Rivers of babble-on: Joan's wise and witty words

23 October 2017 - 07:23
By The Daily Telegraph
The late American comedienne Joan Rivers. File photo.
Image: BRENDON THORNE/GETTY IMAGES The late American comedienne Joan Rivers. File photo.

"I wish she was here to take aim at Harvey Weinstein."

Joan Rivers' daughter, Melissa, tells Celia Walden how she dealt with her mother's death - and recalls casting-couch warnings.

In the three years since Joan Rivers diedMelissa has been travelling the world scattering her mother's ashes in all the key places.

"She's now in Paris, Mexico and Wyoming," said author and producer Rivers, 48, sitting in her ocean-view Los Angeles home, surrounded by photos of her mother.

In her wit, eyes and delivery, Rivers is uncannily like her mother. Little wonder, when you consider how close the two were: how they ripped apart celebrities' dresses on Fashion Policeand shared a lifetime of laughter right up until Joan's death.

Rivers has been doing all she can to keep her mother's voice as loud and brash as ever.

To that end she is publishing Joan Rivers Confidential, a coffee table "scrapbook" in which she assembled many of the funniest monologues, letters and never-before-heard jokes (some scribbled on aeroplane boarding passes) her mother amassed over the years.

"I want it to commemorate a woman who stayed so relevant and skewered every one of the sacred cows not to make a point, but because she wanted to be funny."

Despite being the first woman to host a late-night talk show and a pioneering presence in print, on stage and on TV, an essay in the book - penned for Playboy in the early 1960s - entitled Dear Women's Lib highlights Rivers' ambivalence on the subject: "I'm for a whole lot of things that women's lib stands for. But girls, ladies, please start the revolution without me."

But her daughter tells me: "She became such a feminist icon, but mum never thought of herself as a feminist.

"I think the idea of feminism was a bit foreign to her because she never thought of herself as being held back in any way.

"She just knew she had to be funnier and better than anybody else."

Ah, yes: I was going to ask about Donald Trump. He and her mother became friendly after she won Celebrity Apprentice in 2009, but could she ever have imagined he'd become US president?

"Honestly, I think she'd be so torn between being invited to the White House and being able to steal things, which she loved to do - whether it was pocketing an ashtray or some pens - and what she felt was morally right. That would have been Sophie's Choice for my mother."

But would she have voted for Trump?

"I think she would have wanted someone who didn't have to prove he had the biggest one in the room."

That old-boy's club culture of intimidation has been blown wide open in Los Angeles and although neither Rivers nor her mother knew Weinstein well, Joan - who started acting in her teens - had warned her daughter about the casting couch.

"There were a few times when she had felt uncomfortable with men and didn't want to be alone with them. 'Most powerful men are pigs,' she told me, 'and it sucks and it's wrong and you don't have to take it, but be aware that it happens.'

"Sadly, this is a tale that's as old as time, and really no different to Louis B Mayer and Jack Warner chasing women around the desk.

"But mum would have been appalled that this had been going on for so long without anybody saying a thing.

"She would also have had a whole filing cabinet dedicated to Weinstein jokes.

"She would be in heaven right now. Heaven."