Upon the recent death of comedienne Joan Rivers, Variety posted the following item on its webpage, reproducing a night club review the paper ran in 1965. Unfortunately the “sig” of the reviewer is not mentioned, but in all probability it was Joe Cohen, Jose, who penned most of the night club reviews at that time. He was one of the first muggs axed when Bart became editor.
Aside from the interest in its early appreciation of Rivers’ talents, the review is a jewel showing the kind of Varietese lingo used in 1965.
When Variety’s night club critic caught Joan Rivers’ stand-up routine at the Bitter End in New York City in 1965, the legendary comic had only been plying her trade for a few years, but her craft was honed enough to garner her this strong nod from the Bible of Showbiz and her first spot on the Tonight Show. A year later she made a major prime time splash on the Ed Sullivan Show, which led to 20 more appearances over the run of that key TV talent showcase.
“Attractive femme with a head of long blonde hair which is continually being pushed aside, Joan Rivers is one of the funniest standup comediennes to come along since Phyllis Diller. If she can just restrain a tendency to let her hands fly in all directions while she’s yakking, she’s a natural for bigger spots.
“Her material, evidently her own, as she has wonderful command of it, is stream-of-conscience comment on personal experiences with tacked-on punchline, usually delivered with a preceding slight pause.
“She’s also fond of unfinished sentences that permit her to wander back and forth in her subject material. Quicksilvery in delivery, she can effortlessly change subjects as she did at show caught when a funny tale about airline stewardesses was dropped after a ringside spectator turned out to be one.
“Stories centre on fact that she lives in Larchmont which, as she puts it, is a way of life. They include bits about her nonconformist girlfriend, the type who’d parade with a “Ban The Bomb” sign — in 1942. Gal, she said, is ‘very artsy-craftsy . . . long hair, sneakers and no underwear.” Her throwaway lines are also funny. Girlfriend’s husband she describes as “30-ish, which means 56, but loaded.’
“Her principal target being herself, she immediately captures audience rapport. Some stories run close to the racy side but are almost entirely inoffensive. This allows her to use material, in assumed innocence, with subtle touch of double-entendre discernible, including hilarious bit about her dog, called No Name, and her searching for it in wee small hours. In Larchmont, this evidently created some interesting situations. She reacts immediately to any unusual response from listeners. Having trouble with an eyelash, she adlibbed, “False eyelashes make you feel glamorous . . . sloppy, but glamorous.” When this drew extra hearty laugh from a male listener, she quipped, ‘How do you know. Mister?’ Her childhood and brief theatre experience also get a workout as does the subject of airplanes and riding on them.
“Miss Rivers was married last Thursday (15) to tv producer Edgar Rosenberg but insisted on going through with her two evening shows that night. There’s a lesson there for some fellow artistes.”
Upon seeing the reprint of the review (Bob Marich kindly circulated it to some of the muggs), Fred Lombardi wrote the following comment:
I have my own Joan Rivers story from working at Variety. Some time in the 1990s I was doing a column called VINTAGE VARIETY, which you may recall featured excerpts of stories from Variety’s past. One of the stories I selected had something to do with Joan Rivers.
When Peter Bart saw the story he called me into his office. He gave me the incredible news that “Joan Rivers’ name must never be mentioned in Variety.” So that story was out.
I assume that Peter either had some kind of spat with Ms. Rivers or taken offense at something she said.
In any case a few months later I did see Joan Rivers’ name in Variety and cited fairly prominently. So apparently Bart and Joan had some kind of reconciliation. (Maybe they were going to the same plastic surgeon.)