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Remembering Joan Rivers

Published: September 5, 2014

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“I have to work,” comedian Joan Rivers told Post reporter W.H. Mannville backstage in 1967 after killing it at the now defunct Manhattan nightclub Downstairs at the Upstairs. Only seven years into her career and Joan Rivers was already surprising reporters with the fearless drive and rapier wit that made her a success and unforgettable to the world.

We invite you to step back into that smoky nightclub and catch a glimpse of Joan River’s act, as told by Manville, almost 50 years ago:

Joan Rivers performing stand-up in 1967

She waits for the laugh, and the spotlight, falling across her anxious, narrow, pretty face, fills the hollows beneath her thin cheekbones with shadows. During her act Joan rushes around the stage, peering into the blackness. “And when you’re single?” she goes on. “The girl has to wait for the dumb phone to ring, but a man can call anyone he wants in the whole world: ‘Hello, I just saw your name on a men’s-room wall, and thought I’d give you a cal …’ A single girl, she’s 30, she’s an old maid. A man, he’s 90 years old, he’s single, he’s a catch. ‘We have an extra man.’ ‘Bring him along.’ He’s 93.’ Bring him, bring him.’ ‘He’s dead.’ BRING HIM! We’ll just say he’s shy.'”

“When it all started,” Rivers told Mannville after the show, “when I told my mother and father I was going into the business, they didn’t speak to me for a year. To them it was showbiz first, and next, white slavery in Argentina, right? The yelling scene the day I told them! My mother ran around the house slamming the windows shut. She didn’t want the neighbors to hear what a scandal her daughter had become.

But I had to be a success,” Rivers continued. “Anyway, after the argument with my parents, I left. I never asked them for a penny again. It was never offered. I slept in my car that night. It wasn’t the last time.”

 


Excerpt from “Who Are You, Joan?” by W.H. Mann, The Saturday Evening Post, July 1, 1967, photos by Stephen Manville.

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  • I’m afraid my comments are much more—mundane than Ima’s, but I’ll give it my best shot.

    I want to thank the POST editors for reprinting excepts and photos from the ’67 issue she was featured in. It really gave a good insight into how she got her start, WHY she had to be a success no matter what, and accomplished that, never letting anything or anyone get in her way.

    Even her last name, Rivers, makes me think of a roaring rapids river that was a force of nature to be reckoned with. Her wit, honesty, even if rough at times, was a combustible collaboration that usually left me with a side ache from laughter.

    She’s a great example of a woman who had a lot of heartache, tragedy and embarrassment she had to overcome, always with her head held high despite the setbacks. She reinvented herself as needed only to go onto even greater success.

    Like George Burns (and very likely Betty White) I really thought this dynamo would make it to 100, with a lot more years left in her. I still feel she had those years, performing as normal the very evening prior to her going in for something that should have been routine. She should still be with us, and whatever went wrong needs to be fully investigated. It was NOT “her time” despite the fact she’s now gone; it just wasn’t.

  • Ima Ryma

    Plastic surgery – had so much,
    I’m mistaken for Tupperware.
    But my Doc has that magic touch.
    I pick my nose when I am there.
    Money cannot buy happiness,
    But sure can pay for surgery.
    A motel bedsheet, I would guess,
    Has had a lot less tucks than me.
    And when I die, it is my wish
    For Doc to do a sweet sleep switch,
    No look of a surprised catfish.
    Doc knows that I made Doc quite rich.

    A good Joan Rivers epitaph –
    “Made and remade to make all laugh.”