'When you hear that some- body tamous overdosed, It always sounds like fun when they do It. It's Just part of the big myth. It's like It happened In the movies...‘
(Postcards from the Edge)
, film star’s debut, but it is far from original in
n 1985 , Carrie Fisher walked out of a drugs and alcohol rehabilitation clinic, detoxified and ‘straight’ for the first time in nearly ten years. Deciding to extend the catharsis, the first thing she did was write down her experiences in the unit. The resulting series of magazine articles eventually became Postcards from the Edge, an award-winning and best-selling novel. The book is surprisingly well written for a
scope following a tradition from William Burroughs’ Junkie and Jim Carroll’s Basketball Diaries through works like Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City. The harrowing, chemically induced fall from Hollywood glory, the exchange of fame for loserdom and infamy, which the work narrates is nothing new.
Prior to her downfall, Fisher, celebrated daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, was one of America’s most successful movie actresses. Her teenage debut, in 1975 alongside Warren Beatty in Shampoo, shot her to the heights of fame predicted since her well-publicised birth. Appearances as Princess Leia in the Star Wars trilogy confirmed her prizeworthy status into the 803. But the booze and drugs that came with stardom almost destroyed her. One recent article, discussing Carrie Fisher’s pedigree — famous parents, teenage beauty, Hollywood starlet — described her as ‘the classic cocktail, a candidate destined for the chill wind of rehab’. This is fair comment; Fisher’s is a classic case, archetypal in its sad but steady decline from celebrity to casualty. The price of fame? A Faustian pact — your soul in exchange for a passport to hooch and narcotics? Has it always been like that? And why?
Hollywood’s very first scandal set the trend for the whole sordid business. In September 1920, Ziegfield girl and society darling Olive Thomas fatally overdosed in a Paris hotel room on a mixture of alcohol and mercuric bichloride. Found in the same pose, naked on her bed, as Marilyn Monroe would be discovered some 42 years later, Thomas had gone to France in search of heroin for her husband’s hopeless habit. This fact, plus details of a shabby private life full of booze hinges and drugs orgies were revealed at the starlet’s inquest. The world was duly shocked at these revelations of the lonely life of illicit excesses enjoyed (or suffered) by the supposedly rich, content and glamorous inhabitants of Tinseltown. Chicago’s Cardinal Mundulein even issued a pamphlet proclaiming THE DANGER OF HOLLYWOOD: A WARNING TO YOUNG GIRLS! The warning went unheeded.
Prohibition in the 19205 only increased the pitch of the Hollywood high-life. The illicit booze available was more lethal that the ordinary tipple of yore, and the erratic supply ofalcohol quickly led many stars to other forms of abuse. By the mid- 1930s Hollywood actresses were required to sign a ‘morals’ clause in the standard studio contract, affirming that their off-screen lives would be conducted in a ‘prOper’, non-scandalous manner. But still the tragic pattern continued, with a steady stream of rising stars falling victim to the escape from worldly pressure which intoxicating abuse appeared to offer.
In 1943, blonde starlet Frances Farmer. at the height ofher fame. appeared in court charged with unruly and drunken behaviour. The judge, informed that Farmer’s lifestyle was ‘typical’ ofa top screen actress, asked about her drinking. The star’s reply again put the Hollywood lifestyle in the headlines: ‘I put liquor in my milk. I put liqour in my coffee and in my orange juice. What do you
The List 8- 21 February 199115