Upon hearing of the passing of actress Carrie Fisher, the marketer behind the promotion for the original Star Wars, Charles Lippincott posted his memories of his first meeting with her before filming and how her character fitted into the marketing of the original film in the 70s.
Bunny Alsup (assistant to the producer) and I had been at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) with Jim Nelson (sound editor and producer). As production was just starting up, we didn't really have a Star Wars production office, per se. We were using temporary office space at ILM. We had been giving a go ahead by Laddie (Alan Ladd, then head of creative affairs at 20th Century Fox), but we had not officially been approved by 20th Century's Board of Directors. We had received Laddie's permission to go ahead with preproduction, but we did not have an official start date, which could only happen after the Board of Directors approved production in Dec., 1975. Laddie's preproduction approval meant we had begun storyboarding, casting, model building, costume designing and everything necessary to shoot, but we did not have an official start date.
Carrie had passed her audition and was at the production offices. You have to remember this was early on, and Carrie was very young. She was barely out of high school. Most of us think of Carrie as she became, but that was a different Carrie than the Carrie of 1975. I mean, George [Lucas], Gary [Kurtz], Harrison [Ford] and I are all about the same age, and we're all old enough to be Carrie's teenage father.
That's putting things into context. The Carrie of 19 was different than the Carrie of 29, or the Carrie of 45. Most of us have memories of Carrie which are tinged by a mature, grown up Carrie. That was not the Carrie of 1975.
Another thing you have to remember is being cast in a film does not mean you will end up performing in the film, especially when the film does not have a start date. Films are notorious for their schedule changes, and sometimes, even if you're cast, you can be replaced. So Carrie had passed her audition, but we did not have an official, locked down start date. We were going ahead, but Carrie was not convinced she'd be along for the ride.
Carrie was insecure because she believed she had done terribly at her Star Wars audition. She had been in only one other film, Shampoo, which had been released earlier that year, on Feb. 11, 1975. Carrie had a small role in the film, but unlike her "terrible" audition for George, she was very confident about being cast in Shampoo as Warren Beatty (the film's star) made it clear he and Hal Ashby (the director) wanted her for the role. I wouldn't be surprised if they had been to some of the same dinner parties as Warren Beatty and Debbie Reynolds were both Hollywood royalty. At her audition, Carrie thought George was unimpressed with her, and George, of course, didn't say anything to reassure her. George, as usual, said nothing, so Carrie was left to stew in misery.
People looking at her audition tape today all say that Carrie was the perfect actress for the role as Princess Leia, but back then, Carrie did not know that. Born and bred in Beverly Hills, Carrie was raised as the perfect Jewish American Princess. The daughter of well known pop singer Eddie Fisher, who became the voice of Coca-Cola, Fisher was Jewish. After marrying Fisher, Reynolds converted to Judaism. Reynolds was one of the youngest members of MGM's lineup and co-starred with Gene Kelley in one of MGM's most important musical, Singing in the Rain, when she was only 19. Reynolds converting to Judaism was not atypical of Hollywood. Elizabeth Taylor converted to Judaism after marrying Mike Todd, who was a very important producer - a big time producer, who was Eddie Fisher's best friend and Carrie's brother's namesake. So Carrie being raised as a Jewish American Princess (JAP) was not only an important part of her upbringing, it was the natural outcome of her religion, class and background.
Nowadays, it's hard to talk about Carrie being a JAP without falling into the murky waters of antisemitism. Trump, racism, Black Lives Matter -- all these social forces make it hard to discuss Carrie being a JAP because it's politically incorrect to point out race, gender, sexual preferance or religion of our icons. But Carrie was Hollywood royalty and a JAP. We all know the jokes about JAPs who make dinner by picking up the phone and ordering deliveries, jokes which associate Jewish women with being a spoiled daddy's girl, selfish, whiny, indifferent to sex (or oversexed), but -- most importantly -- from a pampered or wealthy background. To a certain extent, Carrie fit the stereotypical JAP profile, but on another level, she did not.
I'm sure that Carrie was insecure auditioning for Star Wars because she was young, but it was also because she lacked the false bravado many actors wrap around themselves. These are the kind of people who get all pumped up for an interview and convince themselves they did well, regardless of whether they did well or not. I'm sure shrinks have some kind of word to describe people like this. Carrie was never that kind of person. That's probably why folks now use the word "honest" to describe her. Her insecurity goes against the JAP stereotype of entitlement. Though she came from Hollywood royalty, Carrie did not assume she had the Princess Leia role.
Carrie doubting the strength of her audition performance cannot simply be laid on Carrie. You have to remember, she thought her audition for Star Wars went terribly because George did not give her any feedback. You see, George is not exactly the effusive kind of director who reassures his actors. In fact, during the shooting in Tunisia, Mark Hamill turned to Marcia Lucas for feedback on his performance because George was so wrapped up in what he was doing he couldn't. Or wouldn't. That's not George's style. George assumed others could do their job, and if they couldn't, he had no need for them. They should be fired. Period. George didn't need to tell people what to do because people should just do their job. George didn't have it in him to reassure a young actor about their performance. That's a pretty tough attitude for a young, insecure actress to take, so it's no wonder that Carrie was insecure.
In George's defense, Alfred Hitchcock [ who Lippincott also worked with on Family Plot] also had the attitude that actors needed to do their job and he did not have to reassure them. Hitch was famous for say his actors 'should be treated like cattle' line. But Hitchcock promoted this attitude when he was at the top of his game, and George was relatively new, with only one major feature under his belt, American Graffiti. Regardless, we're talking about Carrie.
As I said, the first time I met Carrie I was with Bunny Alsup, who had been assigned to drive Carrie to the costume department. I went along because I wanted to take the opportunity to meet Carrie, our female lead. Although Carrie had been cast and we were en route to a wardrobe meeting, Carrie was convinced she had done a terrible job at the audition and was afraid she would be replaced by someone better. I tried to reassure her, but any words coming from me were just pap. She thought Star Wars would be a big break for her, but had really internalized rejection. She thought she had ruined her chances and I was unable to stop her crying.
When I got home, I picked up the phone and called George. I told him what had happened and said, "George, get your act together". Hah, well maybe not quite. What I said was "George, you really need to call Carrie. You have a problem on your hands. This girl is very insecure, and unless you're willing to reassure her, she's going to fall apart."
I don't know if it was my words which made George call Carrie, but he did call her, and problems seemed to be resolved to a certain degree. I say to a certain degree, because throughout filming, and even after, there was a certain amount of conflict between George and Carrie.
None of my interactions with Carrie remained in my memory as strong as that first meeting with her, when she was so upset. This was partly due to the nature of film audiences in the late 70s. It was generally understood by all the studios that unless you were doing a women's drama, the primary audience for a film was a boy about 11 years old. This meant that Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford were the most important actors in the film. Well, let's qualify that and say the most important human actors in the film. Both George and I knew Star Wars' two main characters who drove the story forward were R2D2 and C3PO, but being robots, we could not use them to market the film the same way as live actors.
Carrie's role was important, but you can gauge her importance relative to Mark and Harrison's role by looking at the value of Princess Leia action figures versus Han Solo or Luke Skywalker figures. To this day, the Leia figures and dolls are priced far beneath her male counterparts. Why? Because our primary audiences of young boys identified with Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. They also identified with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader, both of whom were not available, for one reason or another, as American marketing, publicity and promotion vehicles. That was why I subsequently spent more time with Mark and Harrison. Our emphasis was on promoting their two characters.
This brings me to the second part of my Carrie story, or more accurately, the image I have remaining of Carrie Fisher. Mind you, after working on Star Wars, I did not follow the evolution of the Star Wars universe, so I did not really see Carrie growing up, nor the evolution of her person and her character. I just knew Carrie from the beginning, and I knew her from my personal interactions, and from gossip.
Harrison and I were kind of buddies. I got along with him and we both liked talking with each other. I had gone to his house and not only met his wife, Mary Marquardt, I also met his two sons. We weren't best friends who hung out all the time, but we were friendly. One of Roy Thomas' favorite stories is coming over to a party I had at an apartment Carol Wikarska and I shared where he met Harrison. Roy was so impressed with meeting Harrison he wanted to feature Harrison in all of his Marvel Star Wars Comics story lines. Well, Harrison didn't exactly gossip about his affair with Carrie, not like two guys in a locker room sharing conquest stories, but I knew about Harrison's affair with Carrie, and knew Harrison basically saw Carrie as a flighty Jewish American Princess.
Least any of you think Harrison was making a semitic slur against Carrie, I should remind you Harrison's father was an actor who was part Jewish, and both Harrison and his father were from the Valley. When you contrast that to Carrie's Beverly Hills upbringing, you can see how the royalty aspect of her upbringing actually worked for her Princess Leia character, but wouldn't have cemented a relationship with Harrison, who liked women shaped like sticks anyway.
On my facebook page, Alan Dean Foster referred to Carrie as a writer who happened to act. I'm sorry I didn't get to know that part of Carrie. My memory of her, like many memories, is locked in the past... in a galaxy far, far away.... when Carrie Fisher was a 19 year old Princess starting out in Hollywood.