Joan Rivers

How a first generation Jewish American became an entertainment legend.

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It was from these clubs that Rivers was catapulted to fame by her appearances on national television. Throughout the first decade of her career she continued to write, perform in clubs, and appear on television.

The 1970s saw Rivers venture into other entertainment media. While her Broadway play Fun City was greeted with a mixed reaction, her comic 1973 TV movie, The Girl Most Likely To, was the most successful made-for-TV movie of its time. Its theme—the revenge of a woman jilted for her looks—was the harbinger of a new direction in writing about women's issues. Two of her books, Having a Baby Can Be a Scream (1975) and The Life and Hard Times of Heidi Abramowitz, were also great successes—as were her 1986 autobiography, Enter Talking, and its sequel, Still Talking (1991).

Starting a Family

During her rise from stand-up comic to television personality, Rivers married producer Edgar Rosenberg. He became her de facto manager, and together they embarked on a number of entertainment ventures, including the ill-fated The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers. Their marriage, described in some detail in Still Talking, was inextricably linked to both of their careers. They had one child, Melissa Rosenberg, born January 20, 1968.

In 1987, Edgar Rosenberg committed suicide. Rivers’s reaction was feisty and characteristic: "The best therapy for me would have been to go right from the mortuary to the stage, but my advisers agreed it would have been unseemly."

Seven years later, in 1994, Rivers dealt with this tragedy and its aftermath in her NBC movie Tears and Laughter. In this film, Rivers and her daughter Melissa play themselves and demonstrate, as Gina Bellafante noted in Time magazine, "the sunny conviction that the saga of their cruel lives will serve as a morality tale.... It also manages to convey a message about the capacity for survival."

In that same year, Rivers wrote and produced a Broadway play, Sally Marr and Her Escorts. Based on the life of Lenny Bruce’s mother, it too deals with the cruel price that celebrity and talent exact from those blessed and cursed with its gifts.

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Shalom Goldman

Shalom Goldman received a B.S. degree in Hebrew Culture and Education, an M.A. in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. in Hebrew and Biblical Studies from New York University. He is currently a Professor of Hebrew and Middle Eastern Studies at Emory University.