I mentioned lately in a comment section or two that I've recently been watching a pretty rare 1968-69 half-hour talk show hosted by Joan Rivers. Called That Show, it featured Ms. Rivers delivering a brief monologue that poked a little fun at the chosen topic of the day, followed by a discussion involving one "expert" guest, often an author, businessperson or doctor, and one celebrity guest. Then at the end there was often a Q & A involving members of the small studio audience.
It's been fascinating to see Rivers at this stage of her career and also to see what public attitudes were like in this era (the look of which happens to be a great favorite of mine, albeit this is towards the tail end of it.) Topics ranged all over the place from child-rearing to cuts of meat to vacationing in Jamaica to nudism! There were also fashion shows, often including fur.
Initially, I was only going to run photos of Rivers in her various clothing and hairstyles because that late-'60s look is irresistible to me, so there aren't many photos of her guests. I didn't begin to collect any of those until after having watched for quite a while. However, her celebrity guests included the likes of Marty Allen, Johnny Carson, Jerry Lewis (who rigidly advocated corporal punishment), David Susskind, Roger Smith, Jordan Christopher, Rocky Graziano, Shecky Greene and many others. They were always welcomed with the most glowing, gracious and heartfelt of introductions from their hostess.
In the episode depicted here, guest Nancy Walker discusses the topic of house-keepers and how they should or should not be treated. It's interesting in that Walker was chiefly working on Broadway at the time (not having acted on TV since 1960) and had yet to enjoy her television career resurgence on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (followed by Rhoda), nor McMillan & Wife, for which she would receive three Emmy nominations and two Golden Globe nominations for playing... a maid! Soon after this appearance, Walker began her two-decade stint as diner waitress Rosie on TV ads for Bounty paper towels, a gig that led to the major upswing in her acting career. Walker, like the vast majority of guests on the program, smoked cigarettes throughout; an ashtray provided on set for that very purpose. (Walker died in 1992 at age sixty-nine of lung cancer.)
Also appearing as guests were a rather young Dr. Joyce Brothers and the durable comic actor Orson Bean (who still works occasionally these days at age eighty-eight.) This particular episode had to do with speed-reading. (Have you taken note yet of the hysterical microphones that are attached to each chair and jut up towards the subject's face from the side?)
Still another episode dealt with "high society" and Cliff Robertson was the celebrity guest. Robertson's then-wife, heiress turned actress Dina Merrill (who's still with us now at ninety-three!), was born to it, yet dropped from the once-famed social register of New York City thanks to her marriage to Robertson.
Here we see Rivers interviewing Pat Montandon, selected by Esquire magazine as one of the Top 19 party hostesses of the time. She wrote a well-received book called "How to Be a Party Girl." Needless to say, we're most drawn to her fall of blonde tresses! She proceeded to write several other books over the years as well and was briefly married to famed attorney Melvin Belli.
On that same show, Johnny's wife Joanne Carson was the celebrity guest. She was a heralded party-giver in her own right, though not so much due to the frequency as to the creativity of each one. She almost resembles a young Miss Jane Seymour in the lower-right shot, doesn't she? When Johnny and she divorced in 1972 after a decade of marriage, she got half a million dollars in cash and art plus $72,000 per year until Johnny's death in 2005. (His third marriage turned out to be far costlier, however.)
This is Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary fame. Her episode was about the changing nature of teenagers and how much more advanced (and in some cases trouble- some!) they'd been becoming as the conditions and attitudes had changed so rapidly during the 1960s. She doesn't look much unlike Janice, the lead guitarist of the band on The Muppet Show!
Here we see Rivers welcoming a floral design "expert" (the centerpiece - made up of pieces of fresh fruit and covered in scary, craggy black branches with thorns - was positively atrocious!) along guest Diana Sands.
Rivers and Sands were put through their paces as makeshift floral designers with Rivers, naturally going for laughs. Sands, a very successful Broadway actress who transitioned to television and film, was claimed by a rare form of cancer at only age forty. She was set to star in Claudine (1974), but had to drop out. Her friend Diahann Carroll took on the role and gleaned an Oscar nomination for it. (Ellen Burstyn won for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.)
Rivers' audiences tended to love her corny jokes. Her humor, known for its outrageous- ness, was still rather tempered here. She's talk about her crazy "cousins" Sheila or Hubie or her hairstylist "Mr. Phyllis" and poke fun at her own shortcomings. Every once in a while it might get the teensiest bit risque (such as when she claimed to have bought a Venus Fly Trap, but it's "fly" was always open!), but generally it was soft and her audience demonstrated tasteful decorum. The lady below nearly ruptured herself during Joan's shenanigans, however.
Eventually, the artist-rendered opening titles for the show (which featured a caricature or two of Rivers) were replaced with a more colorful intro, in which the text glowed brighter every second or so before going dim again.
These episodes also featured a longer, slightly more relaxed hairstyle for Joan (though it was still shellacked with hairspray, thank God.) It has become a weekday treat to see what dapper little drip-dry or woven number she's going to be sporting, what piece of jewelry is selected and how her hair will be done as I check out these old programs.
Earlier eps had seen her experimenting with long falls situated under her own comparatively short hair.
The makeup is more than a tad clown-like! She fiddled with this scarf endlessly, something I could still catch her doing sometimes decades later when she became a fashion maven on E! Entertainment Television through shows like Fashion Police.
Here, she was in a midway period, growing her hair longer from the shorter bouffant she started off with. Almost a Bea Benaderet thing going on this time!
It's so much fun to see her wear a coordinating or contrasting bow with each of her delightful 1960s get-ups.
Even more fun, though, was when guest Carol Lawrence came by and was wearing a huge Grecian goddess hairpiece!
Her episode was about the pros and cons of natural childbirth. As the mother of two boys with then- husband Robert Goulet, Lawrence had gone through one natural birth and one Caesarean when it was determined that delivery the traditional way was impossible in that case.
I have, for unknown reasons, almost universally been drawn to any woman named Joan. It's downright strange. Though not everyone was fond of Joan Rivers, I adored her. I loved her gusto, her guts, her determination and her never-ending ability to laugh at life, even in the face of tragedy. I feel that on more than one occasion she was given the short end of the stick, but somehow she always persevered.
(I was never able to transfer my affection for her to her daughter Melissa, however, who was an infant when this show was produced and who looks so much like her mother in many of these pictures.)
Rivers had already had work done on her nose at this point and vociferously supported cosmetic surgery on this program for those who wished to have it performed on themselves. While it might not be right to call her a pretty woman, she did have a certain sense of elegance, even when manically darting around the set and goofing for the cameras.
There has been a DVD release of some of the episodes of this obscure show, which, as I say, is an amazing time capsule of of a long-gone era, one that was in considerable social flux.
I don't know where our Miss Joan is now, but I do hope wherever it is there is peace and plenty of laughs!
"To Jon-I really enjoyed your blog! Love Joan" -- Dame Joan Collins (via autographed menu supplied by a mutual friend!) Photos of Menu & Joan
"Thank you for your nice message, and for the link to your blog. I had actually seen your blog before - a friend showed it to me a year or two ago. You clearly have an intense and wonderful passion for cult and genre cinema... Thank you for joining my page, and for sharing your passion for EARTHQUAKE and other films of that remarkable era in our industry. My husband would have gotten a huge kick out of it! With love, Monica"-- Monica Lewis Tribute to Monica
"Oh, and for those who are looking for fascinating, funny, often outré online reading about vintage, sometimes obscure, movies, TV shows and stars, try the blog, “Poseidon’s Underworld.” You’ll find everything from detailed and witty biographies to posts on how stars wore their clothes — or didn’t — as each show biz decade constricted or loosened up. Heavily illustrated and highly informative". - Liz Smith - Liz Smith - newyorksocialdiary.com
"I just discovered your profile about me and my career. I was flattered and very happy with the photos (some I had never seen) and your talented style of writing. As a gesture of thanks, I would like to send you a signed copy of my book. I think you would enjoy it. So if you would like one or a signed photo, let me know with an address I can send it to. - Sincerely, Mark Goddard" (via e-mail) Tribute to Mark