The Princess Diarist: Highlights from Carrie Fisher’s Memoir
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Carrie Fisher, who died recently at the age of 60, will be remembered as the eternal Princess Leia of the Star Wars franchise. She may never have been a great actress, but she was certainly an accomplished and funny writer, as her memoir, The Princess Diarist, attests. The daughter of Debby Reynolds, of Singing in the Rain fame, and Eddie Fisher, a hugely famous singer of the first half of the 1950s, Carrie grew up with all the privileges and typical problems of a typical rich Beverly Hills kid.
In 1976, while attending drama school in the UK at the age of 19, Carrie was lucky enough to audition for a small budget sci-fi movie that took place in a galaxy far, far away, and got the main role of Princess Leia. It turned out that this small movie directed by George Lucas exploded in America and, subsequently, all over the world, becoming one of the most successful films in cinema history. The movie catapulted its young stars Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Harrison Ford (the smuggling pilot Han Solo) and Mark Hamill (the future Jedi warrior, Luke Skywalker) to the pinnacle of fame virtually overnight. They were not prepared for how this turn of events would forever change their lives.
It’s the story of this sudden change in their lives, with the hindsight and wisdom acquired by the author in the 40 years that elapsed since, that you can read in The Princess Diarist, which, by the way, is a real delight.
The Princess Diarist is based on the notes and diary entries Carrie Fisher scribbled in notebooks – then put away in a box and immediately forgotten for four decades – while shooting the first entry in the Star Wars franchise. The book is a hilarious, sobering and cynical account of show business and celebrity life, from its inception to its highest and dizziest moments, followed by the inevitable and traumatic fall in popularity that eventually haunts most people who live in the public eye and thrive on the love of an audience; the story, told in the context of the shooting of the movie – now confusingly called Star Wars Episode IV – is packed with behind the scenes trivia and gossip, considerations about the sadness of the passage of time and the fleetness of success; and how funny and surreal the contact with fans could be throughout the years. Carry writes in a captivatingly self-deprecating style readers will find impossible to resist.
1. The Carrison (Carrie plus Harrison) affair: 19-year-old, inexperienced Carrie Fisher fell hopelessly in love with her older, incredibly handsome costar Harrison Ford, then a married man of 35 with a family. They had a three-month affair. The book presents a detailed, yet not tasteless, account of the anxiety this secret relationship caused her; her vain dreams that this was not just a fling on his part; the lengths they had go to pretend on the film set they were not sleeping together on the weekends; excerpts of the poetry she wrote about her love for him. This section would be rather boring and sentimental, had the author not sprinkled the analysis of her feelings at the time with skepticism and irony. She doesn’t show any resentment towards Ford, stating plainly that she was quite sure he was never unfaithful to any of his other wives afterwards.
2. Growing up among the rich and famous: Despite being raised among celebrities – seeing her mother and father always at the center of attention – and even having lived through a traumatic experience when her father left her mother for Elizabeth Taylor, providing fodder for one of the biggest tabloid scandals of the time. Carrie says that nothing prepared her for the rise to stardom her role in Star Wars gave her. She could never shake Princess Leia off her life. Character and person became inextricably intertwined in the public’s and in her own eyes.
3. Celebrity lap dancing: Carrie’s comparison of her paid signing of autographs to lap dances and whoring is one of the funniest sections in the book. Especially after the big hit of Stars Wars Episode VII (2015), she was constantly invited (and paid) to participate as a guest star in Comic-Con-style events, which she patiently obliged for financial gain. She said she never had enough money to buy useless things, such as yet another piece of decoration, or presents for friends. Although she was wealthy by most people’s standards, she says she never shared in the financial success of the Stars Wars franchise, as she was too naïve and young at the time to push for a percentage of the movies’ box offices or even on the merchandise they sold based on her character.
4. The audience’s reaction: the author is ceaselessly baffled by the impact Star Wars has had on millions of people throughout the years. The fan base seems to grow after the launch of every new entry to the franchise. The phrase “May the Force be with you” has become an almost religious mantra. Fans constantly share anecdotes of how the movie has inspired them and helped them cope with difficult moments in their lives.
5. Unreasonable fan requests: the book includes a number of unbelievable comments and requests from fans at signing sessions, including: the kid who, after spending a long time in line with her parents to meet the Princess, cried with frustration because she wanted to see the young Leia and not this old one; a woman who had the author’s signature tattooed on her ass; a couple who had their child named Leia Carrie; and, believe it or not, marriage ceremonies in which one person will vow “I love you” and the other will retort, “I know.”
The Princess Diarist was named a People Magazine Best Book of fall 2016.
by Jorge Sette