Monday, September 8, 2014

Manners Monday – Joan Rivers – Brassy Girl from Brooklyn Was Pure Class

A view from outside her condo on East 62nd Street just a few steps from 5th Avenue

We lost a legend last Thursday, comedienne Joan Rivers. That brassy girl from Brooklyn was pure class. A national treasure, a legendary pioneer, she worked tirelessly for over fifty years bringing audiences to their knees with her acerbic and self-deprecating wit.  As one of America’s first female comics, she was a trail blazer paving the way for countless female comics who would come after her from Rosie O’Donnell and Rosanne Barr to Kathy Griffin and Sarah Silverman.  Her jokes could come across as scathing, but they were never meant to be hurtful.  She was the creator of red carpet commentary, launching a whole new genre of entertainment television for awards shows to come. She was a survivor who used humor to get through life’s most difficult moments whether struggling to recover from her husband’s suicide or rebuilding her career after her cancelled talk show. She had grit and she bounced back with a zest and passion for life that was incomparable.

After undergoing routine out-patient surgery on her throat, she stopped breathing, suffered cardiac arrest and was put on life support.  The 81 year old soaked up every second of her fabulous life planning each momentous step of the way.  She even orchestrated her own funeral giving explicit direction, “I want my funeral to be a big showbiz affair with lights, cameras, action.”  And that it was, with luminaries from every industry turning up at Temple Emanu-El on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to pay their respects. And, the New York Police Department’s Emerald Society playing “New York, New York” an homage to the town she loved and called home.

But what will we remember most about Joan Rivers?

Her Presentation and Style. Dressed to the nines with her signature blonde perfectly coiffed hair, she would take to the stage or set in a ladylike outfit and then catch us off guard with her irreverent routine. She was a serial abuser of cosmetic surgery seeking perfection with every nip, tuck and pull perhaps attempting to erase the years that did not seem to match her energy. While she espoused all things style and fashion forward on the red carpet, she was a traditionalist who embodied elegance and grace. It was mentioned that even in her final hours, she had a fresh manicure and pedicure as well as her hair done. She did not want to leave this life unkempt. One would imagine she had on all her jewelry and beautiful silk sleepwear to boot. 

Her Love of Family. Her daughter Melissa and her grandson Cooper were her greatest joy.  Not a day went by without a phone call to Melissa each morning which would set the tone for her entire day. She loved them dearly and they were by her side as much as possible. Working together on E!’s “Fashion Police” for 20 years and then starring in their own reality show, “Joan & Melissa - Joan Knows Best?” solidified an already tight-as-steel bond.

Her Dedication to Perfection.  She did everything first class. An admitted type-A personality, she preferred to take the helm and do it her way rather than leave anything to chance. Whether it was planning her Melissa’s fairy tale wedding at the Plaza or residing as President of her condo association, no detail went unnoticed and everything had to be done tastefully or not at all.  This was her joy, it made her happy. She had an appreciation for the finer things, but she was equally grateful and gracious.

Her Take No Prisoners Attitude.  She may have been blunt and unapologetic, but she was never mean-spirited. She could care less what other people thought of her. If an audience was shocked or offended by her words, she would simply respond and say, “Oh grow up!” She willingly made fun of everything from race and religion to sex and celebrities, her family life and heroes to politicians and religious figures. No one and no topic was taboo. But she kept her material relevant citing contemporary figures and earning herself the adulation of twenty somethings.

Her Red Carpet Commentary.  Whether covering a live award's show or on the set with fellow cohorts, no one called fashion like Joan Rivers. She coined the phrase, "Who are you wearing?" essentially cementing a relationship between fashion designers and celebrities for years to come. She inspired me to write a regular blog on Red Carpet Manners for what I like to call 'going underneath the sheath' espousing on all things manners related on the red carpet.   

Her Heart.  She had a kindness and charm that endeared her to everyone. Her goodness and heart propelled her to stand up for what she believed in whether it was breaking the glass ceiling for female comediennes, fighting bigotry towards the gay community, or defending Israel.  She gave back raising millions of dollars for causes including AIDS, Guide Dogs for the Blind and Cystic Fibrosis. 

Her Work Ethic.  In her documentary, “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work," she revealed that she wasn’t happy unless her calendar was filled to the brim with appointments. She loved being busy, it made her feel alive. She traveled determinedly back and forth from coast to coast appearing both live and on television up until her last day. She kept a catalog of all her jokes neatly typed and alphabetized by topic in filing cabinets in her New York apartment constantly updating, memorizing and rehearsing her famous one-liners.  

Her Resilience. This tough woman born of Russian immigrants made something of herself.  She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Barnard College with a degree in English. She broke through the male-dominated world of comedy to become an international star. She survived the tragic suicide of her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, and rebuilt her relationship with her daughter. She overcame her own show’s cancellation and became a massively successful author, producer and entrepreneur writing 11 books, selling jewelry and fashion on home shopping networks and heralding at the helm of the “Fashion Police” virtually launching the entire red carpet industry. Her humor was her savior; it got her through the most horrific of circumstances. She knew the power of bouncing back with laughter and harnessed it to conquer every adversity.

Can we talk?  On a personal note, Joan Rivers reminded me of my grandmother, Rose Gaché, who lived in a gorgeous apartment in the Hampshire House facing Central Park South. I remember the silk fabric walls, the mirrored dressing area, and the chocolate pudding served in crystal goblets. She died young when I was still in high school, but instilled in me an appreciation for quality and the finer things whether it was taking pride in the way I dress or setting a beautiful table. She was generous and gracious.  Similar to Joan Rivers, she had tremendous drive, determination, focus, intellect, sharpness, and enthusiasm. Both are sorely missed.  Rest in peace...

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