With the recent passing of Carrie Fisher, followed by her mother, Debbie Reynolds, just a day later, I felt compelled to share a wonderful memory I have of Debbie Reynolds from sometime around 1996.
I was living in Los Angeles and working part time for the catering company, "Along Came Mary", who catered most of the Hollywood premiers. I was building my photography business and catering was the best way to make some quick money and make a few connections - mostly with people in the arts who were in the same boat as me.
The movie “Mother” had just come out, starring Debbie Reynolds and Albert Brooks. ACM was catering the premier at Paramount, and I was scheduled to be one of the servers. These premiers were always fun because I got to wait on lots of celebrities and get really good at staring without being (too) obvious. I was usually one of many servers, but on this particular evening, I was one of just a few that were left to close up the event late into the night - something I ordinarily hated doing because it made for an especially long day.
After most of the guests had gone home, I was asked to tend to one table that wouldn’t budge, even as the party had long since ended and the other servers were breaking down the tables. It was Debbie Reynolds’s table, and she was there with her friends. These friends included June Allyson, Jane Russell and Rosemary Clooney, to name just three that stand out in my memory. For anyone that is familiar with even one of these names they would know that I’m talking about the best of early Hollywood. Rosemary Clooney alone was royalty, in my book … someone whose clear and intelligent voice only got better as she aged. (I highly recommend turning off all the lights and listening to her rendition of “Tenderly”, and you’ll see what I mean. That song, and her voice, could make you want to slow dance with a stranger, get back with an ex, and open your heart to love again no matter how many times it's been broken.)
This was pre-iPhone, so I don’t have a photo, but if you could step into my memory right now you would see this: A warm LA night, with palm trees in the distance yawning to the late night summer breeze. The Paramount Pictures lot, where so many unforgettable films were made. Empty tables surrounding one table of older, beautiful women who talked and laughed long into the night, sharing stories about life, love, and early Hollywood. Also in memory, one very star-struck food server who kept refilling coffee and cocktails and who couldn’t believe her good fortune at having the honor of caring for some of Hollywood's classiest leading ladies, long before the days when Twitter and Facebook could debate their worthiness, and whether or not they aged well (as they did with Carrie Fisher, just days before her death. Forgive us our insensitivity, brave souls.) That server was me.
All of them are on the other side of the dream now, and they were all there to greet Debbie, of that I’m sure. Thank you for your twinkling and kind eyes, your no-nonsense attitude, your raunchy sense of humor, and your love for Carrie, who you couldn’t bear to be without. Two souls tied together for eternity, no matter what forms they will take on next.
I'm including a photo I call "The Safe Return". It was a gift I created for my father when my brother Tom died. It's a portrait of what I imagine it must be like to cross the thin veil and return Home. Home. Safely Home.
Tell my mom I love her, and rest easy now, both of you. Job well done, sweet, beautiful souls. Rest easy and long.