Joan Rivers
[ Issue 37 ]

Emily Bronto clearly approves of Joan Rivers

Let Bikwil introduce you to Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers

Diane Dees recounts the wild week she and comic Joan Rivers spent together in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
 

In the late seventies, I was working at an urban slave’s wage for a very small public relations agency in New Orleans. My boss was a talented publicist and an even better schmoozer, and we landed the regional Warner Bros. account. This meant that we handled public appearance tours for movie stars whose films were opening in the area. I worked with such stars as Gene Kelly, Michael Sarrazin and Lauren Hutton, and I have a trove of tellable tales, but none matches my memory of Joan Rivers.

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Can We Really Talk?
My Week with Joan Rivers
— Diane Dees

Copyright


In the late seventies, I was working at an urban slave’s wage for a very small public relations agency in New Orleans. My boss was a talented publicist and an even better schmoozer, and we landed the regional Warner Bros. account. This meant that we handled public appearance tours for movie stars whose films were opening in the area. I worked with such stars as Gene Kelly, Michael Sarrazin and Lauren Hutton, and I have a trove of tellable tales, but none matches my memory of Joan Rivers.

It was 1978, and Rivers had just produced Rabbit Test, a mediocre comedy starring Billy Crystal, who played the first man to become pregnant. We had scheduled a rigorous itinerary of newspaper, wire, television and radio interviews for the director/comic, and almost all of the work had fallen on me. I was also a Rivers fan, and was looking forward to meeting her.

Our most active account was a famous French Quarter hotel, so naturally, we reserved a suite for Rivers there. I showed up at the hotel very early the day Rivers was scheduled to arrive, did an inspection to make sure everything was perfect, and found that everything was abysmal. Not only was there no fruit basket and welcome note, but the floor hadn’t been vacuumed, the bathroom was dirty, and the furniture needed dusting. The general manager’s secretary — a compulsive, sometimes unpleasant woman — was angry with us for some imagined slight, and I was certain she had sabotaged the order to have the suite prepped for a celebrity visit.

A call to Housekeeping didn’t get me much more than equipment, so I frantically cleaned the suite, expecting the star to arrive any moment.

Then I got word that Rivers’ flight had been cancelled. I was already exhausted from normal preparations, not to mention all of the cleaning and vacuuming. I called members of the news media to tell them their interviews would be delayed, and they were not amused. By this time, my boss had gotten wind of the fact that the hotel hadn’t cleaned the suite, and she was beside herself with rage.

When Joan Rivers arrived, with nine-year-old Melissa in tow, she was ready to get down to work. I explained to her that there were many interviewers, and that we were running a couple of hours behind schedule. Reporters were lined up in the hall outside the suite. “Send them in,” she told me, and that was when we began playing a game that I might have been better at if I’d been told the rules.

“Come in, come in, have some coffee!” Rivers would tell a reporter. She was funny, charming and intelligent, answering all questions and paying close personal attention to each reporter. But when her interviewer leaned over to pour a cup of coffee or to get a fresh pad of paper, she would turn slightly toward me and mouth “Get rid of him!”
“I’m afraid we have to stop now. Ms. Rivers is running very late because of her flight. I’m really sorry.”

“No, no, no!” Rivers would then assure the interviewer. “Finish your interview. Don’t worry about the time. I insist.” Then she would roll her eyes toward me and almost imperceptibly motion Get Him Out! with her hand. Eventually, I became fairly adept at this new version of Good Cop/Bad Cop, though I had a terribly difficult time getting some of them out of the suite, what with Joan’s grabbing them by the arm and saying “Stay, stay!”

At the end of the day, I had to deal with the Jewish mother aspect of Joan. “Eat, you’re not eating enough,” she would tell me at dinner in the hotel restaurant. She knew I was at the point of exhaustion, and she hovered over me. I was her connection to Things That Worked Right, and she didn’t want to lose me. She was also a genuinely kind woman, inherently open and full of mischief.

One night, she decided she wanted to buy a T-shirt for Melissa, so she asked me to accompany her across Bourbon Street to one of the tacky T-shirt shops that line the Quarter. Rivers, like many entertainers, will tell you that when she’s leading her non-stage life, she’s not “on”. Don’t believe it. She couldn’t help herself — she was almost always on, and I was almost always laughing myself sick.

We stepped into one of the shops, and Rivers tried to negotiate a simple purchase with a not-too-bright teenage girl who had no clue who her customer was. The girl couldn’t get anything right, and finally — in total frustration — Joan leaned over the counter, looked her in the eye, and asked “It’s not your career, is it?” I couldn’t control my outburst of laughter and scurried toward the exit.

One of the interviews Joan did was with a local radio personality who made her crack up by telling her “the thing about chickens is — no matter how much weight they gain, it never shows in their face.” She asked him if she could have the line, and he was pleased to give it to her. I saw her deliver it a few months later on television.

One of the last interviews we did was with my former live-in partner. I knew he would make Rivers laugh, and he did. About halfway through the interview, he took a break, and Rivers turned to me and said “You two have something going on, don’t you?”

I was startled she had picked this up, and I explained to her that we had once been an item but had broken up. I told her what he had said when my mother had come to visit: “The whole time Diane’s mother was in town, I had to keep my Valium in a holster.” I promised her I’d get her the rights to this line, too.

After the interview, we waited in the hall for the elevator. When it opened, out stepped my ex’s current girlfriend, a local judge. “That’s who he’s with now,” I nudged Joan. “What?!” she called out loud enough to turn heads. “That tramp in the elevator?!”

Years passed. I saw Rivers one more time from a seat at one of her concerts. Her career soared, and throughout the world, we watched her deal with everything from the Johnny Carson snub to the death of her husband, Edgar Rosenberg. Every time I see her on television, I am reminded of the wild week we spent together in New Orleans, and of my favorite moment from that week. During one of our rare breaks, we sat in Joan’s suite drinking coffee and talking trash. At one point, after I said something that made her burst out laughing, she gestured toward me, turned to her little girl and said, “Melissa! Get rid of her. She’s funny.”

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