Celebrity Parents: Joan Rivers

An exclusive interview with the comedienne on playing gushing grandma.


joan_rivers_art Charles William Bush

In a career spanning more than 40 years, Joan Rivers has enjoyed success as a stand-up comedienne, actress, talk-show host, and fashion commentator. She is also a doting mother to her only child, Melissa, and an adoring grandmother to Edgar Cooper Endicott, Melissa's son with husband John Endicott.

Longtime fans may recall that Rivers wrote a best-selling book, Having a Baby Can Be a Scream, in 1974, which mixed her trademark wisecracks about labor and childbirth with advice on potty training (in a chapter called "There's No Such Thing as Kiddy Litter"), birthday parties, and helping kids make friends. Though Rivers joked in her book that Melissa "hated my cooking so much right from the start that at 10 months she taught herself how to phone Chicken Delight," in real life, Joan and her late husband, Edgar Rosenberg, took parenthood seriously. "My parents were very protective," Melissa told Child during a visit at her home in Los Angeles. (See the February 2002 issue for photos of the Rivers-Endicott family at home.) "I grew up in a very warm household, but a very formal household. People would not expect that we sat down to French service every night." From Rosenberg, who committed suicide in 1987 when Melissa was 19, she adds, "I learned that your word is your bond. You try to be a good person and maintain high standards. Both of my parents raised me with a very strong moral expectation."

Melissa took those lessons to heart, earning a degree in history from the University of Pennsylvania. (Rivers had graduated from Barnard College.) Now host of event programming for E! Entertainment Network, Melissa laughs when asked how Joan has adjusted to grandmotherhood. "She loves that little boy more than anything -- I've apparently served my purpose in life. Just hand over the goods -- Cooper -- and go away!" A few weeks later, Rivers spoke with Child about how motherhood has affected her high-achieving daughter and why being a grandmother is so delicious.

CHILD: How has motherhood changed Melissa?

JOAN: Oh, it's amazing. From the time she was young, Melissa was very career-oriented. Now, it's all about going home and spending time with the baby. Her priorities switched without her even noticing that they had switched.

CHILD: Did you give Melissa any mothering advice?

JOAN: The best advice I got from my own pediatrician was to let the baby adjust to the family's routine. The house doesn't have to be a quiet zone -- if the baby is taking a nap and you need to run the dishwasher, run it. And don't worry about schedules. If the baby is hungry, let him eat. If he's sleepy, don't wake him up to feed him. It's all stuff that you learn naturally once you have your own child.

CHILD: Melissa told us that she had a warm but formal upbringing.

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JOAN: Well, I love tradition, and I don't think there's anything tragic in learning how to use the proper utensils at the table, to be polite to adults, and to keep quiet when a guest is speaking. I used to say to Melissa, "When the queen of England comes to dinner, I want you to have good manners.' Finally, when she was about 6, Melissa turned to me and said, 'You don't know the queen of England.' She figured it out! Seriously, I don't think there's anything wrong with sitting down together and having a lovely dinner. We kept a very formal household, but obviously it didn't hurt anybody.

CHILD: Melissa showed us the antique English chest of drawers in Cooper's room that belonged to her when she was growing up.

JOAN: Yes, and that makes me so happy because Cooper can use it in his child's room.

CHILD: What do you love most about being a grandmother?

JOAN: Just the joy of the continuation of life -- and to know that when I'm gone, Melissa is going to have her own life and her own family unit. This is her team, and I'm thrilled. I can't wait for her to have a second or third child. I would love a big family for Melissa and John.

CHILD: Were you touched when Melissa named her baby in honor of your late husband?

JOAN: That was very meaningful and wonderful because it was totally her idea. She came to me and said, "We want to do this," and I said, "That would be lovely."

CHILD: Do you spoil Cooper?

JOAN: Totally. And it's just beginning, because he's only a year old. The nice thing about a grandchild is that you can do anything with him. We're going to have all chocolate dinners -- I can see that coming!

CHILD: Melissa followed in your footsteps in getting a top-quality college education. Were you surprised when she decided to go into broadcasting?

JOAN: I was very surprised -- and not so happy. I really had no inkling that she would be interested. She was in a few school plays, but nothing major. And when she got out of college and said, "I got a job at MTV," I was concerned. It's a mean business and a tough business. You try to make your way and then someone can just knock it all down.

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CHILD: And yet your own ups and downs in show business didn't discourage Melissa.

JOAN: She also saw how much fun it can be. It's really like Peter Pan -- you never grow up in our business. There's nothing like it.

CHILD: The two of you are now working the red carpet together at award shows. What's it like to collaborate professionally with your daughter?

JOAN: It's a pleasure. The nicest thing in the world is to turn around and see that your daughter is all grown up and has become a terrific producer and performer; to know that she's going to do a great job. It's wonderful to go on the air and know that you've got someone in your corner. She is so smart, and when I turn to her, everything is taken care of. There's total trust.

CHILD: So it's possible to go through a rough stage with a daughter and emerge with a great relationship.

JOAN: Yes. Between the ages of 15 and 17, every child goes through a period when they're trying to find out who they are. A friend of mine said something very smart: "Drop the leash, and they'll come back." I did -- and Melissa did. Now, I love it when Melissa says, "You're my best friend." And even now, when she asks my advice, I say, "Do you want my advice as a mother, or do you want it as a friend?" Because what I say [in each role] will be different.

CHILD: And now, you're so close that Melissa invited you into the delivery room when she gave birth to Cooper!

JOAN: Yes, and the doctors know just where to put you, behind her shoulder, so you don't see too much and don't get in the way. But, you know, my joke is that I was given so many drugs when I was in labor that I wasn't even there when Melissa was born! This was my first time, and it was just amazing.

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