Before Brangelina and Jen, Debbie Reynolds Was in the World’s Most Famous Love Triangle

It was as if Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie started palling around, and then made a TV movie together—written by Shiloh. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

The legendary Debbie Reynolds, who passed away yesterday at the age of 84, actually did star, in 2001, in a TV movie called These Old Broads co-written by her daughter, Carrie Fisher, and featuring as costar her old nemesis, Elizabeth Taylor—the woman at the center of the husband-stealing scandal that rocked the world in 1959. “Will Liz Break Eddie’s Heart Too?” shrieked the headlines of the supermarket magazines, the mid-century equivalent of TMZ and Twitter. “What They’re Saying About Liz and Eddie Now!” “Sensational Scoop! Liz and Debbie’s Private Talks About Eddie!”

It is impossible to overstate the public’s appetite for this deliciously lurid story. “I went to MGM when I was around 17, and Liz was there, too, but she was already a star,” Reynolds remembered. “We went to school together on the lot, when she was in between films. I was just a beginner, and she and I were not in any manner alike, but we got along very well.” Fast-forward a very few years: Taylor and her theatrical producer husband, Mike Todd, and pigtailed girl-next-door Reynolds and her husband, the crooner Eddie Fisher, were fast friends, the two Hollywood couples frequently photographed together, out on the town.

Well, at least, until Todd died tragically in a plane crash in 1958 and Taylor, of whom Reynolds also observed, “Women liked her and men adored her—my husband included,” decided that her friend’s partner was the man for her.

It wasn’t as if Reynolds hadn’t been warned about Fisher years before, by Frank Sinatra, her costar in the 1955 film The Tender Trap: “He said, ‘Don’t marry Eddie.’ He said I shouldn’t get married to a singer. ‘We’re not faithful. It’s ridiculous for you to take this on.’ I said, ‘Why? I don’t think that I will listen to you—I really think he’s adorable.’ My mother thought he was adorable.”

But how adorable is it when the father of your two children dumps you for a person everyone considers the most beautiful woman in the world? “I divorced Debbie and married Elizabeth the day I finished my run at the Tropicana . . .” Eddie said later. “It was a typical two-rabbi Jewish ceremony. As usual, Elizabeth was late for her own wedding . . . We were married under the chuppah, a canopy, and as is traditional, at the end of the ceremony, I stomped on a wineglass.”

The Taylor/Fisher marriage lasted around five years—until Taylor saw Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra, and an even bigger scandal ensued.

You might think that is the end of the story, but if art is long, well, life isn’t really all that short either. In a testament to the power of nascent feminism, or maybe just the softening that comes with the passage of time, the two broads, who had by then both remarried, reconciled. Reynolds recalled, “We got on the same boat to go to Europe—the Queen Elizabeth. I sent a note to her and she sent a note to me in passing, and then we had dinner together. She was married to Richard Burton by then. I had been remarried at that point. And we just said, ‘Let’s call it a day.’ And we got smashed. And we had a great evening, and stayed friends since then.” You need look no further for proof of this revived camaraderie than These Old Broads, that ridiculous, if ridiculously enjoyable, TV movie they went on to make together.

“You have to look at what life is all about, and is it worth it? And, is he worth it?” Reynolds once mused, in words to live by and to inspire us as we enter the dark corridors of 2017: “The friendship was perhaps worth more.”

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