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October 1, 2010

My Last Time with Eddie

Roy Meachum

[Editor’s Note: On succeeding days, this week carried excerpts from “A Redneck’s Progress: A Memoir,” that’s consuming much of Roy Meachum’s days. Tuesday, how PFC Eddie Fisher came into my life; Wednesday, the meeting with Debbie Reynolds; Thursday, the argument in Milton Berle’s Essex House suite. His remembrances conclude today.]



They were not yet married. But Eddie Fisher’s fifth wife booked him into Hershey Park a dozen years ago. Penetrating Ruth Lin’s isolation bubble to protect the singer, her brother ushered me into Eddie’s dressing room, for what turned out to be the last conversation, with my Army best friend.


Somehow I managed to meet three of my Army buddy's five wives. The last was the Chinese lady who bailed Eddie out of California’s Betty Ford clinic; not for the first he tried rehabilitation for drugs. When we worked together, he hardly drank booze, and became upset when I drank a drink beyond his permissible limit.


Fundamentalist Christian Debbie Reynold’s and “bad Jew” Eddie Fisher married over my objections; as I guessed the relationship turn sour, as I predicted. But lacking a real crystal ball, I couldn’t foresee Elizabeth Taylor would ruin both their marriage and, for all intents and purposes, his career.


The castrating publicity mortally damaged his flight as a popular superstar. Eddie Fisher’s star never really reached his former pinnacle in the American pop music sky after her. I met my friend’s second wife in a hotel suite close to Idlewild (later Kennedy) Airport.


"Elizabeth" as she was called both by then-husband Eddie and predecessor Mike Todd, was freshly returned from a life-threatening throat infection in London. For our conversation, she wore a bandage wrapped around her neck; on her it looked like a seductive item of haute couture. Her husband had a business diversion elsewhere, leaving us alone. We had an extended conversation on subjects I no longer recall. She flirted outrageously, which was simply part of any encounter she had with members of the opposite sex. Years later the memory of those violet eyes and aggressive intellectual attitude still makes me smile. She was very smart as well as sensual lady.


A press photo circulated of still-married Debbie Reynolds and Fisher, looking very subdued and standing with Mike Todd and his glowing new bride, Elizabeth Taylor. When the producer's badly overloaded private plane went down in flames, Eddie rushed to comfort his widow. The Fisher-Taylor ménage was not simply a matter of her considerable charms.


In bits and pieces, I heard tales of Debbie making her husband's life miserable and isolated, especially from Bernie Rich and Joey Foreman. His best friends from South Philly days, they appeared with Eddie on early TV's Horn and Hardart Hour. When the Army sent their old friend to New York, they turned up and hung around.


Already getting jobs on the Borsht Belt, Joey was trying to make the big time as a comic; he got closer than most, hooking up with Mickey Rooney, Sid Caesar and Joey Bishop. The last time I saw Bernie he was managing his wife, an Australian singer of some talent, appearing at the Shoreham. The boys drifted out to California after Eddie took up with a movie star. They both told me they were banned by the thoroughly self-righteous Debbie, who directly accused them of "bad influence." They almost certainly were, but not in the sense of chasing skirts and chugging bubbly.


Let me hasten to add: I never saw Debbie’s black side. Our conversations were always very charming and warm. The last time, when she appeared on the National Theatre’s stage in the musical “Irene,” directed by Gower Champion. Her mother tried to introduce me to Carrie, a dancer in the show; the teen-age daughter shook her brunette head and scooted off.


The overdependence on narcotics came later when Elizabeth forsook their marriage bed for Richard Burton's. In any event, Eddie Fisher briefly took to wife Terry Richards and Connie Stevens (two daughters), whom I never met.


My Army buddy and I saw each other the last time at the Hershey Amusement Park; he was booked over a weekend by his manager and future wife, Ruth Lin. The Chinese lady, he said, bailed him out of the Betty Ford clinic; only then did I really believe stories of his addiction to drugs. Perhaps because she feared he might fall back to former ways, she worked very hard not to let him out of her sight.


My wife and I saw the show; I sent him a note afterwards, alluding to our trip up the unfinished New Jersey Turnpike in his first car, a Ford. His future wife’s brother, as I said, let us into his dressing room.


We spoke of children and grandchildren, the adventures not shared since we met, at 23. We talked of getting together under happier conditions; he gave me a West Coast telephone number. When planning a Los Angeles visit to my last boss at NBC Washington, I called; she answered, still protective. Even after she died, he and I never saw each other again.


In his Hershey act, from a distance, his non-gray hair and slim silhouette could be taken as the charming boy who sang for Arthur Godfrey and Jennie Grossinger, breaking in to show biz. At 70 Eddie Fisher was still one helluva entertainer!


That’s how I remembered him when I learned on Friday’s Bob Miller Morning News Express (WFMD) that Eddie died the night before; something went very wrong when he was having a hip replaced. At least, he didn’t go after long suffering.


I have a prayer cap, an Egyptian yarmulke; it’s lifted for the man who was my best friend right before I stepped out on the road of life.


Yanuach beshalom al miskkavo, my dearly beloved buddy. Rest in peace.


Copyright 2010: Roy Meachum


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