When Joely Fisher was growing up, Malibu was not yet fashionable or expensive. She remembers her mom, actress and singer Connie Stevens, being surprised by a home that stood out from the rest. “She said, ‘Who is the [jerk] that has a swimming pool on the beach?’ The real estate agent started laughing and said, ‘Debbie Reynolds!’ ” Joely recalls to Closer. Debbie, of course, was the first wife of Joely’s father, singer Eddie Fisher. “We lived next door to Debbie for seven years. I called her Momma Deb,” says Joely, who tells stories from her Hollywood upbringing in her 2017 memoir, Growing Up Fisher. “She was spectacular, interesting and charming. As much of a broad as my mother is.”
It’s no surprise that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. After graduation from Boston’s Emerson College, Joely, 54, launched her own career as an actress, singer and, lately, a screenwriter and director. “You can’t just wait for someone else to say, ‘Oh, you are the person that I want for this job,’ ” she explains. “You have to keep creating avenues for your own expression.”
Considering your famous parents, you must have always known you were headed for a showbiz career.
“Oh, sure, since birth. In my memoir, I describe my family as a fishbowl. We have been watched, scrutinized and judged. But as they watched us swim around, we have perfected our stroke! We were like carny people.”
Did you travel a lot with your mom as a child?
“We would go on the road with her. It was a survival thing. It wasn’t all first-class and limos. She was a single mother working to support the family. My mom called me the gypsy. I knew that this was my life from the very start.”
What’s your mom, Connie, like at home?
“She doesn’t always practice what she preaches, but she is an affectionate, generous, incandescent spirit of a woman. She was nearly taken out by a stroke five years ago. She says, ‘I bounced back!’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can describe what you’re doing right now as bouncing, Mom! But we are happy to have you alive. You have eight grandchildren, and they adore you.’
What was the best thing you learned from her?
“I remember when I was young and I had my first screen test. I didn’t get the role, and I was just hysterical. And she was like, ‘It’s a job. It wasn’t your role, it was somebody else’s role. And it doesn’t validate who you are as a person.’ She reiterated that over the years — what an incredible human being I am and how proud she is of me and what a great mother I am. And so I guess I took that in.”
That’s lovely. How about your dad, Eddie. What was your relationship like?
“I didn’t grow up with my dad. He never really acted like a dad. But he was amazing, and we did develop a real friendship after I turned 16 and then later in life. I adored him and forgave him. He is gone 11 years.”
It’s never easy to lose a parent.
“When my father passed away…my mother said, ‘Oh, we have to memorialize Eddie,’ because she still calls him ‘delicious,’ even after all these years. So we had a little party with bagels and lox for my little Jewish dad. My sisters and I got up and spoke. By the end, we all had included in our speech that we were his favorite! The reason why we all said that is because at one point in our life, he made us feel that way. He didn’t know really how to be a father, but he did adore us all, and he did honor us all in that way.”
You also lost your half-sister Carrie Fisher. Do you miss her?
“I miss her desperately. The world doesn’t feel right without her. She was the smartest person I know, and she was the funniest. I aspire to leave the same kind of mark.”
If you hadn’t been an actress and singer, what do you think you would have done?
“When I was younger, I used to say, ‘Oh, I would love to have been the cruise director on The Love Boat — but that’s show business, too. Now, I’ve authored a book. I’ve written screenplays, I’ve done Broadway musicals, I’ve done television, I’m directing. I always joke, I am a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker, but I really am all those things!”
Are you creating during the pandemic?
“Sure. Since the pandemic started, I’ve written four pilots for television. And one of them is in development right now. So, eventually, you’ll be seeing the fruits of my writing labor on the screen. I also ran for office in my union.”
Wow, how did that happen?
“It became very important to me because I saw what’s been happening. Health care is tied to our employment. During the pandemic, 12,000 seniors, the icons of [show] business, lost their insurance. I’m ignited by that. I said I have to get into the boardroom and negotiate better contracts for people like my mom.”
You’re a mom yourself. How old are your kids?
“I have two stepsons, who are 35 and 33. They’re both married with two children each, so I’m Glam-ma! I also have a 20-year-old daughter who is living in New York City and working on a television show behind the camera. I have an almost 16-year-old daughter who’s in high school, and a 13-year-old. Their names are, from the top down, Cameron, Collin, Skylar, True and Olivia.”
This year you participated in Doris Bergman’s Emmy gifting suite, which supports the foster children charity Wednesday’s Child. Why is this organization important to you?
“I have an adopted child myself, so it resonates with me to support families that are underserved and underrepresented in the world. My concern is always for the next generation. I do want to write, eventually, about adoption and mental health. Not from a Hollywood standpoint, but [talking about] the mental health of the children of this generation and the pressures they are under.”
What do you like most about being the age you are?
“I don’t really give a [damn] anymore — just kidding! I think when you get to a certain age, you don’t have to try so hard to prove who you are or what you’ve done. It’s like, ‘This is who I am. Take it or leave it.’ I’ve tried really hard to be an amazing human, an artist and a good mom. What you see is what you get.”
— Reporting by Susan Hornik
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