"She has my blessing, but I'm not participating." - Melissa Rivers, interview with Larry King (May 20, 2015)
"People forget that unauthorized does not mean untrue and authorized does not mean authentic...The difference between authorized and unauthorized biographies is the difference between riding in carriage or squatting in steerage." - Kitty Kelley, author of Oprah: a Biography
In one felt swoop, Melissa Rivers has simultaneously given the proverbial finger to two of the top biographers of our time.
In September of 2014, it was announced that journalist Leslie Bennetts would pen the biography of the comedic icon, set for release in November. Bennetts, who has written for Vanity Fair and The New York Times, said that "Joan Rivers' life story was, in every way, a remarkably dramatic roller-coaster ride characterized by triumphant highs and devastating lows, one that is both wildly entertaining and deeply moving...But Rivers' career was also enormously significant in American cultural history, breaking down barriers for women in television and comedy and continually redefining the acceptable boundaries of truth-telling for women in public life." (Source)
In an advance review of the bio, Publisher's Weekly praised as "giving readers unparalleled access to her subject, which comedy fans, and those just fascinated by superstardom, will greatly enjoy." The reviewer goes on to say that Rivers was "the first to ask stars on the red carpet 'Who are you wearing?', a line of questioning resisted today by feminists for its lack of substance."
When Melissa Rivers, in the provided interview, was questioned about the upcoming biography by Larry King she immediately said that she "wasn't participating" but gave Bennetts her "blessing." "She's very respected and I think she's gonna' look at it in a bigger cultural context rather than [a biography] a la Kitty Kelley. When I asked Kitty Kelley to comment, she responded quickly with an email:
The "attached" is an article written by Kelley for The American Scholar entitled "Unauthorized, but Not Untrue." The most telling fragment I'd like to share from her article, which really should be read in full, is the following: "Celebrity demands could easily be dismissed as amusing diva excesses if they weren’t so readily indulged, and it’s the indulgence that enables celebrities to construct their own mythologies in the public consciousness. This curtsy to celebrity puts the lie to the notion of a free and unfettered press, while subtly molding the celebrity’s public image according to the celebrity’s demands."
For those of you who have read my writings since I started this blog in February know that Joan Rivers is one of my utmost heroes. From the moment I heard Joan's trademark "Can We Talk?" and listened to her "bash" Anne Frank, I knew that I was in love. I even took my mother to see Joan in 2012 in St. Charles, IL for Mother's Day.
I am dismayed by the fact that Melissa isn't participating in the first independent biography written about her mother. Though Melissa admits that Bennetts is a fine journalist, she wasn't willing to sit down with her to be interviewed for the book. A possible reason is the fact that Melissa enjoys her ties to celebrities and calling them her "friends", yet a leaked section of the new biography revives the feud between Joan and Lena Dunham. Rivers criticized Dunham as being “the first fat girl naked on television" and that "HBO charged with crimes against humanity.”
To Melissa, I have to ask: Why? I understand that the pain of losing a parent is eternal, yet Melissa was apparently strong enough to put up her mother's cherished collectibles up for auction at Christie's (admittedly for charity) and write her own book, a mere nine months after her mother's death. (Sidebar: Melissa released a book in 2010 entitled Red Carpet Ready that was maligned by critics as a book written by a "girl [who] was born with a silver spoon in her mouth and has definitely ridden her mother's coattails to 'fame.' It's very hard to take this book seriously.")
Rivers died as a result of a plastic surgery mishap that sent her into a coma, a travesty that Melissa was paid handsomely for as a result of a lawsuit against the clinic. The specifics of the settlement were not released to the public, though one can infer that the number is in the millions. In a statement about the settlement, Melissa thrust herself into the spotlight saying "what ultimately guided me [to file the lawsuit] was my unwavering belief that no family should ever have to go through what my mother, Cooper and I have been through. The level of medical mismanagement, incompetency, disrespect, and outrageous behavior is shocking and frankly, almost incomprehensible." And yet she says nothing about the living death her mother suffered through. Hmm...
Melissa still speaks of her mother's death and the effect it has on their lives, including the following ridiculous vignette: "Melissa recently told People that her teenage son [Cooper] will namecheck Joan when trying to get his way. ...'Like, ‘I can’t believe you won’t let me go to Coachella, grandma would’ve let me!’ [I’m] like, ‘No she wouldn’t have. And if she did, she would’ve gone with you and embarrassed you.'"
My hope is that Melissa will stop riding the gravy train that her mother has left her and do something of her own merit. I have a big problem with relatives of celebrities who live the rest of their lives as continuations of their parents legacy (think Frank Sinatra Jr.) and literally live the rest of their days as the keeper of the flame, so to speak.
All the things I admire in Joan are absent in Melissa: the piercing drive to succeed, the individuality of her wit, her eye for society and its many foibles, and the genuine heart she had beneath the Botox. Joan forged her own path in life and, in doing so, opened a vortex of possibilities for female and gay comedians worldwide. She gives people courage, to this day, to be themselves and learn that life will never be easy or necessarily what you want it to be, but that doesn't mean you can't be who you desire.
Joan once said, "I don't mince words...I don't hold back."
I wonder how she'd react if she knew her daughter didn't learn that lesson?
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