Despite a career that would span over forty years, Carrie Fisher will be forever remembered for her iconic portrayal of Princess Leia Organa in the phenomenally successful Star Wars saga that began in 1977 with the blockbuster that would reinvent Hollywood and concluded four decades later with the underwhelming conclusion that was 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker. Initially introduced as a brave-yet-arrogant young member of the rebellion who, through her various missions against the oppressive forces of the Galactic Empire had become a respected symbol of the alliance, Leia would evolve through the original trilogy into one of the most influential and admired female characters in cinema history. And with her long-awaited return in 2015’s The Force Awakens after a hiatus of thirty-two years audiences were eager to see what had happened to their beloved role model, a strong and independent heroine who had constantly put the lives of those less fortunate before her own, never once hiding behind her royal upbringing and always fighting for peace and justice in a violent and totalitarian galaxy.
‘Survivor…it’s a term I don’t really like but I reluctantly agree that I am one,’ she declared in an interview with the Daily Mail in 2011. This statement was made following thirty-five years of struggling with stardom, having become a pop icon and sex symbol overnight at the tender age of twenty when her second feature film Star Wars became a worldwide phenomenon. Growing up the daughter of a Hollywood star, success was something that she had witnessed her mother overcome as she was growing up but the cultural impact that her breakthrough picture would have was unprecedented and soon the young actress found herself on cereal boxes, comic books and bedroom walls around the world. Alongside fellow newcomers Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford, Fisher became one of the most recognised actors in the world and following the release of the inevitable sequel The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, all three actors would struggle with the exposure that the franchise would cast upon them.
Since the success of Star Wars, Fisher has openly documented her struggles with fame and addiction through her work as an author, with her first novel, the semi-autobiographical Postcards from the Edge, initially published in 1987. Having made her professional debut in the ensemble comedy Shampoo just prior to being cast in Star Wars, Fisher was not prepared for the impact that her performance as Leia would have on both pop culture and her own life. By all accounts the young actress was somewhat conflicted about pursuing a professional career in the industry that her mother Debbie Reynolds had been a part of since the late 1940s. ‘So why did I agree to visit the set of Shampoo knowing that there might be a role in the film that I was right for?’ Fisher mused in her last book. ‘Maybe I wanted to see what it felt like to be wanted by Warren Beatty in any capacity at all. At any rate, at seventeen I didn’t see it as a career choice.’
While she would continue to make appearances in the likes of Drop Dead Fred and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, the 1990s saw Fisher focusing on her new career as a writer, commencing with a film adaptation of her first novel Postcards from the Edge, with Meryl Streep playing a fictitious version of her. The same year her second book Surrender the Pink was published, an erotic thriller about a soap opera writer who stalks her ex-husband and his new lover that was inevitably compared to the 1987 blockbuster Fatal Attraction. Whereas her debut novel had served as a semi-autobiographical account of her struggles with fame and addiction, her sophomore effort was her first work of fiction and despite a positive critical reception, with one review describing it as, ‘A witty, astute, voyeuristic approach to the mating ritual that confounds us all,’ the book would fail to find an audience in the same way as its predecessor.
He burst into the room, leapt onto me on the bed and said, ‘Okay baby, spread ’em, surrender the pink!’
As one might guess with a title as provocative as Surrender the Pink, both the book and its moniker are laced with explicit sexual undertones. ‘I was on my last book tour,’ explained Carrie on the meaning behind the novel’s title. ‘We were in a hotel room with a friend of mine, who’s Italian and an actor, Jim Borrelli. And he burst into the room, leapt onto me on the bed and said, ‘Okay baby, spread ’em, surrender the pink!” For its author, who had spent over a decade sexualised through the numerous promotional material for the Star Wars series, most notably the revealing gold bikini that she had worn during the first act of Return of the Jedi, this statement said by her friend would resonate with her. While he had made the comment in a playful manner, women in the entertainment industry were sometimes treated as little more than sex objects and any time that they were required to pose for posters or any kind of promotional artwork, they would often be required to titillate their target audience.
Surrender the Pink would explore the complicated personal life of Dinah Kaufman who, raised by a mother who tried to warn her away from the dangers of engaging in sexual relationships, had grown up to become a woman who understood very little about love or sexuality. Working as a writer on new soap opera called Heart’s Desire, during a party hosted by her manager she meets charming playwright Rudy Gendler and immediately begins to fantasise that he is the man of her dreams. The opening sentence of the novel would reveal that Dinah had lost her virginity a total of three times, a statement to which Carrie would later explain, ‘If you don’t lose it in a way that you like initially I think that you should keep losing it until it works. You could just delay it and lose it seventeen times later when it really works for you. I had the idea that it was supposed to be meaningful and beautiful. It probably took me more than three times to think that.’
All good writers explore incidents and themes in their work that they have experienced in real life; write what you know, as the old maxim says. Dinah would take this literally when she would incorporate two new characters into Heart’s Desire, Rose Chassay and Blaine MacDonald, that she had based on her growing relationship with Rudy. Having met at a party, Rose immediately becomes enchanted by the suave and attractive lawyer and just as the two meet for the first time the show cuts to a commercial. With the new additions making an impression on her boss Charlotte, Dinah’s good fortune seems to promise some kind of promotion in the foreseeable future and so the fate of the two characters seems to entwine with her own. And just as she depicts the death of love through the collapse of Rose and Blaine’s marriage just five years after the fateful day that they first met, so too the romance between Dinah and Rudy eventually withers and dies.
For Fisher, the novel would depict the different struggles that men and women face in the modern world and how each react to toxic relationships. ‘Obsessive relationships, the struggle between women and men and how easier it is to be male than female,’ she would tell Italian magazine Ciak on the themes that she would explore throughout Surrender the Pink, particularly the constant criticism and expectations to remain beautiful and sexually appealing that women face all too often. ‘The truth I suspect is tough; when the sex appeal runs out our value at the box office also runs out. They only want twentysomethings. When I think of my most famous role, Princess Leia, I understand that her great merit was strength, a strength that came from anger, but still a strength. I was the only woman in an all-male fantasy but at least there was a woman.’
Some time has passed since the passion between Dinah and Rudy had burned out and the two eventually meet for lunch to catch up on old times, only for Dinah to discover that her former lover is now in a new relationship with an interior decorator called Lindsay. But Dinah has been unable to move on as since their break-up she has failed to find another partner and so has begun to immerse herself in her own lonely self-pity. But soon the awkward tension between them turns to lust and they find themselves in her bed but once they are dressed again he leaves her feeling lonelier than ever before. In the days that follow he would consume both her thoughts and dreams, building into an unhealthy obsession that leads her to drive from New York to the small community of Amagansett in East Hampton, where she rents a cottage so that she can be closer to her sometime lover.
‘It’s about chick sexuality,’ Fisher would jokingly explain to chat show host Arsenio Hall during her promotional tour for Surrender the Pink. Having already discussed her debut novel, which had taken elements of her well-documented struggles with addiction and relationship with her mother and sensationalised them in the form of a novel, her second book had allowed its author to embellish and sensationalise without the fear of her readers or critics over-analysing how close to her own experiences the story of Dinah may have been. ‘It’s a girl, a soap opera writer during this writer’s strike who ill-advisedly has dinner with her ex-husband, who’s in this new, fabulous, successful relationship. So she follows him to the Hamptons where he’s living with his new perfect mate and stalks them. It’s a sort of not-so-Fatal Attraction; she hides in his closet, forces a confrontation, stuff like that. Dysfunctional mating habits of heterosexual white chicks.’
Released in 1987, Fatal Attraction became an unexpected box-office sensation and yet its depiction of mental illness and what many perceived as being man’s fear of successful women would lead to many reviews and articles that would criticise its dangerous point-of-view. Exploring the weekend love affair between lawyer Dan Gallagher and the impulsive editor Alex Forrest while the former’s family are away, the movie would then document Alex’s growing obsession with having been abandoned by the happily-married man and begins to forcibly insert herself into his life, whether charming her way into his home by convincing his wife that she wants to buy their apartment, abducting their daughter from school or murdering their pet rabbit, with each action her grip on reality begins to slip until his wife Beth is forced to save her family by shooting Alex in self-defence. While the movie would be depicted from the point-of-view of the philandering husband and portraying the jilted lover as the antagonist, with Surrender the Pink the narrative would be told from that of the lover who has been cast aside. ‘Somewhere in the space between loving Rudy and not loving him, Dinah lurked,’ described Fisher in the novel.
Arriving at Rudy’s house to find that no one was home she reluctantly steps inside, a small thought at the back of her mind convincing her that maybe Lindsay didn’t really exist and that he had created a fictitious partner in order to drive Dinah to jealous, something that he had succeeded in. But as she explored the rooms she hears his car pull up the driveway and in a moment of panic decides to hide in the hallway closet. From there she observes as the happy couple return home and Rudy heads upstairs to take a shower, Dinah praying that she isn’t discovered now that she has accepted how ridiculous and disturbing her actions have become. Unlike Alex in Fatal Attraction, she is aware of her own possessive nature and that what she has done could not only be considered mentally-unbalanced but also illegal. She remains motionless and silent in an effort to avoid detection, only to awaken later in the evening to find herself still lying in the closet and finally manages to sneak from the house undetected.
In between her obsessive attempts to learn all about the life of her ex and his new partner Dinah slowly begins to develop a friendship with her charming new neighbour Roy Delaney and, after her escapades inside Rudy’s house, the two begin to grow closer until a physically attraction forms between them. But the inevitable would soon happen when one day as they enjoyed each others company they accidentally cross paths with Rudy and Lindsay. With the well-meaning Roy attempting to diffuse the tension by suggesting that they all meet for drinks to allow the former couple to have a catch-up, as suspicion begins to grow in Rudy the tension between the group becomes unbearable. Yet both Dinah and Lindsay bond over their views of living in an overbearing patriarchal society in which women are considered second-class citizens, to which Rudy responds, ‘Hey, you can’t lay the blame on men for their biological advantage.’ To this Dinah explains that it’s not the fault of an individual man but the society that men have created.
I always think when I’m having sex, ‘How did I get here? This is so weird!’
Despite Dinah’s recurring obsession with sex throughout the book, from her recollections of the three times that she supposedly lost her virginity to her one night stand with Rudy long after the end of her relationship, Fisher would always maintain that she did not share this characteristic. ‘I always think when I’m having sex, ‘How did I get here? This is so weird!’ I mean, it is weird,’ she explained in 1990. ‘You could be walking down the street with someone and probably thirteen hours earlier your face was in their genitals. And you’re just acting like it never really happened or it happened and that was like, ‘Fine, thank you, how are you?’ Just sort of like that made sense.’ This sentiment would later be echoed by her mother Reynolds during a 2013 interview with the Express, in which she claimed, ‘My three husbands all left me for another woman and obviously I wasn’t a very sexual lady. My husbands all repeatedly said the same thing, that I was not a very passionate woman. I have never wished that I had had more sex…It seemed that I was more interested in raising my children, not in pursuing my husbands.’
Following the awkward conversations between the two reluctant couples, Dinah wakes the following morning to find Rudy at her door. Sitting down to join her in breakfast the two discuss the turbulent relationship that he had walked away from but she was unable to forget and finally he admits that Lindsay makes him feel wanted in a way that Dinah never did, the latter always seemingly unsure on whether or not she really wanted to be there. To this she does acknowledge that she always struggled to find a reason to justify why they were together, but despite his claims that there is more than one person for everyone, she denies that this is true. And yet as he attempts to comfort her in a moment of weakness he almost kisses her before she pushes him aside, furious that he constantly rejects her and yet keeps reappearing in her life. After a heated debate he slams the door as she crawls under her bedsheet, feeling alone and unloved once more.
With the obvious comparisons between Fatal Attraction and Surrender the Pink one may expect the latter to end with a similar action sequence, in which the scorned lover forces her way into the family home but the sanctity of marriage ultimately prevails and the psychopath is finally brought to her knees once and for all. And yet Fisher denies the reader that kind of cathartic resolution, instead presenting a final chapter in which Dinah, still reeling over the love that she has for her former partner, has started a relationship with one of the young actors on her show. ‘Rudy, who had loved her in a leaving way, her accessory to a delusion, who had cut off his nose to spite his face, whom she no longer needed not to have anymore. Rudy was gone,’ explained Fisher in the novel. ‘In his place was Josh, whom she lay with in his dressing room, the actor whom she had made in Rudy’s image, the actor who played Blaine MacDonald…The relationship Rudy and Dinah had together now went on without them, leaving them behind.’