cover image Last Girl Before Freeway: The Life, Loves, Losses, and Liberation of Joan Rivers

Last Girl Before Freeway: The Life, Loves, Losses, and Liberation of Joan Rivers

Leslie Bennetts. Little, Brown, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-0-316-26130-2

This comprehensive biography painstakingly charts the late Joan Rivers’s journey from growing up in Westchester, N.Y., feeling not at all pretty (the title of the book refers to a joke about how her mother hoped to pawn her off on a man, any man, who passed through town) to succeeding in comedy and becoming a veritable polymath of the business and entertainment worlds. Through interviews with family, staff, and comedy insiders, Vanity Fair contributing editor Bennetts (The Feminine Mistake) draws a portrait of the groundbreaking comedienne that is both deep and sweeping. She fact-checks Rivers on her own anecdotes, noting, for example, that she probably never met Marilyn Monroe, despite titling one of her books after a supposed conversation in which the actress told Rivers, “Men are stupid... and they like big tits.” Sometimes the portrait turns unsavory. Laughter gave Rivers power, which she was not afraid to wield against other women whom she saw as her rivals. She was the first to ask stars on the red carpet “Who are you wearing?”, a line of questioning resisted today by feminists for its lack of substance. Scared of losing it all, she stockpiled fancy china and Manolo Blahnik shoes. But Bennetts isn’t overly critical of Rivers, focusing also on her good deeds for “the little people”—like sending a badge from her TV show Fashion Police to a young fan—and her drive to succeed in a comedy world dominated by men. Bennetts’s reporting gives readers unparalleled access to her subject, which comedy fans, and those just fascinated by superstardom, will greatly enjoy. (Nov.)