Carrie Fisher: a princess, a rebel and a brave comic voice

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Carrie Fisher was the child of a show-business family. “The daughter of famous parents,” she wrote in her memoir “Wishful Drinking,” which originated as a one-woman show. “One an icon, the other a consort to icons.”

She entered popular culture as a princess in peril and endures as something much more complicated and interesting. Many things, really: a rebel commander; a witty internal critic of the celebrity machine; a teller of comic tales, true and embellished; an inspiring and cautionary avatar of excess and resilience; an emblem of the honesty we crave (and so rarely receive) from beloved purveyors of make-believe.

When I heard the news of Ms. Fisher’s death on Tuesday, what immediately popped into my mind was not “Star Wars” but “Rosemary’s Baby” — that unforgettable episode from Season 2 of “30 Rock,” in which she turns up as a legendary and colossally difficult television writer, Rosemary Howard.

Liz Lemon, the present-day television writer played (and created) by Tina Fey, idolizes Rosemary, seeing her as a pioneer and a spiritual mother. But even symbolic mother-daughter relationships have a way of turning dysfunctional, and Liz comes to see Rosemary less as a beacon than a warning — an image of the cynical, resentful, washed-up dingbat Liz herself might well become.

Emily Nussbaum, the New Yorker’s television critic, remarked on Twitter that the episode was “the key-to-all-mythologies of female comedy,” which may actually be an understatement. The character of Rosemary Howard certainly embodies the glories and contradictions of second-wave feminism, and Liz’s ambivalence about her is a barbed and brilliant illustration of the anxieties of female comic influence. But the casting of Ms. Fisher — whose performance on the show is somehow at once wildly winking and completely on-script — adds about 12 dimensions of meta.

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