RIVERS, JOAN (1933–), U.S. comedienne and actress. Born Joan Alexandra Molinsky in Brooklyn, New York, to Russian immigrants, Rivers acted in school productions at Barnard College, graduating Phi Betta Kappa with a bachelor's degree in English in 1954. Post-college jobs included working as a publicist for Lord and Taylor and as a fashion coordinator for Bond Clothing Stores, marrying the owner's son at 21; the marriage was annulled six months later. Rivers returned home and pursued her dream of becoming an actress, mostly working in off-Broadway plays. She soon shifted gears and tried stand-up comedy, at first using the name Pepper January and then performing as Joan Rivers. After working small East Coast clubs for seven years, she spent time in Greenwich Village coffeehouses developing an act that was sexually provocative and self-deprecating. Critics panned Rivers, but comedian Lenny bruce encouraged her. From 1961 to 1962, she was a member of the improvisational group Second City, and then wrote material for Candid Camera and Phyllis Diller. In 1965 she was booked on the Tonight Show and after a successful set was asked back. Rivers soon became a Las Vegas headliner, and was named Las Vegas comedienne of the year in 1976 and 1977. Rivers wrote and starred in the film Rabbit Test with Billy Crystal in 1978, and in 1983 she was named Woman of the Year by Hadassah. That same year, the woman known for her trademark line "Can we talk?" parlayed her frequent appearances on the Tonight Show into a regular guest host slot. After Carson left the Tonight Show in 1986, Rivers started her own talk show, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers (1986–87) and published her first autobiography, Enter Talking. Her second husband was suffering from chemical depression due to heart medication at the time; he took the cancellation of his wife's program personally and committed suicide a few months later. Her husband's death tainted Rivers professionally, especially after her agent canceled her contract. Rivers started performing in small clubs again, appeared in Neil Simon's Broadway Bound (1986), and then took a regular spot as the center square on the television game show Hollywood Squares, which she held until 1989. She hosted her own syndicated talk show, The Joan Rivers Show, from 1989 to 1993, and won an Emmy for it in 1990. Rivers returned to Broadway with a play she wrote about Lenny Bruce's mother, Sally Marr … and Her Escorts (1994), which earned her a Tony nod for best actress. Rivers and her daughter starred as themselves in an NBC made-for-TV movie Tears and Laughter: The Joan and Melissa Rivers Story (1994), and the mother-daughter team has since become known for providing red-carpet commentary during the Oscars and other awards shows. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: "Rivers, Joan," in: Newsmakers, Issue 3 (2005); "Rivers, Joan," in: Contemporary Authors (Gale, 2005). WEBSITE: www.imdb.com/name/nm0001672 . (Adam Wills (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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