Before today’s tabloids began flashing headlines about celebrities based on nothing but loose rumors, a true Hollywood scandal shocked the world when crooner Eddie Fisher left his wife, Debbie Reynolds, for Elizabeth Taylor.
To make this love triangle even more dramatic, Reynolds and Taylor had actually been good friends since their teens when they met on the MGM Studio lot. Fisher was also close with Taylor’s third husband, film producer Mike Todd. In fact, when Fisher and Reynolds tied the knot in 1955, Todd acted as the best man and Taylor was a bridesmaid. As you can see, they were a tight knit group of friends.
So when did things go so wrong?
The heartbreak began when Taylor lost Todd to an airplane accident in 1958. His buddy Fisher was quick to comfort the newly-widowed Taylor. Rumors began spreading about an affair between them, but Reynolds remained in the dark.
One day, while feeling lonely because Fisher was away on tour, Reynolds decided to give Taylor a call — but it was Fisher who answered the phone. “Suddenly a lot of things clicked into place,” Reynolds told Daily Mail in 2010. “I could hear her voice asking him who was calling — they were obviously in bed together.”
Fisher rushed home after that to tell his wife (and mother of their two children) that he and Taylor had fallen in love. “I was very religious so I didn’t believe in divorce,” Reynolds explained. “But they laid guilt on me that I was keeping them and true love apart. So, I finally let Eddie off the hook.” Taylor and Fisher married in 1959.
Reynolds was understandably hurt by her husband leaving her for her former friend. Can you imagine? “Although I didn’t want to find out the truth, I had to face up to it,” she said. “Even so, it was a great shock to find them together. It left me shattered.”
The actresses spent the next seven years not speaking — but Taylor divorced Fisher after just five. The singer got a taste of his own medicine when Taylor fell for her Cleopatra co-star, Richard Burton, and left Fisher to marry him. Still, she and Reynolds didn’t reach out to each other but had a chance meeting while traveling.
Reynolds and her second husband, Harry Karl, were traveling to London on the Queen Elizabeth ship when her heart jumped into her throat. “I looked up and I saw tons of luggage going by me and birdcages and dog cages and nurses and I realized Elizabeth was on the same ship as me,” she told the Hollywood Reporter. She almost backed out of the trip right then, but her husband convinced her to go ahead with their plans. As it turned out, both couples were staying on the same floor of the boat.
Rather than try to avoid her former pal, Reynolds decided to reach out to her. “I sent a note to her room and she sent a note back to mine saying that we should have dinner and get this over with and have a good time,” Reynolds said. “Because we were very good friends when we were 17 and went to school together on the MGM lot.” The dinner was a success and full of laughs, and their reunion was celebrated by the press and their fans. Reynolds claimed there were even cameras hiding on the boat to capture their renewed friendship.
Years later, the pair went on to co-star in the 2000 television film These Old Broads, which was written by Reynold’s daughter, Carrie Fisher, with Shirley MacLaine and Joan Collins (shown above). They remained in close touch until Taylor’s death in 2011, something made apparent when Reynolds told fans to pray for the ailing film icon in the 2010 Daily Mail interview.
It just goes to show that no matter how messy things can get (especially when there’s romance involved), the power of true friendship is still strong enough to overcome whatever life throws at us.