By Melissa Rivers via dailymail.co.uk
What was it like to grow up with acid-tongued Joan Rivers for a mother? From teaching her how not to be a domestic goddess to never telling a dull story, her daughter reveals all.
Are we there yet? Pleeease?
The five scariest words that came out of my mother’s mouth were, ‘Melissa, get in the car.’ There were few things in this world more frightening than being in a car when she was behind the wheel – and that includes skydiving and swimming with sharks.
My mother was a terrible driver. How bad? You know how sometimes when you’re driving along the motorway and all of a sudden thousands of cars start slowing down to a crawl and then stop for no apparent reason? She was the reason. She believed that 40 miles per hour was the appropriate speed for anywhere – the driveway, past schools, fast lane of the motorway.
Once, when I was ten or 11, we were driving slowly in the fast lane and cars were honking and drivers were rolling down their windows and screaming at us, so I said, ‘Mom, don’t you think you should go a little faster? All these people might be in a hurry and have something important to do.’ She said, ‘They have something important to do? We all have important things to do. So they’re five minutes late.’
She also had no problem driving with the hazard lights on. In fairness she had probably turned them on accidentally while fidgeting with the mirror to put on her make-up. When I explained that they might cause an accident, she said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous. I use them as a deterrent; that way people stay out of my way.’
She also thought that if you lined up the car’s bonnet ornament with the lane markings on the road it was safer because then you had plenty of clearance on either side. This was particularly frightening on two-way streets. One day, when I was hanging on to the door, white-knuckled, she said, ‘Oh Melissa, don’t worry. They’ll see me coming.’
When I told my mother I was pregnant she hugged me and said the words every daughter wants to hear: ‘Is it your husband’s? Is it white?’ I said ‘Yes’ and ‘Yes’ and, ‘Swear you won’t say a word to anybody.’ She swore she’d keep the secret and we both started to cry. Then I started getting boxes of tiny clothing delivered to my house from her friends.
Cooper was less than six hours old the first time she tried to run off with him. She wouldn’t let him out of her grip; he was her new favourite accessory. He was with her when she visited the maternity hospital’s linen cupboard to find some crisp sheets she could take home.
He was by her side when she decided to have a cocktail party on the geriatric floor (‘You never know, Melissa, where you might meet somebody!’). He was even in tow when she visited the dean of the hospital’s medical school to inquire about her genius grandson’s early application.
Whenever my mother came to stay with us over the years I expected her to follow my rules. Naturally I was wrong.
Even though my mother brought me up to be a good guest, she was anything but. She ignored the rules she didn’t like. One of them was, ‘Do not feed the dogs from the table.’ She apparently had trouble with the word not. She was constantly feeding my dogs from the table. All I asked her to do, when she felt compelled to share her egg salad sandwich with them, was to put it in their bowls.
One day I walked in and there she was with the fridge door open, feeding them and herself leftover Chinese food. When I reminded her that she had promised not to she said, ‘You only said not to feed them from the table, not the refrigerator.’
Another rule that she chose to disregard was Cooper’s bedtime. When my mother was in the house, come 8.45pm, without fail, both of them would disappear. They were usually in her room eating a sugary snack (that the dogs seemed to be enjoying as well) and deeply engrossed in something on TV.
At 9.15pm I would tell them that it was time to wrap it up, assuming that my mother would send him up to bed.
When that didn’t happen and they launched into, ‘Can’t we just finish this episode?’ and I said, ‘No, you’ve got school tomorrow,’ my mother would start in with, ‘How often do I get to spend time with my grandson?’ and I’d reply, ‘Every week! Please…he has to go to bed or he will be a nightmare in the morning.’
She’d then say, ‘Promise your mother that you won’t be cranky in the morning,’ and with a mouthful of cookies and ice cream he would promise. And she would tell me to go to bed and that she would get him to bed as soon as the show was over.
The following morning, when Cooper inevitably stomped out of the house exhausted and in a foul mood, my mother would look at me and say, ‘You know Melissa, you really need to make sure he gets more sleep.
Never tell a dull story
Most of my mother’s fibs were simply embellishments to make a story she was telling better or more interesting. For example, a few years ago when she was on tour in Canada, she had a three-hour flight from Toronto.
She always called me after she had landed so I’d know she’d arrived safely. So she calls and tells me the flight was delayed due to gale-force headwinds blowing in from the polar icecap, that the plane had pitched and dropped – she thinks they hit a flock of geese – that passengers were being tossed around and that it was a miracle they had landed safely.
Her assistant Graham, who was travelling with her, told me that the skies were clear and the only tossing was in her sleep. When I called back and asked her why she’d felt the need to make me nervous, she said, ‘If I’d told you it was a simple, easy flight would you have found it interesting?’ I said ‘No.’ She said, ‘My point exactly.’
Ironically, when she did need to lie, she was terrible at it. Recently she wanted to get out of a dinner she had been invited to. I advised her to keep the lie simple. ‘Just tell them you are not feeling well, that you had bad shellfish for lunch.’ So she calls. She tells them she had bad shellfish. Then she tells them the name of the restaurant, that her waiter couldn’t have been nicer, that she’d had trouble getting a cab so she called Uber; and that on the way home she had puked in her handbag which had really upset the driver. All unnecessary ways of getting caught out, just because she wanted to make it more interesting.
One of her favourite games was answering the phone in a foreign accent, in case it was someone she didn’t want to talk to. Unfortunately, she wasn’t very good at accents. She also couldn’t keep the accent to one country. ‘Bonjour. ’Allo? No, Meez Rivers. She no ccchhome.’
Then, once she realised it was someone she actually wanted to talk to, she’d drop the accent and go, ‘Oh, hi! So, anyway…
This is one of my mother’s early head shots and CVs. I’m not sure exactly what year it’s from, but I think she was on her second nose. I’m also not sure which credits were true and which were projects ‘in development’ and by that I mean ‘totally made up’.
Finally, I have no idea why she picked the name Joan Perry. It could have been that she thought Molinsky was too Jewish, or that Perry would fit better on a billboard. It’s also highly possible that she was married to someone named Perry and simply ‘forgot to mention it’ to me over the course of the past 45 years.
And her theory about lying on her CV? ‘Who really calls and checks?’ She figured that if she got caught, she’d just say, ‘I wound up on the cutting-room floor.’
She once pointed out that Kurt Waldheim, former UN secretary-general and president of Austria, never mentioned that he had been a Nazi soldier serving with a ruthless unit responsible for deporting Jews. ‘If he can lie and become head of the UN, who’ll care that I didn’t really work with Brando?’
My mother loved room service almost as much as she hated cooking. She never cooked. Her signature dish was takeaway.
From the age of five, no matter what city or what kind of hotel we were in, I always had to ‘dress’ for room service, as though I were dining in a five-star restaurant.
I thought this stupid, so one night I snapped at my mother, ‘Why do I have to dress for room service? Who’s going to see me?’
She jumped all over that one. ‘The waiter, Melissa. There’s a 50 per cent chance he’s single and a 60 per cent chance he’s straight. You’re not getting any younger. Play the odds. Dress up!’
I said, ‘Ma! Are you serious?’ She said, ‘Yes. You don’t know, his father might own this hotel and you’re going to blow the chance at living on an estate and owning a yacht because you’re too lazy to get out of your holey sweat pants.’
And you wonder why so many children of celebrities drink…