“If I had known that first night we spent together how our love was going to help destroy my career and, for a time, my life – I still wouldn’t have hesitated!”
– Eddie Fisher on his relationship with Elizabeth Taylor
Behind the Scenes: The Liz-Eddie-Debbie Scandal
Liz Taylor’S Oscar for Butterfield 8, one might think, was really for the drama being acted out in her personal life. Having lost her third husband, Mike Todd, in a plane crash, Taylor decided to keep Debbie Reynold’s. As Mike’s friend, Eddie Fisher, was already providing comfort to the grieving widow, when, to worldwide disapproval, he decided to replace him in the matrimonial bed.
Fisher said, “I had to figure out how to announce to the world that I was leaving sweet little Debbie for my best friend’s widow without destroying Elizabeth’s and my careers.” The backlash brought 7,000 pieces of hate-mail a week and an Eddie & Liz boycott. Despite all that, Fisher, her co-star in Butterfield 8, was soon replaced by fourth husband, Richard Burton on the notorious set of “Cleopatra“, a union condemned by the Catholic Church but enjoyed by cinemagoers and fim fans.
Wife swap, before and after: Eddie Fisher said his marriage to Debbie, whom he then described as “a self-centered, totally driven, insecure, untruthful phony”, was over long before Liz entered the frame. “Debbie’s whole life has been an act… when I left her for Elizabeth Taylor, she should have won an Academy Award for her portrayal of the wronged woman”, he wrote in his book, “Been There, Done That”.
Husband swap, before and after: Burton & Taylor became a media soap opera as their drunken brawls and lavish lifestyle kept them in the headlines. A book on Taylor in 2000, “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World”, claimed Burton was a closet gay who had an affair with Sir Laurence Olivier and also tried to seduce Eddie Fisher. Burton’s brother Graham Jenkins described him as “the most heterosexual man most people had ever encountered”, adding, “If Rich was a homosexual then I’m a nun”.
Liz’s near-death experience caused the public anger felt towards her to change to sympathy. She won the Best Actress Oscar while still in the hospital prompting Shirley Maclaine’s quip,
“I lost the Oscar to a tracheotomy”.
Liz & Debbie Postscript: For seven years after, the former friends, Liz and Debbie, avoided contact – until Debbie boarded the Queen Elizabeth with her second husband, Harry Karl, and found that Miss Taylor was on the ship. She recalls: ‘Liz was with Richard Burton and her whole family, all the children and the nannies. I sent a little note to her, saying: “Let’s get together to have dinner. It’s silly to carry on this fight now that we’ve both remarried and it’s all just sort of ridiculous, isn’t it?” ‘It turned out she’d sent one to me at the same time, so they criss-crossed. We had dinner that night in the main dining room. Heads turned. Cameras were everywhere. People were hiding behind plants taking pictures.’ Debbie and Liz remained in touch after that, the past forgotten and forgiven. Read more