Carrie Fisher’s Long Career as a Writer, Screenwriter, and Hollywood Fixer: “I’m a Writer” First and Foremost

By now the news of Car­rie Fisher’s death has hit hard all over the world. It’s true that for an entire gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple, her break­out role at 19 as Princess Leia in the orig­i­nal Star Wars tril­o­gy has made her a sci-fi icon and a child­hood crush—both roles she longed to escape. Trib­ute after trib­ute on social media and else­where remind­ed us almost imme­di­ate­ly after Tuesday’s announce­ment that her life and work have had a much wider impact, even on peo­ple who have nev­er even seen a Star Wars film.

Fisher’s unabashed­ly can­did pub­lic con­ver­sa­tions about her per­son­al strug­gles with sub­stance abuse and bipo­lar dis­or­der made her a pow­er­ful advo­cate for oth­ers who felt ashamed to talk about these too-often-taboo sub­jects and often too ashamed to seek help. Much like George Michael, anoth­er celebri­ty mourned by mil­lions this hol­i­day sea­son, Fish­er refused to be shamed into silence or to capit­u­late to bul­lies and big­ots. Instead she prac­ti­cal­ly bloomed with earthy charm and wit as she co-opt­ed tabloid char­ac­ter assas­si­na­tion and turned it into her own form of auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal art and ther­a­peu­tic out­reach.

Her return to the reboot­ed Star Wars fran­chise last year as the wise, aging Gen­er­al Leia Organa ele­vat­ed the con­ver­sa­tion about old­er women in Hol­ly­wood, after her response to some vicious com­ments about her looks made her haters look small, mean, and stunt­ed. Fish­er’s tal­ent for Oscar Wilde-wor­thy apho­risms that sliced right through lay­ers of insuf­fer­able bull­shit also led to one of her most suc­cess­ful career stints, as a writer, script doc­tor, and Hol­ly­wood fix­er dur­ing a “long, very lucra­tive episode,” as she told Newsweek in a 2008 inter­view. (In true Car­rie Fish­er fash­ion, she brought these life expe­ri­ences to an Emmy-nom­i­nat­ed guest turn on an episode of 30 Rock as her fun­ni­est char­ac­ter, Rose­mary Howard.)

It’s rumored that Fish­er revised her lines in George Lucas’ noto­ri­ous­ly wordy Star Wars scripts. (Although one image of Empire Strikes Back edits pur­port­ed to be in her hand actu­al­ly con­tains revi­sions by the film’s direc­tor Irvin Ker­sh­n­er.) But her for­mal screen­writ­ing career began in 1990, when she adapt­ed her best­selling 1987 auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal nov­el, Post­cards from the Edge, into the screen­play for a Meryl Streep-star­ring film. The project led to rewrit­ing work on high-pro­file come­dies through­out the next decade. In addi­tion to a cred­it for one of those unwieldy Lucas scripts for The Phan­tom Men­ace in 1999, Fish­er helped rework films like Hook, Sis­ter Act, Made in Amer­i­ca, So I Mar­ried an Axe Mur­der­er, The Wed­ding Singer, and sev­er­al more.

Always a fierce­ly out­spo­ken crit­ic of the way Hol­ly­wood treats women, Fish­er fought to make female char­ac­ters more three-dimen­sion­al. In a Web­MD inter­view, she was asked, “What does it take to heal bad dia­logue?” Her pithy answer: “Make the women smarter and the love scenes bet­ter.” As a peace­mak­er for trou­bled pro­duc­tions, how­ev­er, she often advised women actors to use diplomacy—with her own spin on the con­cept. When Whoopi Gold­berg feud­ed with Disney’s Jef­frey Katzen­berg, for exam­ple, Fish­er advised, “Send Jef­frey a hatch­et and say, ‘Please bury this on both our behalfs.’” Gold­berg thought it over, and “the next day Katzen­berg received his hatch­et. With­in a few days a token of Katzenberg’s respect arrived at her front door: two enor­mous brass balls.”

Sto­ries like this one, and many more uproar­i­ous and often per­son­al­ly self-destruc­tive episodes, formed the basis for Fisher’s auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal best­sellers, includ­ing her mem­oir Wish­ful Drink­ing, which also became a one-woman Broad­way show, then an HBO spe­cial (see an excerpt at the top). She has always won over crit­ics as an actress, and she made a wry kind of peace with her eter­nal fame as Princess Leia, imbu­ing the char­ac­ter with renewed grav­i­tas and sen­si­tiv­i­ty in the year before her death. But she did not see her­self prin­ci­pal­ly as an actress. “I’m a writer,” she told Web­MD. Asked whom she’d choose to share “con­fined quar­ters” with from his­to­ry, she answered—with her win­ning com­bi­na­tion of dis­arm­ing sin­cer­i­ty and wink­ing self-aware­ness—“Samuel Tay­lor Coleridge. He was man­ic-depres­sive, too.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch a Young Car­rie Fish­er (RIP) Audi­tion for Star Wars (1975)      

Watch the Very First Trail­ers for Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back & Return of the Jedi (1976–83)

The Com­plete Star Wars “Fil­mu­men­tary”: A 6‑Hour, Fan-Made Star Wars Doc­u­men­tary, with Behind-the-Scenes Footage & Com­men­tary

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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