Joan Rivers seems to have it all: international fame as a comedienne plus success as a Tony-nominated actress, best-selling author, Emmy Award-winning TV talk-show host, playwright, screenwriter, motion picture director, columnist, lecturer, syndicated radio host, jewelry designer and cosmetic company entrepreneur – not to mention dedicated mother and grandmother. Yet nothing was handed to her on a silver platter, and she has had her share of challenges and tragedies.
Born in Brooklyn to Russian immigrants, Rivers acted in plays while attending Barnard College. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa, she got a job as a buyer at a department store and married the boss’s son. The marriage lasted six months (“six months longer than it should have,” she notes). There followed “seven long years of having to survive sleazy agents, tawdry clubs and hostile audiences,” her bio reads.
In 1965 Rivers got her big break when she was booked on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Guest-hosting on the Carson and Ed Sullivan shows cemented her fame, and in the late ‘60s she started her own syndicated talk show. In 1972, after writing and starring in a Broadway play, she, her husband, producer Edgar Rosenberg, and daughter moved to Hollywood. She wrote two best-selling books, became a permanent guest on The Tonight Show, regularly performed to sold-out audiences in Las Vegas and Carnegie Hall and in every sense had reached the top, when the bottom fell out in 1983: Her husband committed suicide, and she discovered that she was nearly broke.
Moving back to New York, Rivers bounced back, earning critical accolades for her work on Broadway, starting another syndicated talk show and winning an Emmy. She has paired up with her daughter Melissa in a number of projects, including the comedy show Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best, now in its third season.
Described as a “force of nature” and as the hardest-working woman in show business, Rivers is a survivor who never lost her sense of humor. (One of the titles of her books pulls no punches: Men Are Stupid and They Like Big Boobs: A Woman’s Guide to Beauty through Plastic Surgery.) You can catch this remarkable woman’s latest comedy act at the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) this Saturday, April 28 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $60 for Golden Circle members, $45 for general admission and $40 for Bardavon members. Contact the box office at (845) 473-2072 or (845) 339-6088, or visit www.ticketmaster.com or call (800) 745-3000.