This is the third memorial essay I have written lately. The first was for Robin Williams, whom I did not know. The second was for our precious Facebook Friend, Jeff Belyea. The third is for Joan Rivers. Most people don’t know this but I sold her one-liners for many years. Offstage she was thoughtful and bright and just like anyone else.
In my little gray brick ranch house in the late seventies, my mother and I were watching Joan on a daytime talk show. “I could write for her,” I said suddenly. And so I sent her some material to a Las Vegas casino where she was playing. Within a week I went to the mailbox and pulled out a letter in a pink envelope.
Inside was a page of topics that Joan was buying material for. At the top, her assistant had written, “Miss Rivers thinks you’re tip-top. Send more.”
It didn’t make me famous but it kept me busy while my child was sick and I needed to keep my mind busy. Bob was quite proud that I was writing for someone famous. My mother wouldn’t tell her bridge buddies because they would be “shocked.” But it was clearly a stage persona she was using, like Don Rickles or any other comic of that kind.
I had “funny fingers” and was always coming up with a line for her to say. People would ask me to tell them one and I would say that I wrote them but didn’t perform them.
Tonight, as many people around the world feel, we have lost someone on the cutting edge. The clown persona is an archetype that is always alive and well. Melissa is her only child and I identify with that; I have only one now myself.
If you feel like saying that she was cruel, etc., keep it to yourself. She was embodying the dark side so others wouldn’t have to. She found a niche and filled it, God bless her. Always leave ‘em laughing.
When I started a personal poetry business (what a failure that was!), she wrote me a wonderful letter of encouragement. I have heard that she never forgot favors and kept an open heart for many. We know that because tonight, people are really grieving her death.