Joan Rivers is home at last.
Her Upper East Side penthouse apartment, adjacent to the Fifth Avenue Synagogue and just around the corner from Central Park, is a case of urban splendor. There are grand ballroom ceilings whose height makes you think of bungee jumping, whimsically hand-painted doors, stunning Palladian windows, classy works of art on warm, peach walls, stately antiques exquisitely presented.
And it’s hers alone.
She found it when it was a wreck, and renovated, refurbished and redecorated it at the same time she was starting life again in Manhattan four years ago, following the death of her husband and the cancellation of her late-night talk show.
“I was very lucky and very smart because nobody could see how beautiful (the apartment) could be. People said, ‘Are you crazy?’ And look who’s laughing now. So ‘Ha ha.’ ”
At 55, Rivers looks like the picture of casual elegance. A slight woman, she is dressed in a simple and smart black outfit that brings out her perfectly coiffed swooping blond hair. But she is also sublimely relaxed--well, relatively speaking. After all, the woman’s edgy style has become her comic signature and often she leans her delicate frame in to answer a question with a red-hot barb.
Her sunny study is filled with needlepoint pillows she stitches herself with samplers that are funny but also reflect the survival side of the comedian-author-talk-show host.
“Do not expect praise without envy--unless you’re dead,” reads one. And “You can marry more money in five minutes than you can earn in a lifetime.” And “It’s just as lonely at the top--only you eat better.” And one she has just started: “How do you make God laugh? Tell Him your plans.”
“God is the best dramatist,” she wrote at the conclusion of her second autobiographical book, “Still Talking.”
“Absolutely,” she says with her familiar, friendly, throaty assertiveness. “You just have no idea what he’s going to hit you with.”
The book, which covers Rivers’ career from her early days on “The Tonight Show” to the present, was spurred by her eagerness to tell her side of the story about her late-night talk show on Fox Broadcasting Co., the much-ballyhooed program that was canceled after seven months in May, 1987.
The book “started out as a vindication and it turned into,” and she pauses here, “not that.”
The “not that” is a reference to an unexpected change in her life--the suicide of her husband and manager, Edgar Rosenberg, in August, 1987, three months after Rivers’ show was canceled.
In the book, she writes about the details of the events surrounding his death by a Valium overdose in a Philadelphia hotel room, as well as her self-discovery as an independent woman.
“After the last page, I felt tremendous catharsis,” she says. “It really put to bed a lot of demons. And I think that was very important. I like to tie everything up in neat ribbons and bows and the book really did that. It was like, ‘OK, on to Chapter Three.’ ”
So will there be a sequel?
“The previous two books have come out of pain,” she says. (The first book, 1986’s “Enter Laughing,” dealt with her early career and her relationship with her parents.) “And besides, you need something to write about. You can’t say, ‘And then I went to New York and I was happy.’ You can’t write a happy book. No one buys a happy book.”
Rivers says she is proud of her latest book but “furious” about the way “Still Talking” was ignored by the press and publishing industry, never making the New York Times bestseller list although she charges that her book sold more than others that made the valued chart.
“So we got screwed royally somewhere,” she says. “The New York Times never reviewed it. The New York Review of Books, which I always used to read, didn’t review it and I canceled my subscription. They said it was a show business biography. I said, ‘It’s not a show business biography. It’s a book on survival.’ But that’s been my career. My career is always, ‘Yeah, yeah--but you keep going.’ ”
Rivers attributes moving from Los Angeles back to New York in 1988 as pivotal in her road to personal recovery.
“New York’s the best,” she says. “It’s such an exciting city. So much is going on. Anyone who is bored in New York is a true moron. I don’t think Dan Quayle--even Dan Quayle--can be bored in this city because there’s always some clown show for him to go to.”
And does she miss California?
“Not at all,” she says and again for emphasis. “Not . . . at . . . all.”
She says she does miss her daughter, Melissa, who now works as a gossip reporter for MTV.
Her life in Manhattan is busy these days with her popular daily daytime talk show, occasional television specials and comedy concerts around the country.
She is also eyeing more theater work, such as her role succeeding Linda Lavin and Elizabeth Franz in Neil Simon’s “Broadway Bound” in 1988.
“I would love to do another Broadway play,” she says. “I almost did (Simon’s) ‘Jake’s Women’ (on Broadway with Alan Alda) but they wanted to go out of town for six months. And I couldn’t do it because of the (television) show.”
She says she was also wooed to do the Broadway play “The Cemetery Club” “but again they went out of town.”
She says she’s considering Off-Broadway projects that do not require her to leave the city where she tapes her talk show. “And if it’s a great success they can then move it to Broadway. So we’ll see what happens.”
The Emmy-winning talk show, which is entering its fourth season, is Rivers’ personal triumph and a top priority in her life now.
“I’m really allowed to say what I want to say and not being second-guessed the way I was on ‘Carson.’ And I’m not being told I’m not doing well, the way I was at Fox, when, as we all know, my ratings were better than anyone’s has been since on that station. So I’m really happy off camera and I think that shows on camera. And I love my staff. And I’m happy that I was able to do it myself.
“The show has a real sense of fun. That’s what sets us aside from any other talk show because we’re having such a good time. I don’t know if the audience is but boy, I am.”