"Eddie: My Life, My Loves" is like fast food. It may be junk, but it's attractively packaged, with all the tasty frills: Liz and Dick and Debbie, gossip, gossip and more gossip. It probably will be voraciously consumed, but the truth remains: The book is a crass, overly dramatized memoir that reeks of self-pity.
Fisher presents himself as a poor boy from South Philadelphia, the fourth of seven children of a strong, loving, hard-working mother and a tyrannical father who labored in a luggage factory and sold vegetables. "We shared our food and our bodies with bugs: cockroaches, lice, bedbugs," he writes of his childhood. "My hands were always grimy, my fingernails black. And when you're dirty, you smell, you stink." Though painfully shy, he loved to sing. At age 12, he started performing on local radio shows. He dreamed of mansions and maids and fresh air, and becoming the new Sinatra.
In 1945, when he was 17, Fisher came to New York a "scared 17-year-old kid who could barely read music or keep time with the band." In the next five years he played Grossinger's and the Copa, toured with Eddie Cantor, was signed by RCA Victor -- and sang in two-bit clubs, demonstrated songs, did odd jobs. Finally, at age 22, he crashed into the big time for good. His recording of "Thinking of You" soared to the top of the charts, followed by "Turn Back the Hands of Time," "Bring Back the Thrill" and others. He played the Paramount. The bobby-soxers swooned and screeched.
Eddie earned and spent millions. He married Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor, Connie Stevens. He sired four children. He became pathetically dependent on speed and, later, cocaine and tranquilizers. He declared bankruptcy. He became a has-been. He was underweight. He had a facelift.
Occasionally, Fisher acknowledges his failures: "Over 40 now, if I wasn't yet afraid of growing old, I was afraid to grow up." But most of his observations are egocentric. For instance, after he was drafted: "I couldn't goof off, even though most of the other guys did. I had to be a good soldier just to prove I was no better than anyone else." Yet while he became President Truman's "favorite PFC," some of the "other guys" fought and, perhaps, died in Korea.
The two most influential men in his career used and abused him. Max "Dr. Feelgood" Jacobson, with his "vitamin cocktail" shots of speed, made him a "guinea pig" and a "slave." Milton Blackstone, his agent, was generous, kind, and more than anyone else, responsible for Fisher's success, yet was also distant, dictatorial, more interested in Fisher's image and career than in Fisher. "All they asked in return," Fisher laments, "was my soul."
The book is also filled with voyeuristic tidbits about celebrities that have become de rigueur in tell-it-all show-biz memoirs. We learn that Bing Crosby was "a cold man -- so cold, as someone said, that he p----- ice cubes." President Kennedy had "many liaisons." Noel Coward made a pass at Fisher: "Let me just pat you, dear boy," he requested one day in a steam room. Fisher himself was "more than just friends" with a number of female performers, including Judy Garland; he reports that Marlene Dietrich's bedroom ceiling was mirrored.
And poor, poor Eddie is just an innocent who wanted no more than to be a "good person." He begins his book with his version of Liz, Dick and "Cleopatra." He can wait no longer than the second paragraph of the prologue to refer to Richard Burton as a "scruffy, arrogant buffoon," and later on, he writes that Burton told him: "You don't need her. You're a star already. I'm not. She's going to make me a star. I'm going to use her, that no-talent Hollywood nothing."
Perhaps Fisher is justified in his anger; he was, after all, cuckolded before a leering world. Yet he pleads with the reader to pity him, to see him as a victim of his love for Elizabeth Taylor. When she almost died of double pneumonia, "Six nurses were assigned to watch her, but I was the only one who sat by her bedside hour after hour, checking all the machines." How could she reject me? Fisher asks. After all, "I had sacrificed my own career for Elizabeth's."
Eddie Fisher has an appallingly low level of self-awareness. He is still plagued by a disease that only he can cure: eternal victimitis.