Carrie Fisher’s affection for her mother was never more prominently displayed than in “These Old Broads,” the 2001 ABC TV movie she wrote as a starring vehicle for Debbie Reynolds and her one-time stepmother, Elizabeth Taylor.
The movie was true to Fisher’s form as a writer who excelled in offering unvarnished looks at the downside of celebrity and the ephemeral nature of success in showbiz. “Broads,” which Fisher co-wrote with Elaine Pope, offers a biting take on how hard it is for actresses to maintain a career, let alone age gracefully on screen.
The pairing of Reynolds and Taylor ensured that the movie generated advance buzz from the get-go. The two had starring roles in the real-life scandal that erupted when Fisher was a toddler in the late 1950s after her father, singer Eddie Fisher, had an affair with Taylor that ended his marriage to Reynolds.
The heat from those “Eddie Dumps Debbie” headlines still had marketing sizzle for ABC, even a half-century later. Shirley MacLaine and Joan Collins rounded out a stellar quartet. And just to make “Broads” that much more meta, MacLaine, of course, played a character loosely inspired by Reynolds in the 1990 film adaptation of Fisher’s novel “Postcards From the Edge.”
“Broads” centers around four actresses of a certain age, far removed from their glory days, who are reunite for a live musical TV special after a movie they made together in the early 1960s becomes a hit in re-release. Challenges, hijinks, and hilarity ensue as the foursome try to pull it together for the camera. Fisher herself makes a brief appearance as a hooker. (Fun fact: future “Lost” star Nestor Carbonell played the hit-hungry TV executive who dreams up the special.)
“These Old Broads” director Matthew Diamond said Fisher envisioned the movie as a tribute to her mother’s generation of Hollywood stars. But characteristically, there was nothing sappy about her material.
“She wrote it as a love letter to her mother, Elizabeth, Shirley, and Joan,” Diamond told Variety. “It worked for the audience as a piece of entertainment and also as a kind of inside joke that everybody in the world was in on. That it could exist on both of those levels at once was extraordinary and reflective of Carrie.”
The movie was filmed in 2000 on the Sony Pictures lot — the hallowed ground of MGM where Reynolds and Taylor, in particular, spent many hours working in their youth. All of the actresses shared old-Hollywood memories with Diamond during their downtime on the shoot.
“Debbie would talk about it a lot. At one point we were driving around the lot on a golf cart and she’d point out things she’d experienced and the place where she went to school,” Diamond said. “It was just so much fun to be there with them. They all had such a rich history.”
Reynolds also voiced her appreciation and pride for Fisher’s accomplishments, particularly as a writer, he added.
Despite old tensions, Reynolds, Taylor, MacLaine, and Collins were consummate pros and respectful to one another during the shoot.
“What was interesting was that the women all started out a little bit careful with each other. They were all such giants,” Diamond recalled. “By the end they were madly in love with one another and I could barely get them off the set. They wanted to play the scenes again and again. And that had to do with the spirit of the script.”
As a producer and screenwriter, Fisher was extremely articulate in her vision for the movie. But she was collaborative on the elements that Diamond suggested. The veteran director, whose recent credits include NBC’s “The Wiz Live” and CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” was recruited for “Broads” by producer Laurence Mark.
“It was a beautiful script from the start and tons of fun,” Diamond said.
Fisher came to the set a few times, but mostly gave Diamond the leeway to shoot “Broads” as he saw fit. At the time, Fisher was very focused on raising her young daughter, Billie, Diamond recalled, something he appreciated as the father of young kids himself.
“Broads” was a success for ABC in its premiere on Feb. 12, 2001. Sure, it skewed older in its demographic ratings, but 15.2 million total viewers was more than respectable. Fisher and Diamond felt it was mission accomplished.
“Carrie really did seem to make this movie an effort to embrace (the actresses) with her talent as a writer,” Diamond said. “Everybody had a grand time with it and that all sourced to Carrie.”