Young Todd Fisher didn't take long to realise he wasn't growing up in the average family. There was his mother's habit of regularly kitting out him and his sister Carrie in identical outfits then parading them in front of the massed cameras of the media.

Then there was the time, during one of his mother's party nights, that he went to the bathroom and burst in on the actress Bette Davis sitting on the lavatory — and she insisted he stayed and talked to her, reports Daily Mail.

The son of one of Hollywood's most wholesome stars, Debbie Reynolds, and brother of one of its most turbulent, Carrie Fisher, Todd could also lay claim to having its biggest cad — the singer Eddie Fisher — for a father.

He has now written a memoir laying bare his life in one of Tinseltown's most dysfunctional and ill-starred families, from his mother's lifelong difficulties with men to his sister's tragic battle against manic depression and drugs.

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Debbie, who became "America's sweetheart" when she starred in the musical Singin' In The Rain, died aged 84 two years ago, just a day after her daughter — who will always be remembered as intergalactic "sweetheart" Princess Leia in Star Wars — died from a cardiac arrest.

They had a competitive and often fraught relationship but in his new book, My Girls, Todd — who was devoted to both women — insists his mother "willed" herself to die so her beloved Carrie "would never be alone".

That would take some willpower but Debbie was, after all, the woman who weathered one of the great betrayals of showbusiness history.

When Eddie Fisher's best friend, the showman Mike Todd, died in a plane crash in 1958, it took him just a month to desert Debbie for his friend's newly-minted widow, Elizabeth Taylor.

She had been one of Debbie's best friends and she, in turn, deserted Eddie after five years' marriage for Richard Burton.

Todd, who was 2 months old when his father left, says the charming but feckless Eddie was barely present in his childhood, although he resented this chiefly for the devastating effect it had on Carrie, two years older than him.

Debbie and Eddie are pictured with Todd and Carrie in this family photo from 1958. Photo / Supplied
Debbie and Eddie are pictured with Todd and Carrie in this family photo from 1958. Photo / Supplied

The doughty Debbie, meanwhile, soldiered on. The daughter of railway workers from Texas, she inherited a hard-working ethic and strong moral values, says Todd, a three-times married actor and film-maker who is now an evangelical Christian minister.

Even so, Debbie made awful choices in men. After Eddie she quickly remarried, this time to a fabulously rich shoe magnate named Harry Karl.

He was 18 years older than her and, compared to Eddie, seemed eminently respectable.

A fastidious man with an aristocratic air, he only wore his monogrammed shirts once before throwing them away and was visited every week by a "revolving cadre" of female manicurists.

The latter, Todd later discovered to his horror, did rather more than file his nails.

Debbie hosted lavish showbiz parties at their huge Beverly Hills mansion for hundreds of guests including Cary Grant, Groucho Marx, Jimmy Stewart, Judy Garland and, of course, Bette Davis.

One night Taylor and Burton were guests, Todd recalls. She and Debbie had buried the hatchet after they and their respective husbands found themselves passengers on the Queen Elizabeth liner together.

On the night of the party chez Debbie, Taylor and Burton got into a fight, "a yelling, top-of-their-lungs, mutual bitch-slapping fight, and they were oblivious to the discomfort of a houseful of others guests," Todd recalls. "I remember Carrie and me gaping at them with identical incredulity."

Debbie pulled her warring guests aside and sent them upstairs "so they could continue this ugliness in private".

After several more minutes of screaming, there was a deafening silence. Twenty minutes later, they emerged from the master bedroom, "happy and in love again as they descended the grand stairway and rejoined the party as if nothing had happened", Todd says.

"That night was the first time I had ever heard the phrase 'make-up sex'. I was just too young to know or care what it meant."

Debbie was devoted to her career and the children found they had to compete for her attention with her fans. But parental supervision wasn't her strong point.

Todd was allowed to keep a pet alligator until it became fully grown and was surreptitiously released onto a local golf course.

He was allowed to buy explosives and guns so he could create realistic battle scenes in the home movies he made with friends.

When he accidentally shot himself in the leg with a blank from a revolver, his mischievous sister unhelpfully told reporters: "Todd wouldn't brush his teeth so Mum shot him."
Debbie only narrowly avoided being charged over the accident.

Two-faced: Fisher with Liz Taylor and wife Debbie Reynols in 1957. Photo / Supplied
Two-faced: Fisher with Liz Taylor and wife Debbie Reynols in 1957. Photo / Supplied

On the very rare occasions Todd saw his philandering father, Eddie was a "heck of a lot of fun" — showering him in toys — but would then disappear for months.

Like Carrie, Eddie suffered from bipolar disorder and he, too, became a hopeless drug addict. Todd says he never quite forgave him for deserting both his mother and sister, and admits he "didn't shed a tear" when his father died aged 82 in 2010.

Debbie, a former Girl Scout, used to stop working early on Fridays so she could lead the troop of which Carrie was a member.

She had a reputation as squeaky clean and rather pure, recounting her disgust when — while filming a kissing scene in Singin' In The Rain — co-star Gene Kelly shoved his tongue down her throat. She says she was still a virgin when, two years later, she fell in love at 21 with the rapacious Eddie.

Debbie may have been unusually virtuous for a Hollywood star but she was tough and had a fierce temper, says Todd, who recalls seeing her punch men in the face on at least three occasions.

Her victims included a musician in her Las Vegas backing band and an obnoxious Broadway theatre official. She might have been better off battering her husbands as her bad luck didn't end with Eddie.

Second husband Harry Karl turned out to be an utter rogue. An alcoholic and a compulsive secret gambler who was losing up to $50,000 a day, he not only blew his own money but allegedly squandered millions of his wife's fortune, even secretly selling her jewellery.

Todd reveals how he uncovered another of Karl's vices. Curious as to why his step-father was getting so many visits from manicurists while his mother and sister were away, he installed a secret video camera in Karl's bedroom — and discovered they were call girls.

Todd barely had time to digest this information when another arrived and, discovering the boy — then just 15 — was the only one at home, gave him his "first 'manicure'".

In 1984 — 11 years after divorcing Karl — Debbie had another stab at marriage.

Richard Hamlett, a charming property developer, was another disaster. He frittered away her money on a hotel and casino venture, before going off with a mistress by whom he'd fathered a child.

Debbie said his various affairs included one with a "toothless waitress from a waffle house" — at least she could understand Eddie going off with Liz Taylor, she complained.

Debbie could have declared bankruptcy as a result of her husbands' profligacy but chose to pay off her debts by working maniacally. These included a show in Las Vegas which featured her two children, then 12 and 10, singing and playing guitar.

Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, and Todd Fisher are pictured from the Fisher's family archives. Photo / Getty Images
Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, and Todd Fisher are pictured from the Fisher's family archives. Photo / Getty Images

Having only learnt much later that they were in dire straits, Todd now regrets complaining at having to wear stage make-up.

In 1974, the family decamped to London (living in the Savoy Hotel) while mother and daughter appeared at the London Palladium in a song and dance show.

Aged 16, Todd recalls Rolling Stone Mick Jagger's wife Bianca giving him a "passionate" kiss when she saw photographers were mobbing him.

Bianca later invited the family to Mick's birthday party.

"Long buffet tables were overloaded with huge bowls and plates of food, pills, powders and joints," Todd relates. "Glass trays were everywhere, covered with lines of cocaine, razor blades and straws."

He overheard Mick thoughtfully warning Debbie of activities going on upstairs to which her teenage children shouldn't be exposed.

Debbie had suffered at the hands off predatory Hollywood men and was anxious her daughter was spared.

When Carrie, now 17, was offered her screen debut in the romantic comedy Shampoo, Debbie had reservations about her working with its lothario star Warren Beatty — especially when she learned that Carrie's first line would be: "Wanna f**k?"

Todd says Beatty later told him that his mother had warned: "If you touch her, I will take out a hit on you." Beatty added that he'd genuinely believed her.

Carrie's relationship with Debbie became increasingly tempestuous, a consequence, Todd believes, of her determination to step out of her mum's shadow.

Carrie accused her mother of continually trying to compete with her, mentioning in her semi-autobiographical book and film, Postcards From The Edge, how Debbie drank too much at her 17th birthday party and twirled her skirt high enough to reveal she was not wearing underwear.

Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, and Carrie Fisher are pictured in 1957. Photo / Getty Images
Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher, and Carrie Fisher are pictured in 1957. Photo / Getty Images

In truth, says Todd, it was Carrie who was trying to compete with their mother.

Still, it was Carrie's relationship with drugs which proved far more catastrophic than the one with her mother. Todd and Carrie would get stoned together on cannabis as teenagers but he later gave up.

He says that, beginning in her teens, therapists would ply his temperamental sister with powerful mood-stabilising drugs to "help her control her feelings and mute the voices that were always going on in her head".

She became hooked on an opioid painkiller, after their dentist gave it to them.

With Carrie and Debbie barely on speaking terms, it was left to Todd to hold the family together.

"At 15, I became the caretaker of 'my girls'. I was the fixer for both of them," he says. He repeatedly had to rescue his sister when she overdosed or relapsed after one of her many stays in rehab.

Once, before the cast screening of Star Wars in 1977, he found her unconscious in a pool of her own vomit. He believes she went "overboard" in calming her nerves about doing a film that she was convinced would be a humiliating flop.

Todd, who never had a drug or alcohol problem, later discovered their father Eddie had taken drugs with Carrie in New York after she'd come out of rehab.

"Nothing Eddie did surprised me any more," he writes.

Carrie had about as much success with men as her mother.

She married musician Paul Simon in 1983 but it lasted just months.

She was briefly engaged to the comedian Dan Aykroyd then, in 1992, had a daughter, Billie, with her boyfriend, talent agent Bryan Lourd. Debbie hoped motherhood might finally give her daughter a reason to "get sober and stay that way", says Todd.

It didn't happen.

Todd describes how, when Billie was 5, Carrie had a psychotic episode in which she thought everything on TV was about her.

Left to right: Todd Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher and Billie Lourd pose in the press room at TNT's 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2015. Photo / Getty Images
Left to right: Todd Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher and Billie Lourd pose in the press room at TNT's 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2015. Photo / Getty Images

He found her in hospital "ranting and yelling every profanity in her extensive vocabulary ... it was amazing and heartbreaking — they'd given her enough medication to sedate an elephant and she was still wide awake".

In 2005, Carrie made headlines when she woke up to find a gay Republican media adviser lying dead in bed beside her after he had taken a narcotic painkiller.

The ever-dependable Todd whisked his sister to rehab in England, staying with her for weeks during her treatment.

However, he said it became clear she was "never going to stop, not completely" abusing drugs. He and his mother reluctantly agreed "it was time for us to just let her be".

Shortly before her death in 2016, Carrie shockingly revealed in a book that she had a three-month affair with Harrison Ford while making the first Star Wars film.

Todd noticed she was "completely entranced" with Ford and she confided they were having an affair.

The actor was married with children at the time and, says Todd, Debbie was deeply opposed to Carrie publicly revealing the affair.

Ford, too, was reportedly not best pleased. Todd writes: "What Harrison and everyone else may not know is that Carrie went to Mum after the book became such a big deal and said: 'You were right. I shouldn't have told that story.'

"For what it's worth, Harrison, she really did regret telling the story of that affair."

Carrie's fatal cardiac arrest came after a medical emergency on a flight from London to Los Angeles. The coroner found traces of cocaine, heroin and ecstasy in her system but was unable to say if they contributed to her death.

Todd broke the news to their 84-year-old mother who later told him: "I want to be with Carrie," shortly before suffering a "severe stroke" from which she didn't recover.

Her son says his mother was fascinated by her parallels with Carrie — both catapulted to superstardom with films they shot when they were 19 and both briefly married to short recording stars.

In many more fundamental ways, however, they surely couldn't have been less alike.