One of Tina Fey’s all-time favourite episodes of 30 Rock featured an Emmy-nominated guest appearance by Carrie Fisher, in a subplot that turns the screw on the idea of “hope”—not in a galaxy far, far away, but for women in the entertainment industry.
In episode four of the show’s second season, Fisher played fabled comedy-writing legend Rosemary Howard, a.k.a., Liz Lemon’s childhood idol—“the first female writer for Laugh-In and all that political stuff on Donnie and Marie.” We first meet Rosemary as she’s signing books during her book tour; Liz fangirling on the sidelines. “I don’t want to sound like a weirdo fan, but I am obsessed with everything you have ever done,” Liz gushes. “I grew up wanting to be you.”
“You are my heroine. And by heroine, I mean lady hero. I don’t wanna inject you and listen to jazz.”
They have lunch, and Liz invites Rosemary to be a guest writer on her show. “I miss live TV,” Rosemary says. “It’s like sex, you know? It’s almost better when everything goes horribly wrong.”
While Liz may have grown up idolizing Rosemary’s comedy, she quickly realizes it won’t suit the suits who own the network. Rosemary fires off ideas, each one more politically incorrect than the next. “But we would have done that on The Mandrell Sisters!” she finally says, with enough conviction and exasperation to convince Liz to talk up a few of Rosemary’s push-the-envelope ideas on race and abortion with her boss, Jack Donaghy. “You know, you’re not a cog in their machine,” Rosemary reminds her.
For a minute, Liz believes her enough to speak to the man.
Predictably, Jack fires her.
Undaunted, both women leave 30 Rockefeller Plaza and decide en route to Rosemary’s apartment in “Little Chechnya” that they’ll write a screenplay to really shake up the establishment.
And even better, Rosemary appears to already know what it’s going to be about: “Women in their fifties go on Spring Break and get laid by a bunch of grateful 18-year-olds.”
That’s when Liz realizes she’s got to bail, and it’s this realization that prompts Rosemary to deliver the lines that make this episode such a powerful commentary on what it means to be a woman within the industry.
“You wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for me.”
“I broke barriers for you.”
“I sat around while my junk went bad. All for you.”
“I didn’t have any kids. You’re my kid! You’re my kid who never calls.”
“Help me, Liz Lemon! You’re my only hope.”
Rosemary calls upon a much different form of hope than what Fisher summoned as a rebel princess back in the day. If any other woman had played Rosemary, we might have believed her hopelessness. But in Fisher we have a character who winks at the camera. A character played by someone who defied an industry that warned her time and again she was prized first and foremost for her youth and beauty.
Fisher was a trailblazer, and the roles she played as Lorna, Leia, Marie and Rosemary leave behind a legacy that dares women to laugh out loud at the idea that they’re “obsolete when there’s no one left that wants to see them naked” (as Liz admits to Jack). We owe a debt of gratitude to Fisher and the life she led off camera—especially to all those jokes wrapped in truths she shared on social media and during interviews—because bit by bit she has helped to chip away at double standards and other stigmas and carve out realistic creative spaces for women on and off screen.
Hopefully, in a galaxy not too far away, a screenplay about 50-years-olds on Spring Break won’t seem so laughable. And we’ll have women like Fisher to thank.
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