Joan Molinsky was born in Brooklyn, New York, to immigrant parents. Her father, Meyer, was a successful doctor who worked long hours but contributed little of his love and warmth to the family unit. Her mother, Beatrice, came from an upper-class Russian family that had lost everything before coming to America. To her, money was the basis of all that was good in life, and the desire to achieve status through wealth became an obsession. Meyer Molinsky never made enough to satisfy his wife, and moreover, he was tight with the money he earned. Money became a constant source of friction in the Molinsky household, and this friction had a deep impact on Joan’s life. While growing up in Brooklyn, Joan was sent to the finest schools so that she would meet the “right” people and eventually marry into a wealthy family. She was always an outsider, however, quiet and alone. She began to eat in order to console herself and became overweight. Happiness for Joan Molinsky came through her own make-believe world. She recognized that acceptance and approval could come from performing on the stage. Her dream, and later obsession, was a career in acting. Unsuccessful in serious drama, she decided to change to comedy, becoming a stand-up comic.
After several years of rejection, working in less than desirable bars, and suffering the antagonism of her family, Joan Molinsky, now Joan Rivers, began to experience a few positive and rewarding moments. Joan’s big break came on the “Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. Her act had jelled, and she was funny, but she readily admits that it was her exposure on Carson’s show and his role as her mentor that firmly established her career as a comedienne. Through the years, both in interviews and onstage, Rivers has repeatedly expressed her gratitude toward him. After publication of ENTER TALKING, however, a rift developed between the two when Rivers was offered and accepted a show of her own that would compete with Carson’s for a share of the late-night viewing audience.