29 Dec The Gift

Many say that creative people have “the gift” – that they are the “haves” and we are the “have-nots.”

The stories of Carrie Fischer and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, tell a story that is quite different. They gave us “gifts.”

IMG_0490In “Singing in the Rain,” Debbie Reynolds won the hearts of the public as the talented unknown actress/singer who gave women the gift of hope in post-WWII America. She maintains her dignity while trying to “make it” in Hollywood, including being the dubbed voice in the debut “Talkie” for yesterday’s silent screen star with a horribly squeaky voice.
IMG_0489At the height of the “MadMan Era,” Debbie gave women the gift of seeing themselves as heroes instead of shallow social climbers, in “The Unskinkable Molly Brown.” She was nominated for an Academy Award probably because critics gave her credit for saving this film from being shallow and trite. The story is about a woman who discovers that heroically saving the lives of fellow passengers on the Titanic is what matters after spending most of her life climbing the social ladder.

IMG_0488As the first generation of daughters of the Women’s movement entered the workforce, Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher, won our hearts and gave us the gift of the “bad ass” princess, forever re-defining what it means to be a princess.

The most impactful creative peoples’ lives can be tragic. Because the caliber of their performance is directly related to how deep they go to face the struggle to resolve the story. (Let’s face it, we do everything we can to avoid conflict in our everyday lives and we will avoid it in the book or screen unless the storyteller can plant the hook so we can’t wriggle free!) ¬†Vicariously, we experience their struggle to figure out and resolve the conflicts of ambiguity and injustice. And we enjoy the catharsis when they resolve their conflict as much as if we resolved our own.

That is the gift they give us.

I hope that Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, now experience the joy Tony Vaccaro told me he experienced and wanted to express with the above not well-known image of Debbie Reynolds.

Tony is a world-renowned fashion photographer famous for leaving the studio and posed shots for outdoor action shots of models in beautiful clothes. Before he became a fashion photographer, he was an infantryman in WWII with a camera who shot thousands of photographs on the front lines of the battlefield.

When I saw this photo of Debbie Reynolds at a Long Island gallery showing his work, he told me the image was inspired by the day he finally escaped the horror he experienced on the battlefield. That morning, he woke to the sound of a choir of young boys practicing in the square outside his window in Italy. Unknown to those innocent children, their voices had the profound impact of joy. He told me that this mid-air jumping jacks image of a woman in striped long underwear came to him to express that profound joy. He didn’t tell me that the woman he chose for this shoot was Debbie Reynolds. I found that out after watching this HBO special on his years as a war photographer.

Thank you Tony.

May Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds rest in peace.