Some thoughts on Carrie Fisher














Certain corners of the internet are rumpled with consternation over Carrie Fisher’s appearance in The Force Awakens. Specifically, people want her to shut up about having to lose weight to play the role of General Leia. I don’t generally concern myself with celebrity gossip, but this particular teapot-tempest has caught my attention.

Here’s the story as I understand it: Disney asked Fisher to lose 35 lbs in order to play Leia. Fisher, being past 50, had difficulty losing the weight. As anyone past 50 would. She has mentioned it in interviews, and on social media. With great grace and humor, because she is, in addition to everything else, a hell of a witty gal. She was under pressure to lose weight, as any aging actress — strike that, any aging woman — oh hell, any woman — is, and her current profile of “being in a new Star Wars movie” makes her struggle news. Who would not want to hear about an aging actress’s struggle to reclaim her signature role? want to hear about it. The story has “human interest” written all over it. Everyone over 50, and anyone who plans to live past 50, has an interest in hearing about her struggle. And, while she says that Disney asked her to lose the weight, nowhere does she say that they were out of line to do so. She’s Hollywood royalty, she knows the score probably more than anyone alive.

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Pop Quiz

What do Samuel Beckett, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Paul Michael Glaser, Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Al Pacino, OJ Simpson, James Garner, Steven Spielberg, Michael Landon, John Houseman, Robert Redford, Oliver Stone, David Lynch, Will Smith and Bryan Singer all have in common?


All of them did projects with one of my favorite character actors, James Karen.

With 164 credits to his name, James Karen was a Hey! It’s That Guy! when JT Walsh was still in short pants.

One of his first credits (after episodes of Car 54, Where Are You? and The Defenders) was to appear in Samuel Beckett’s 1965 Film, a baffling whatsit from the soon-to-be Nobel Prize-winning author. Film starred Buster Keaton, and apparently the two of them were good friends, so much so that Karen would go on to impersonate Keaton from time to time. In Film, Karen wears extensive aging makeup that makes him look as old as he is now.

What’s an actor to do after he works with Samuel Beckett and Buster Keaton? Why go on to Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster, of course. Then, after working with a young Arnold Schwarzenegger in Hercules in New York, he got into a groove of television appearances, including Starsky and Hutch, Police Woman, McMillan and Wife and The Rockford Files.

Then came what may have been a breakthrough role in All the President’s Men, where he plays Stephen Collins’ lawyer on a television Redford is watching, and also provides (uncredited) the voice of a slippery politician, the one who protests that he’s got “a wife and a kid and a dog and a cat.”  He worked with OJ Simpson in 1978’s Capricorn One, and also in 1979’s The China Syndrome.  But the first time I noticed him was in Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist, where he played Craig T. Nelson’s unscrupulous boss.  After appearances on Little House on the Prarie and The Paper Chase, he gave what I consider the greatest of his performances in Return of the Living Dead, where he gets to go completely nuts while battling brain-eating zombies in a mortuary.  (One of the amusing things about this performance, for me, was that it was in theaters while Karen was also appearing on television as the Pathmark Drugstores spokesman in New York.  I couldn’t watch the commercials, where he is paternal, friendly and blithely reassuring, without thinking of him sweating, turning yellow and trying to eat the brains of some teenagers.)  He appears in no fewer than three Oliver Stone movies (Wall Street, Nixon and Any Given Sunday) and also in David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr.  Bryan Singer directed him in Superman Returns but then cut his scenes.  He remains in the titles but does not appear in the movie, bitterly disappointing at least one filmgoer.  Finally, he is featured in Will Smith’s upcoming The Pursuit of Happyness.

I don’t know about you, but that’s what I call a career.  And it’s not over yet.
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