The feud, of course, involved the king of late night television Johnny Carson.
Like most bitter feuds, theirs started out with a strong friendship and ended in bitterness and recrimination. For Rivers, it was also career damaging and nearly career ending.
The story begins in the 1950s when Rivers, then in her 20s was desperate to become an actress. At the time, women didn’t do comedy, she wrote in a 2012 first-person column in the “Hollywood Reporter.
Joan Rivers, Johnny Carson in Video
It was the preserve of white men like Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Fred Allen and Red Skelton.
But a secretary in the office where she worked as a temp told her she was funny and could make $6 a night doing standup. So she began working the clubs in New York City’s East Village.
Her colleagues included other up-and-comers likeWoody Allen, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Rodney Dangerfield and Dick Cavett.
“But I never was one of the guys,” she wrote. “I was never asked to go hang out… So, even though I was with them, I wasn’t with them.”
Rivers, like the others, knew her ticket to success was getting invited on the “Tonight Show,” then hosted by Carson, who was the king of late night television.
“Everybody broke through ahead of me. I was the last one in the group to break through, or to be allowed to break through,” she recalled. “Looking back, I think it was because I was a woman.
“I was the very last one of the group they put on the Carson show,” she said.
She finally got a gig on the show, but not as a stand-up comic; she was hired as a gag writer and worked with Carson for 18 years.
“I adored Johnny. In the ’70s, I did opening monologues, I was hosting. The turning point was when I left the show [for her own show on rival upstart network Fox],” she said.
“The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” launched in 1986, making Rivers the first woman to host a talk show in television history. What’s more, she went head-to-head against Carson.
She only lasted a year on air. But her relationship with Carson was over.
In the he-said, she-said that followed, Carson claimed she never sought his blessing and was devious about plans for her show. Carson allegedly learned about the move from sources at Fox, just before Rivers broke the news.
“The first person I called was Johnny, and he hung up on me — and never, ever spoke to me again,” Rivers revealed after his death in 2005.
She never appeared on the show again for the remainder of Carson’s career. Both Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien, who succeeded Carson, upheld the ban.
Finally, Jimmy Fallon had her on the show in a cameo appearance on his first night as host in February. She later appeared as a guest.
“It’s about time!” she told Variety afterward. “I’ve been sitting in a taxi outside NBC with the meter running since 1987.”
With her death, the feud is finally over.
For more details, check out the Hollywood Reporter and be sure to follow IM on Twitter for the latest celebrity news.
|Books by Joan Rivers: Click Titles to Purchase|
|Diary of a Mad Diva
Joan Rivers at her best… complaining.
I Hate Everyone…Starting with Me
Murder at the Academy Awards (R): A Red Carpet Murder Mystery
Bouncing Back : I’ve Survived Everything…and I Mean Everything…and You Can Too!
Men Are Stupid . . . And They Like Big Boobs
|Having a Baby Can Be a Scream
Rare Joan Rivers from early in her career. Expect to pay a premium for this book.
Don’t Count the Candles: Just Keep the Fire Lit!
From Mother to Daughter: Thoughts and Advice on Life, Love, and Marriage
The Life and Hard Times of Heidi Abromowitz
Jewelry by Joan Rivers