Thursday, May 4, 2017

Oh, "That" Joan!

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!


Gingerguy said...

Utterly divine, I am in a hairdo inspired trance right now. Joanne Carson and Carol Lawrence prove my theory that elaborate hairdos really pop on darker hair. What a fabulous find. I had never even heard of this. I love the look of the show, like a French provincial boudoir. Everyone looks like they dressed to the nines for a daytime talk show. I was always a Rivers fan, just for the chutzpah alone. She was a surprise fill-in for the narrator once at a play I saw, and she brought down the house. For me she defined the 80's when I watched the premiere of her late night show, black Calvin Klein and huge blonde coif. The guests were Cher and Elton John and they all sang "The Bitch Is Back".
All the guests look fab including Nancy Walker. I also adore the "looser" hair she evolved into. Gosh why don't people look like that anymore? (oh wait they do, they are called drag queens). Joan is truly missed, so this was a fabulous way to remember her.

Scooter said...

What a fun post! I had no idea she had done a talk show prior to the 80s/90s.

paintbrush said...

Leave it to you for unearthing this unknown to me gem. Bravo. I was always a fan of hers. Although never a great beauty she was always so well coifed and dressed in the latest looks. I sorely miss her days of being outrageous on the red carpet and flogging her stuff on QVC.
I didn't discover them until after she died but her "In Bed With Joan" interviews on YouTube are hilarious. Well worth a look.

Poseidon3 said...

Gingerguy, I guess the audience knew that they might wind up on the air so they dressed up! Though the same thing occurs today with dozens of daytime shows and many people look like total shit... LOL We here in Cincinnati had several key TV shows, one being "The Ruth Lyons Show" in which the ladies would wear white gloves up through the late-60s and beyond because they knew Ruth liked that. Or "The Paul Dixon Show" in which gals wore short, but tasteful, skirts and the camera would pan across all their legs. And then "The Bob Braun Show" in which the camera would suddenly zoom in on the prettiest face of the crowd and that lady would win a free portrait sitting (my own mom was once selected!) So all the gals decked out in hopes of winning.

Scooter! Good to see you and I'm glad you liked this.

Paintbrush, thank you! I'm glad you got a kick out of this. I will have to check out those interviews on YouTube! I love Joan and her deprecating, off-hand wit. The only time she really upset me was when she insisted on saying "joolery" instead of jewelry and I think it's now an optional pronunciation in the dictionary!! Egads!

HarpoSnarx said...

I was channel surfing one day and found this gem. In fact it was the Carol Lawrence interview (I remember those beehives everywhere!). It was a reminder of Joan Rivers' longevity and talent. Her early cornball reflected the times but you could just tell that envelope was going to get pushed hard and far.

For the most part I liked and enjoyed her humor, other times I thought she could be tiresome and unnecessarily mean but then I could take her or leave her. But I always returned. As she grew older, I had to respect her inner fire and her bravery as a trailblazer. It just happens that way with venerable icons. I recently read "Last Girl Before Freeway," by Marjorie Williams, which was a good look into her life, career, family, personality, excesses and her warm heart.

At 81, can anyone say death was premature? I don't know but I know I thought THAT SUCKS when her death was announced. I think she still had more to give. I was glad Jimmy Fallon got her back on the Tonight Show earlier that year; it was time for a TAKE THAT CARSON! I'm not going to repeat here Howard Stern's eulogy at Joan's memorial service. But it's a friggin hoot and had the mourners remember who they were there for.

I'm sure Joan howled from wherever she is - Comedian or Talk Show Heaven I hope. Thank you for another wonderful trip back into our teevee past, I've heard it described as "our Shakespeare." And it really is.

Narciso Duran said...

Oh Gawd -- Pat Montandon -- here in the SF Bay Area -- San Francisco being the ultimate Little Pond fawning over pompous Big Fish -- Montandon was on TV and in the papers endlessly in the 70s, uggh, I suppose because of her brief marriage to local attorney Melvin Belli. If you read her bio on Wikipedia, she comes off as an obnoxious climber who grasped her way to several Nobel peace prize nominations! Okay -- I'll drop the bitchy character assassination…

Joan Rivers was always a handsome woman, and indeed almost always gracious to celebrity guests. I recently watched her early 1980s Tonight Show interview with Ginger Rogers, expecting a clash the entire time - Rogers could be prickly - but Rivers asked honest questions, pushed the envelope ever so gently and Rogers was gracious and came off as modern and contemporary thanks to Rivers' intelligent interviewing.

Poseidon3 said...

Harpo, I wanted to include, but didn't, Carol coming out on stage carrying her little black purse! LOL And I do think that Joan could sometimes be a little too mean in her later years (well, if you're Elizabeth Taylor or Joan Collins, then earlier than that!!) I watched a pretty cool DVD documentary on Rivers that showed how tough it is to get to the top, fall, get back, etc... and demonstrated how she ticked. It was neat.

Narciso, interesting that one of my readers knows the woman! I don't believe I'd ever heard of her before seeing this show. I'm watching the Joan-Ginger interview as I type. Thanks for recommending it!! Joan was so diminutive behind that big, ugly desk! She needed to be built up a little or given more appealing furniture. Ginger clearly wanted to lean in and get more intimate, but couldnt. She's almost like Judge Judy back there. Ha ha!