This week I reviewed Melissa Rivers’ new book about her mother– the late great comedian Joan Rivers– called The Book of Joan. It’s a sweet tribute, filled with jokes (“My mother never cooked. Her signature dish was takeout, ) advice, and personal anecdotes that will make you laugh.
I was a huge Joan fan, practically growing up at her knee as she made fun of herself — from her boobs to her love life– as a standup, talk show host, and red carpet critic.
I was surprised at how sad I was when she died suddenly last September after losing oxygen during a surgical procedure on her vocal chords at a Manhattan clinic. It was the end of an era. She was one of those famous people who was always there– at the awards shows, on the late night talk circuit, writing books– and I figured she’d always be there. I guess I took her for granted.
I didn’t know much about Melissa before this book, other than being Joan’s sidekick. But she wasn’t just the daughter of a famous person, she’s a Penn grad who rose through the ranks to executive producer of several shows at E and is a single working mom.
I was impressed with her storytelling and humor in The Book of Joan. It’s a great retelling of Joan’s life in small snippets and stories, from Melissa’s perspective. Melissa had an extraordinary childhood, often on the road with Joan, meeting comedians, singers, and actors, and traveling the world. The book has great Hollywood folklore and behind-the-scenes gossip from the red carpet.
One of the best parts of the book is the personal documents Melissa shares that reveal parts of Joan’s character. There are several hilarious grade school report cards showing Joan Molinsky (her real name) was talkative, attention-seeking, and used bribery to win friends… and an early resume filled with lies about work experience.
But the most touching is a note Joan wrote to a teenaged rebellious Melissa about making mistakes. It was so spot-on I may copy it for future parenting use. Who knew that acerbic, bitchy diva could be such a loving, dedicated and strict mother?
Here’s an excerpt from my review:
The beginning pieces have the same rhythm and campy style of Joan’s books and some of the jokes sound comfortably familiar. But in later chapters, when talking about their life together ruling the red carpet and on several TV shows, Melissa’s own modern, edgy voice emerges.
The book touches on familiar aspects of Joan’s life — her exhaustive work ethic (working six days a week on several shows, books, a jewelry line and her standup act) … her indulgence in expensive things (designer handbags and shoes, first-class travel, a personal driver) … and her preoccupation with looks that led to countless cosmetic procedures (“she changed noses the way Taylor Swift changes boyfriends”).
But new details may enlighten fans. She was a stickler for manners, loved watching crime shows and reading about serial killers, hid cash all over her apartment for spending sprees and stitched needlepoint pillows to relax.
The most touching stories show Joan as a fiercely dedicated and loving mother, and grandmother to Melissa’s only child, Cooper, whom she enjoyed spoiling. Despite an intense work schedule, Joan always made Melissa a priority, bringing her on the road when she traveled, emphasizing the value of education and supporting her extracurricular activities. A note in the book from Joan to teenage Melissa infers her parenting skills. “Sometimes it’s very hard to grow up, to learn to be independent, to become totally your own self …” she wrote. “I love and adore you. P.S. You’re still grounded!”
Melissa describes Joan as a bawdy, fearless comic, but an old-fashioned, strict parent, scrutinizing every outfit Melissa wore and every man she dated. But the funny lady who picked on everyone in public was kind and generous in person, especially to her fans.
If you were ever a fan of Joan and/or love pop culture and old Hollywood, I highly recommend The Book of Joan. It’s a great Mother’s Day gift.
Need a Joan fix? Watch the amazing documentary, A Piece of Work, which followed her for a year when she was 75, working her ass off and living well. (Available on Amazon Prime and maybe Netflix?) It’s a fascinating look at celebrity, the mind of a comic genius, and the life of a lonely woman who sorely needed to be relevant and loved. Don’t we all?