Joely Fisher – interview
Imagine being a small child raised in the midst of all of Hollywood’s glamour, decadence, opulence, scandals and public scrutiny, and having two of the most illuminated stars on the planet as parents. Such is the story of Joely Fisher, daughter of iconic crooner Eddie Fisher and the legendary, salacious actress Connie Stevens, as well as the sister of the late Carrie Fisher (Star War’s Princess Leia).
“Growing Up Fisher: Musings, Memories, and Misadventures”, written by actress, director, singer, and now author Joely Fisher, is set be released in paperback on 14th November to celebrate the success of the hardback edition published by Harper Collins in 2017. The manuscript beckons readers on a journey into the intimate and candid world of Joely and her family in a heartfelt, empowering and humorous fashion. It lends the reader passage into the stories and experiences that helped make Joely the person she is today.
Destined to become an actor and entertainer, Joely Fisher is best recognized for television portrayal of Paige Clark on ABC’s popular sitcom, “Ellen” and the role of Joy Stark in the Fox sitcom “‘Till Death”. She has also appeared on “Growing Pains”, “Blossom”, The Outer Limits” “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, “Last Man Standing”, and has played a variety of other guest roles. Her films include “Pretty Smart”, “Inspector Gadget”, “Nostradamus”, “Killing Winston Jones”, and “The Tribes of Palos Verdes”, just to name a few. Her presence on Broadway encompasses the role of Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” and Betty Rizzo in “Grease.” She juggled her career while managing to maintain an unheard-of 20-year marriage and raising 5 children.
I spoke intimately and in-depth with Joely Fisher regarding her book, her performances and her life and career. I found her completely brilliant and funny in the best possible way. By the finale of our conversation I felt like I had made a new friend. I could have listened to her forever as she described the stories in her book and told of her early Hollywood experiences. She was also quite inspirational…..
Louder than War: I cannot wait to read this book!
Let me tell you the history. So the hardback has been out a year in November, but the paper-back comes out on November 14th. It’s getting a whole new life because it was really, really received so well. It’s just a labour of love and a catharsis, the journey from being offered this amazing book deal… having people say they really wanted to hear my story, all the way from having it pour out of me, and releasing it. It’s my world, it’s my life, it’s me in the fishbowl. To put it out there in that way really just meant so much. So this is a year later and it’s getting this whole other infusion of life, with the live show that I’m doing.
The people at Harper Collins put this pop of Tiffany blue on the cover so when it arrived the other day, I have a really good friend who said, “Take a moment, you wrote a book, and take a moment by yourself.” So when I open the book and see this really beautiful cover that we had already designed, but with this really beautiful Tiffany blue, with the history of my life and photos, I’m really proud of how candid and authentic it is. It truly sounds like my voice. For anyone who ha ever flipped the channel and said, ” Oh I like her, she made me laugh”, that’s what I was reaching for. I was waiting for people to say that I was more than Eddie and Connie’s daughter. Yes I lost my sister which was devastating, and she was everybody’s Princess Leia, that was a huge unfathomable loss. But, it inspired my creativity. It inspired me to say “I have incredible stories to tell”. When you read it, which you will, you’re going to hear that raspy kind of Fisher, low dulcet tones. You’re going to hear the body laughter, hear the reverence, you’re going to hear that family thing, that survivor thing, that we all had. That we all have. Connie Stevens is 80 years old and a decade ago directed and produced her first movie, after that being her dream her whole life. The ladies in this family have a great success at the second act. Although we had beautiful successes and victories and a lot of things that went really, really right, we also had a lot of things to live down. I think that we rise above it, until we don’t. I mean we lost Carrie and Debbie but I feel like my second act is now. That’s what I think historically this family does really well. We rise and we shine. We were taught that by Debbie Reynolds and Connie Stevens. We really were. That’s what this book is. It’s a tribute to that. There is darkness in it too. I mean I wasn’t going to give you all good…I want to show you the good, the bad and the ugly. I think that when people read the book I want people to say, “I’d love to see this woman on stage. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her sing”. Then when you come see the show and you see little nuggets and beautiful little vignettes of stories from the book that lead into songs, hopefully walk out and you pick up the book. I hope readers want to dig deeper and know more about me. So that’s the plan.
I’ve heard all cool things about you.
I’m not sure that’s entirely true.
Actually it is thus far. But I want to know, as a child you were probably always in the public limelight, was that a good thing for you?
It’s interesting. I was actually just talking about that yesterday: it was a different time, the stars were in all the movie magazines….then I thought, “hold on, it’s not a different time, it’s just different now because the accessibility is so much broader. I mean imagine if there would’ve been social media when Eddie Fisher left Debbie Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor? Are you kidding me?? They managed to cover it in all the press, and everybody had their own version of that story anyway, so imagine seeing it on Instagram. In the book I talk about living in the fishbowl. I’ve always had this feeling that people are looking in, and they were looking in always. I remember as a child every meal was interrupted in a restaurant. People would come over and say, ” I’m sorry to interrupt you but…” I remember as a child thinking, “well you just already have.” But I don’t remember feeling mad at anybody for it. I remember feeling that the way I was brought up, those are people that loved you. It doesn’t mean that they really loved you because you mistake that kind of adoration for love and you get dark in that space. I do remember feeling that people really adored my mother. I wasn’t raised by my father. I saw him sporadically but then I developed an amazing relationship with him starting at about 16 years old. I forced myself on him. I watched my mother really, really closely, and followed her around the world, like a little gypsy who lived out of suitcases – on the road, in beautiful places and not so beautiful places. It wasn’t all super glamorous all the time but I watched it through rose-coloured lenses. I was enamoured with her and what she did, and what her audience felt about her, what it gave to her – it was almost sexual. She loved it so much. She loved being on stage. I would watch from back stage and wonder what was going on, this relationship that she had with an audience. I definitely knew that’s what I wanted to do. It does sort of transcend from stage to the camera and now behind the camera directing and in my writing. It’s like a bearing of everything. Even if it’s a funny song or a comedic scene. You are stripping yourself bare and showing them who you are, and I crave that. It’s been a wild ride.
I’m 50 years old, I’ve travelled, I have sort of an anomaly having a 22-year marriage in this business which is crazy. I think there should be an award for that at some point.
That’s a long time for any kind of marriage in any profession….in life.
Exactly. We have raised 5 children together and still managed to sort of mother my own mother when she needs it. I have amazing friendships from all the different facets of my career, through television and Broadway and movies, and I drag them all with me through life. They are all really important to me and I think that that shows in my work. I feel validated in that I feel like I have really been a true friend to people in the world too. Not just in my friendships.
I’m wondering when you’re directing the movie?
The movie, or a movie?
The movie of the book.
Why, are you doing another movie?
I am. I’m directing a family adventure movie. I’m also attached to direct an amazing movie…
I’m directing TV also. But, I don’t know that “Growing Up Fisher” is necessarily a movie. I don’t even know which part of it you would make into a movie.
I think it would make a fabulous movie and I’m saying that without even reading the book.
I really think you’re going to enjoy the book. It’s not linear, each story has its little treasures. Of course, I talk about Connie, of course I talk about Eddie. I talk about my sisters, and I mean the ones that are actually my sisters and then my sisters in the world and on the planet. I do a little bit about politics, although I don’t want to drag everyone down. I want people to be entertained, but I do throw out my two cents about politics. I talk about substance abuse, I talk about sexual fluidity, I talk about animals, I talk about my fear of flying. There’s one little chapter that’s five pages long that is delicious. I love the way that you can just pick up the book and grab a chapter and it’s one little story. Many friends of mine have said that they have taken my book on a plane ride and they literally read the whole book. That makes me so happy.
I feel like your book is like someone looking in.
I think in some ways the story is crazier than you’ve ever imagined, and in other ways I’m just like you. I am. I am a human being, a woman, I’m sensitive, I try to be strong, I try to be a good mother, I try to have integrity in my artistry, I try to be all things to everybody, and I don’t always succeed. I think that’s another thing. I really show my vulnerability. I own up to certain behaviours. I think that I do it in a clever way. It’s not a downer. I remember there was one version of it that I was really happy with. My editor said it was fantastic but asked me to change the order of this, “I want people to fall in love with you and then hit them with the other stuff”. She wanted everyone to be on my side. So I went back in and I did. There’s so much in there. There really is.
Now I’m going to put it on the stage – I really love that it has spawned this new incarnation. I went out with it last year and did a couple of shows, I sang some songs and I added new ones here and there. I’ve taken the year to re-tool it, and I’ve decided to put some new music in. I’m really excited about the musical journey that’s glued together with stories of my life.
Well 54 Below is a great venue.
I’m excited. I’ve never played there. I did cabaret upstairs in studio 54. It’s a little like a-hometown-girl-makes-good. I’m doing three nights in London before I see you guys the following week. Then I’m going to go to Vegas and that really is exciting for me. In my stories, in my photographic display in the book there is a lot of history. My mother at one time played in Vegas 30 weeks out of the year. Back in those days that was the thing. The “Rat Pack”, in Caesars, The Flamingo, and places like that. My favourite photograph that I have in the world which is in the inside cover of the book is when my mother was playing The Flamingo and my father was playing Caesar’s Palace. Their names were on the marquees opposite each other on either side of the strip. There was a grass strip down the middle, and we three are sitting – my mother, my father, and me as a toddler- with the two marquees book-ending that. It’s just a magic photo. That spot doesn’t exist anymore, and it was a rare family photo before my mother and father divorced. It is just very special to me.
Where in London will you be performing?
I’m doing a private event at the “Hospital Club”. It’s like a member’s-only kind of thing. Then I’m doing November 7th and 8th at Brasserie Zedel. I’m really excited because I haven’t been to London in a decade.
What is the most triumphant moment in your life that you can recall?
I have a handful of things that thrill me. I can’t even imagine if I didn’t say the birth of my children….I’ll tell you. I gave birth to my daughter who is 12 now, her name is True. I gave birth to her on my bed, in my home. There was a beautiful soundtrack playing, I had my favourite humans in the world around me, and I gave birth with no drugs with music playing and candles and it was just amazing. So that a magical moment for me. She’s turned out to be a magical creature child too.
When I was cast as Sally Bowles on Broadway it was a dream part for me: I would say career-wise that is pretty up there. I’ve had such tremendous co-stars in my life – there were highs and lows playing alongside Ellen DeGeneres. We just celebrated the 20th anniversary of her coming out on the show, it actually was two years ago now. The 20th anniversary was a big moment for us because if you think back to 20 years ago when that was going on, it was dark. It was a super-duper hit show but that was a big historic moment in the world. It paved the way for a change – real change for the LGBT community, so that is really important to me. I feel like there are still some shining moments that I am ready for. I made a vow to myself this year: October 29th I’m going to have a birthday and it’s just that I’m in this great second act. I’m ready for that next moment. It feels like a Sally Bowles, or a birth of a child, or a wedding night, any of those things. I feel like those moments are coming again for me, and it’s exciting.
In November, Joely will be heading to London for several performances at “Brasserie Zedel”, Piccadilly on November 7th and 8th. Then on November 15th and 16th she will be doing two rare New York performances at “Feinstein’s 54 Below”. This will be followed by an intimate book signing and meet-and-greet on November 17th at “Mark De Alwis Salon”, 228 East 51st NYC from 6:30-8:30. The book signing will include a complimentary glass of wine.
7 & 8 November – Brasserie Zedel – tickets here
15 & 16 November – Feinstein’s 54 Below – tickets here
17 November – Joely Fisher VIP Meet & Greet Book Signing & Photo Op at NYC celebrity stylist Mark De Alwis Salon located at 228 East 51st Street New York Ny 10022 – 6:30pm – 8:30pm – tickets here
Follow Joely Fisher on Twitter @MsJoelyFisher
All words by Eileen Shapiro. More of Eileen’s writing can be found in her author’s archive.