Confidential side of Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers Confidential (above) is a humorous look at the life of the late comedienne (left).
Joan Rivers Confidential is a humorous look at the life of the late comedienne (above).PHOTO: NYTIMES, BOOKS KINOKUNIYA

NEW YORK • Say what you want about comedienne Joan Rivers, but she always had impeccable timing.

In a kind of cosmic joke she would have been the first to appropriate, the publication of Joan Rivers Confidential comes on the heels of the demise of her signature television series, Fashion Police, which has been limping along without her, in spirit if not in body, since she died a little more than three years ago.

The book is a behind-the-stage-door dive into the ephemera of a woman who ritualistically kept virtually everything - every ticket stub, every dry-cleaning receipt, every Polaroid from a wardrobe fitting - from her half-century-long career.

Affectionately compiled by her screen-sharing daughter, Melissa Rivers, and her one-time producer and long-time pal, Scott Currie, the book also charts her love of fashion, evident from the start.

"Before Joan, women were supposed to look like comedians, almost like clowns," Currie said, citing comedienne Phyllis Diller with her wacky cigarette holder, crazy hair and the exaggerated long gloves.

"That's the way it was and, suddenly, Joan burst on the scene in a black dress and pearls."

Many of her routines over the years dwelled on the tribulations of this self-described ugly ducking: "Do you know what it's like to have no boobies?

Joan Rivers Confidential (above) is a humorous look at the life of the late comedienne (left).
Joan Rivers Confidential (above) is a humorous look at the life of the late comedienne. PHOTO: NYTIMES, BOOKS KINOKUNIYA

"To have a man look down your dress and compliment you on your shoes."

Rivers, born Joan Alexandra Molinsky, had a trademark style - LBD (little black dress) and pearls - which would loosen up considerably in the 1970s, but she found her glamorous groove in the next decade.

What with being named permanent guest host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1983 and a move to Hollywood, she was wearing bejewelled column dresses and poofy-sleeved satin gowns every night, both on Tonight and on her own short-lived show on Fox.

She was getting calls from the likes of designers Oscar de la Renta and Calvin Klein.

So, it is no surprise, that her next career-defining act would be to turn up on nascent Hollywood red carpets in the mid-1990s, shove a microphone in a star's face and croak: "What are you wearing?"

"Joan really made the red carpet what it is today," said stylist George Kotsiopoulos, one of the original panellists (along with Giuliana Rancic and Kelly Osbourne) when Rivers' red-carpet outings morphed into Fashion Police in 2010.

First as a series of specials, then an hour-long weekly series, the programme paralleled the snowballing rise of the red carpet as fashion's common denominator.

"Now, it's big, huge business," he said, with stars paid to strut the latest runway looks to serve the rich global fashion brands.

Jonathan Van Meter, a contributing editor of Vogue and a friend of Rivers', tells of bonding with comedienne Amy Schumer because she sees Rivers as a role model and, together, they marvelled at how well-dressed she always was.

And Rivers was stylish right up to the end.

Melissa Rivers took charge when her mother was on life support and, when Van Meter was invited to the hospital to say goodbye, the comatose woman was beautifully turned out.

"She was dressed and the room was dressed," he said. "She was dead, basically. But she looked fantastic."


•Joan Rivers Confidential ($68.88) is available at Books Kinokuniya.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2017, with the headline 'Confidential side of Joan Rivers'. Subscribe