What a loss.
Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds—two legendary performers—have been taken from us this week, far too soon. As a way to work through the shock and grief, many of my friends have been sharing favorite stories of them. In that vein, allow me to share a story of my own… a story that involves Debbie Reynolds flirting with me in front of my wife Jill, when we were both working at Orchestra Hall here in Minneapolis.
* * *
Some years back, Debbie and Carrie were supposed to appear together at Orchestra Hall as part of the “Unique Lives” series. This was a group of lecture/interview/Q&A sessions with women who had lived particularly noteworthy lives. I was the Duty Manager/House Manager that evening—essentially in charge.
On the night of the presentation, severe weather was hitting the east coast, and Carrie’s flight was cancelled. We tried a variety of ways to have her call in and do the session remotely… but ultimately nothing was really working, and we regretfully cancelled Carrie’s portion of the evening.
Debbie, however, was there and absolutely radiant. She was just quietly hanging out back stage when her agent waved me and some other staff folks over to introduce us, telling her “This gentleman is in charge tonight.” Debbie—ever the performer—immediately brightened. She smiled a coy smile, put a finger on her chin and said “Oh, goodness. Look at this handsome young thing they brought to take care of me….” I believe I turned fire-engine red as I tried to stammer through some incoherent pleasantries, and tried to walk through the schedule. She patted my arm and said, “Oh, don’t worry, this will be fun!” and walked away to go to the podium for a mic check….
…and in doing so I saw Jill, who had taken in the whole encounter with an arched eyebrow.
I may have smiled weakly and started to say something. Jill, however, was one step ahead of me. She put on her best “1940s-broad” accent, and quipped in faux outrage, “Debbie Reynolds, that skank? You tell her to back down! Getcher own goddamn man, Debbie Reynolds!”
My jaw hit the ground, before Jill and I both collapsed into laughter. Those lines have been part of our marriage ever since.
In all seriousness, working with Debbie was a delight. She was remarkable… a consummate professional and a consummate performer. You knew instantly that she knew more about show business than most of us could imagine, but she didn’t for one moment stand on ceremony or have any pretension. On the contrary, she was deeply humble, warm and gracious. Most of all she was generous with her time and attention.
Put plainly, she was a true and undeniable star, but never acted like it.
I’m so sorry to lose Debbie and Carrie both—they lit up the world with their gifts, and we’re all a bit poorer without them. Rest in peace.