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September 29, 2010

Meeting Debbie

Roy Meachum

[Editor’s Note: This is the second of three excerpts from “A Redneck's Progress: A Memoir,” an autobiography Mr. Meachum has been writing for some time. Be aware that Mr. Meachum was a comrade- in-arms with the late pop singer Eddie Fisher during their U. S. Army days and after. Mr. Fisher passed away last week at the age of 82.]


The New York visits were timed not to interfere with our regular band duties. I emceed the concerts; he sang on "pops" programs. Every once in a while, accompanied by a seven-man Army Band combo, Eddie’s popularity enabled him to stroke his fans in the Washington area, especially at Walter Reed Medical Center. That's where Eddie met his future wife. Debbie Reynolds was touring, jointly but in separate rooms, with Carleton Carpenter, her co-star in several successful films; they were touting "Movies are better than ever." Like network radio, Hollywood was terrified of the "one-eyed monster" showing pictures in more and more homes and bars.


While they were up, so to speak, the Hollywood pair spent hours cheering up soldiers wounded in Korea. That's how they came to be in Walter Reed the afternoon Eddie and an Army Band combo performed a show in the hospital's auditorium, for patients; I announced and made bad jokes with the singer. As a treat for our audience, the Hollywood pair stopped by and waved to the crowd. Debbie and Eddie exchanged the bright words and even brighter looks that meant they were "interested" in each other.


But there was absolutely no lack of young women for my buddy who was two months older. We slept in separate rooms; in his case a suite. Many mornings Sherlock Holmes’ magnifying glass was not necessary to figure out he had not spent the night alone; but the dates were all gone by the time I appeared. Let me make clear: I thoroughly enjoyed the benefits that came with playing a significant role in a celebrity’s life. Everywhere we went people showered him with kisses and gifts. The hardest pressing and most persistent figure in those days was Mike Todd.


The quintessential con artist's fame had reached New Orleans when he still lived on top of his world; the streetcar named Desire stopped at the French Quarter newsstand where I bought Variety. Todd was a once high-powered Broadway and Jones Beach producer fallen on hard times. He latched onto the singer as a ticket back to the glory road. He made it on his own. When they met, however, the big-time remained elusive for him and Eddie Fisher's celebrity was booming.


Mike Todd was not comfortable having me present; he sometimes shot side-glances my way, particularly at intense moments in their conversations. He meticulously and according to strict protocol addressed me simply as “Sergeant,” never by name.


FOOTNOTE: Mike Todd’s comeback production was "Around the World in Eighty Days," in a process derived from Cinerama and called Todd-AO. The film's gross tripled the cost, putting the cigar-smoking Todd back on Easy Street; enabling him to sweep Elizabeth Taylor off her feet, into marriage.


Copyright.2010.Roy Meachum


[Mr. Meachum’s “journey” with Mr. Fisher will continue tomorrow.]


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