not stop him appearing on the radio show Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, which launched many stars, despite the fact that Godfrey was a notorious anti-semite. Fisher's success on the show was another encouragement to leave school to pursue his career.
Fisher sang with a couple of big bands and in 1949 an appearance on Eddie Cantor's radio show gave him nationwide exposure. That led to a recording contract with RCA. His sweet tenor voice perfectly fitted the crooning, pre rock'n'roll industry and "Thinking of You" (1950) was his first notable success. The following year saw six Top 10 hits, including "Any Time" and "I'm Yours".
In 1951 he was drafted and served a year in Korea, becoming the soloist in the US Army Band. As with many star-soldiers, photographs of him in uniform helped both the war effort and his own career.
He continued to release records including Irving Berlin favourites and the inevitable Christmas album. He had over 30 hits in the US and a few in the UK. The Latin-tinged "Wish You Were Here" (1952) was his first No 1 single, as well as marking his UK breakthrough, while the mournful "I'm Walking Behind You" (1953), about a jilted groom, hit top spot on both sides of the Atlantic.
After discharge he joined the nightclub circuit, including stints in New York, Las Vegas and London. After he had guested on friends' television shows NBC offered him Coke Time with Eddie Fisher (1953-57), sponsored by the soft drinks giant. Even though it was cancelled after three series, he continued at the network with The Eddie Fisher Show (1957-59).
Fisher married Debbie Reynolds in 1955 and the following year he made his movie debut, co-starring with her in the musical comedy Bundle of Joy, which also spawned a soundtrack LP. But his career began to unravel. In 1958 they named their son Todd, after their friend the producer Mike Todd, who had died that year in an air crash. Todd's widow was Elizabeth Taylor and Fisher's sympathetic consolation developed into an affair until a full-blown scandal exploded over the gossip sheets. In 1959 Fisher asked for a divorce and married Taylor.
The scandal led to the cancellation of his television and record contracts. He responded by setting up Ramrod Records. Eddie Fisher at the Winter Garden was a live recording while Scent of Mystery was the soundtrack to a Smell-O-Vision film finally released as Holiday in Spain, for which Fisher sang two songs. The film's producer was Taylor's stepson, Mike Todd, Jr.
In 1960 Taylor starred in Butterfield 8 and Fisher was given a bit-part. But two years later they announced the end of the marriage. However, it was only in 1964 that they finally divorced, allowing Taylor to marry Richard Burton a fortnight later. Fisher became the butt of comics' jokes.
Abandoning Ramrod, Fisher had signed up briefly with Dot Records but in 1966 he returned to RCA. However, even cover versions of popular songs like "Tonight" by Bernstein and Sondheim, "Arrivederci Roma" and "Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof could not recapture earlier successes.
In 1967 he married Connie Stevens but it only lasted a couple of years, though even that outlasted his fourth marriage. In 1968 he released a Jolson tribute album, You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet. In 1981 he wrote a necessarily bowdlerised autobiography, Eddie: My Life, My Loves, which in part he recycled as the more explicit Been There, Done That (1999). In 1983 a last comeback attempt fizzled out but the following year he objected to an unauthorised LP, though he lost, and After All appeared against his will.
Reynolds and Taylor made up and in 2001 co-starred in These Old Broads, a satire written by Carrie Fisher, Fisher's daughter with Reynolds, in which their characters mock an old mutual husband. Despite the later loss of limelight, Fisher's recordings continue to pepper re-releases of music from the 1950s and '60s.
Edwin John Fisher, singer and actor: born: Philadelphia 10 August 1928; married 1955 Debbie Reynolds (divorced 1959; one daughter, one son), 1959 Elizabeth Taylor (divorced 1964), 1967 Connie Stevens (divorced 1969; two daughters), 1975 Terry Richard (divorced 1976), 1993 Betty Lin (died 2001); died Berkeley, California 22 September 2010.
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