Book of Joan: What Rivers didn't take to the grave

Washington Post
Joan Rivers changed appearance 365 times, says daughter, who writes it was not as much as people think.

Joan Rivers has been dead less than a year, and already her daughter, Melissa, has written a biography about her. It was all her publisher's idea, Rivers writes in "The Book of Joan: Tales of Mirth, Mischief, and Manipulation," which will be released May 5.

Rivers says she was approached "right after my mother's funeral — and I mean, right after. I was walking down the aisle of Temple Emanu-El when a strange woman ... pressed her card into my hand and made the international sign for 'Call Me!' "

Rivers barely hesitated before saying yes. "What would my mother have done?" she writes. "Sell, baby, sell!" And so she has.

This book, Rivers writes, is "not only a fun homage to my mom, but also, now that she's gone, she can't return it to Amazon in exchange for Giuliana Rancic's new memoir."

You can almost hear Joan Rivers trying to sell that failing joke with a gruff, "C'mon, guys. It's funny."

Melissa Rivers's book is not that funny, but it is an antic, sweet remembrance of the brazen comedian. It also shows that, even for the woman who pioneered the concept of oversharing, there were some things Joan took with her to the grave. (A few things she literally took: a book of crossword puzzles, a pair of glasses and her favorite pens — all of which her daughter says she placed in her mother's casket.)

Among the other details Melissa Rivers divulges: When traveling, Joan hid money in empty Milk Dud boxes. "They're the same size as paper money," she points out, "so in case someone rifled through her purse, they'd overlook it." (Also in her purse: full-size cans of Lysol to ward off germs).

She was a terrible speller, she loved to do needlepoint and, despite all of her jokes about them, she loved flight attendants. (One gets the sense that much of this material is a set-up for an off-color joke.)

Her favorite books: "Helter Skelter" and "Looking for Mr. Goodbar." Her fourth-grade teacher at the Brooklyn Ethical Culture School noted in a report card that Joan (then Joan Molinsky) was "learning to be self-reliant and gain recognition through accomplishment rather than through complaining, adding, "She is fast overcoming her tendency toward bribery in order to win friends."

And in case you were wondering: Joan "changed her own physical appearance" more than 300 times — 365 to be specific, according to her daughter. "The running joke," she writes, was that her own grandson used to call Rivers "Nana New Face." Still, Melissa insists, "She didn't have as much work as people think she had." (What does she think we've been thinking?)

Rivers's breezy book is full of filler — Joan's dating tips ("Never pick up the check;" "Never carry condoms"), Mother's Day gift dos and don'ts ("never, ever, ever ... give your mother a vacuum") and the like. The book is less a biography than a series of vignettes, some of which read like Joan Rivers sketches: "Right up until the end of her life my mother believed that, in a pinch, ketchup, Altoids, and Milk Duds were a three-course meal. That doesn't mean we didn't sit down to dinner together every night. We did. And my parents would start a meal by thanking God not only for the abundance of food but for the abundance of restaurants offering delivery within 30 minutes."

All joking aside, Melissa, who starred with her mother on "Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?" and is the executive producer for E! Entertainment's "Fashion Police," clearly has a genuine affection and respect for her mother, and losing her has been difficult. "I'm lost as a performer right now," she writes, "but I will find my own voice. I was taught by the best."


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