Melissa Rivers has a boisterous laugh, a deliciously self-deprecating sense of humor and a clearer perspective than I anticipated. With all those miles of red carpet under her Christian Louboutin heels, the phrases “Who are you wearing?” and “Back to you mom,” are now synonymous with her public persona. For more than a decade Melissa Rivers and Joan Rivers were the final word in red carpet fashion, launching a time-encapsulated phenomenon as they compelled celebrities to assemble glam-squads and put their stylists on speed dial.
Though she spent years as the straight man to Joan Rivers’s outrageous comic antics, Melissa Rivers is, in a word, funny! In fact, it’s her defining characteristic. During our lengthy conversation that covered some universally thought-provoking topics, I couldn’t help but wonder why she never followed in her mother’s comedic footsteps since she clearly inherited the art of the punch line. Melissa loves to talk about the emotional pratfalls that accompany her daily life, and what struck me most is the complete lack of regard for her own ego; a rare attribute in Hollywood circles.
In Melissa Rivers’s new book, Red Carpet Ready, she tells some tales of Hollywood-lore while offering up chapters that are part intimate memoir, part self-help counsel. What I loved about Melissa’s process as a writer is that she doesn’t mind letting readers in. Rather than just dolling out advice, Red Carpet Ready is a journey through growing up in a celebrity family, losing a parent at a young age, going through divorce and embracing single motherhood, all while discovering her own authentic inner voice.
PR.com (Allison Kugel): I read your book and I loved it!
Melissa Rivers: I love hearing that. It’s not what people think it’s going to be.
PR.com: It’s the literal meaning of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” I thought it was just going to be about red carpet fashion, and it’s actually this amazing self-help book that anyone can relate to.
Melissa Rivers: People assume that what they see on the red carpet is who I am. Everyone forgets that it’s a job. People forget that what they see on the red carpet is not me, necessarily.
PR.com: When you first got that job at E!, fourteen years ago, working the red carpet, were you into fashion and celebrity or did you learn to love it because that was what you were doing?
Melissa Rivers: I’ve always loved fashion and I’ve always enjoyed it. The dress that I’m wearing on the cover of my book is one of the dresses that my mom wore to host The Emmys back in the 80s. It’s Bob Mackie. I remember as a little girl, going to Bob Mackie. I remember walking in and there were all of the things for Cher’s show, and this one’s show and that one’s show, growing up backstage in Vegas for so many years, seeing all of the showgirl costumes. I’ve always been very aware of it, and it seemed like an interesting thing to do. But fashion was really secondary. It was more about live event coverage.
PR.com: Why did you choose to refer to both positive and negative moments as “Red Carpet Moments” in your book?
Melissa Rivers: The correlation that I drew is that it’s any time the focus is on you. And it’s not always good. Those are the moments when you really learn.
PR.com: What was the last situation you were in where you felt like all eyes were on you?
Melissa Rivers: God, there’s little moments every day, especially as a parent.
PR.com: I can relate.
Melissa Rivers: Are you a parent?
PR.com: I have a ten month old boy.
Melissa Rivers: I have a boy too!
PR.com: Aren’t they delicious?
Melissa Rivers: They are. And they will always love mommy… until some horrible little bitch comes and takes them away (laughs).
Melissa Rivers: It’s so true! Now you have a better understanding of your mother-in-law. When some horrible woman just like you takes their darling little angel (laughs). My son is nine now.
PR.com: Almost a teenager, sort of.
Melissa Rivers: I can go on and on about things I’m going through. I live with my boyfriend, and the other night they were wrestling, and they do it every night. I was getting out of the shower and I was like, “Ok, time to relax,” and [my son] Cooper was all wound up. They love to torture me; it’s their new thing. I opened the bathroom door and I was really tired, and I was like, “Both of you, enough! Settle down!” My son turned to my boyfriend Jason and says, “Did you hear anything?” And they start laughing and laughing, and they went right on. So, it’s starting! I’m being ganged up on now. But just sniff [your son] now because he smells good. Mine doesn’t smell good anymore when he comes home from school. He smells like a boy now. I went to kiss him on the top of his head the other day and I go, “Do you just find a hill of dirt and rub your head in dirt?” Little boys smell like dirt.
PR.com: At the ten month stage when they are smiling and giggling and have a personality, it’s the best.
Melissa Rivers: Yeah, but then they start moving, and my pediatrician said the first one you can’t wait for them to take their first steps. By the second one you are like, “Please, just slowly.” They’re so much easier when you can just pick them up and move them.
PR.com: Please be a late bloomer (laughs).
Melissa Rivers: He’s starting lacrosse and I had to buy him a cup. You have no idea the drama that sent me into. It usually has to do with something involving school (referring to the last time all eyes were on her). I really like the moms in my class, but for a long time I felt very judged because I was one of the only single parents.
PR.com: When I read that in your book, I was like, “Oh wow, there is someone else.” I feel that in my son’s class because I am the only one who has a full time career.
Melissa Rivers: I think it’s in all of our heads, because I was always a working mom and my ex-husband and I split up when my son was nine months old. My ex-husband is very involved in his life, but I’m the mommy that goes to sports, and I’ve always been very athletic. So I’m out there helping coach the football team, and it took a long time for the other dads to [warm up]. It was like, “Special thanks to coach Alan, coach Bob and coach Melissa.”
PR.com: And when you started talking to the other mothers, did you feel like they actually did embrace you?
Melissa Rivers: There was one mom in particular who took the risk and befriended me. And one mom from our pre-school who went to the same kindergarten, and she was great. But she felt awkward too. I am still not the mommy who can get it together to get stuff to the bake sale. But I’ve turned that into an economics lesson: supply and demand. If everybody supplies, there’s no demand. Cooper did ask me, “Mommy, why don’t we ever make anything for the bake sale?” And I’m like, “Well, because someone’s got to buy it (laughs).”
PR.com: Exactly! Someone’s got to go to work in order to buy it (laughs).
Melissa Rivers: Working moms always end up on these tangents, because we have such universal feelings of guilt.
PR.com: You just do your best every day, and every day one thing falls short and you try to make up for it the next day.
Melissa Rivers: The last professional thing where I felt like all eyes were on me was Golden Globes Fashion Police this year. Going back to E! with my mom being brought back in to host the show and me being brought back in to produce it, after being one of the people who created that show and created that franchise in the first place, and then being gone for so long. I really cut my teeth as a producer at E!, and it was over the course of such a long period of time. Even though I already came in with that skill set, I don’t think anyone ever realized what my contribution was and what I actually did. I came back in the first day, and suddenly I’m producing the show and on the floor. Afterwards, a bunch of people who I worked with since day one at E!, they were like, “Oh my God! You really were producing these shows!” But that whole day I was a wreck.
PR.com: Did you produce the red carpet pre-show and then the recap show the next day?
Melissa Rivers: This time we just did Fashion Police. Originally, I did both, especially at TV Guide Channel. But what was interesting was here were all these people I worked with for so many years and they never [knew]. But that day, Giuliana Rancic pulled me into her dressing room afterwards and threw her arms around me, and was like, “Thank you! I never realized exactly what you did for those shows. That was a joy!”
PR.com: Are you back on board with E! for next year’s awards season?
Melissa Rivers: We’re going to do Emmys this year and then we have already re-signed for next year.
PR.com: What has happened to Sandra Bullock over the past few weeks, going from one of the greatest moments of her life to one of the worst moments of her life in such a short period of time and so publically, what are your thoughts on that?
Melissa Rivers: Jesse [James] and I became very good friends during The Apprentice. I think she is an amazing woman and I think he is an amazing guy. The whole thing to me is so heartbreaking. I’m genuinely upset because I adore them both. I communicate with Jesse much more, and that’s how I got to know Sandra a little bit, was through Jesse. But the whole thing to me is beyond devastating. The thing that really irks me is, who is this woman and why did she come out now?
PR.com: For money.
Melissa Rivers: For money, yeah, but you’re destroying people’s lives. That’s what I find so disturbing about all of this is that they can’t just let them have a nice moment. None of us truly knows what goes on when the front door shuts. We don’t know the ins and outs of their personal relationship. We don’t know what’s considered acceptable or unacceptable. Relationships are private. We all have seen or know people that have understandings, that have been married for a long time. I’m not saying that [Jesse and Sandra] do. I’m just saying that we all know these things.
PR.com: He always struck me as somebody of great character and integrity.
Melissa Rivers: He is, and all of that emotion that was shown between the two of them during this past awards season is so genuine. That doesn’t mean people haven’t made mistakes in the past.
PR.com: So the rumors that their marriage is a sham or arranged for publicity are not true.
Melissa Rivers: I never got wind of that. Jesse is so protective of her. She was in New York part of the time that we were shooting The Apprentice. We had to stop by because he had to pick something up for a task. She came out and everyone was chatting and he caught one of our [camera] guys trying to roll on it, and he flipped! I was texting with Jesse on the red carpet at the Academy Awards. He was so excited and he was so dazzled by her. But I find the whole thing disturbing. Don’t you?
PR.com: Yes. My first reaction was that he ruined her moment. This should have been the greatest moment of her life, and he ruined it for her.
Melissa Rivers: I think that was everybody’s reaction until you start to figure out that this was something that apparently happened something like two years ago. It was when they were making The Blind Side. That was two years ago.
PR.com: Who knows what happened, but it’s not acceptable. And it’s not ok when men flip out because their wives are more successful.
Melissa Rivers: I was watching something on the “Oscar curse,” and someone made a great point on TV saying, “What is it with the Oscar curse and all these women?” Kate Winslet and her husband just broke up. Apparently if you win a best actress Oscar your marriage breaks up, or your relationship breaks up. I don’t think people understand the pressure, the time and the energy it takes to make a movie. That’s why these marriages that do last, there are rules. People don’t make movies at the same time for that reason.
PR.com: As someone who has been in and around this business for a long time…
Melissa Rivers: And who grew up in it…
PR.com: … And grew up in it, do you think that excessive fame and excessive wealth are a good thing that can happen in a person’s life, or a bad thing?
Melissa Rivers: I think it truly can be either. It depends upon the individual person; like they say, “Use your powers for good, not evil.” I think that fame that comes too quickly is dangerous because of the power that comes with it. I look at a lot of these young ones and you see how it’s really hard not to get carried away. I do have some understanding of that. Suddenly you get so swept up and everybody wants to be near you and everybody wants to be your friend, and be close to you. At some point you’ve got to figure out who your real friends are. If you look at Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, they have each other. There will never be any question of, “Does this person really care about me?” They’re very lucky to have each other, which has kept them both relatively grounded.
PR.com: Is that how you feel about you and your mother?
Melissa Rivers: Absolutely. I grew up with all of this happening around me and that gave me a real sense of what really matters and what doesn’t matter, and to continue to be grateful.
PR.com: Has there ever been a time in your life where you felt yourself getting swept up in a sense of entitlement?
Melissa Rivers: No. That was beaten out of me at a very early age (laughs). My father was an immigrant and my mother was first generation American, of two immigrant parents who came from Russia, with nothing. And I am very aware of it with my son.
PR.com: I want to talk a little bit about your dad. You refer to his passing in your book. The experience of losing your father to a suicide, what quality did that give you that you may otherwise not have had?
Melissa Rivers: Well, it certainly taught me that I was capable of surviving. You know that Courtney Love album Live Through This, that came out after Kurt Cobain’s suicide? That’s what I felt like. It was such a disastrous event, and my mom and I had such a huge rift.
PR.com: Who made the first move to reconcile after being estranged from your mother for awhile?
Melissa Rivers: I think we kind of both did. I had some pretty traumatic stuff happen where I had to reach out, and there was a lot I needed to understand and accept. To this day I will say I understand why my mother did what she did, because that’s what she had to do; survive. Do I think some of the things she did were right and some of the things she did were wrong? Absolutely. Would I have made some of the same choices? Probably not. But I came out the other side with a better understanding of her, and that allowed me to accept that. I learned to accept people and what their capabilities are and not what I want them to be. Does that make sense?
PR.com: It makes perfect sense. Instead of conjuring up how you want someone to behave in a given situation, you have to accept the person for who they are.
Melissa Rivers: Not that you can’t expect a lot from people, but you can only expect as much as they are capable of. But that is definitely the lesson I learned from losing my father. Also, that I know I can survive anything.
PR.com: How has the world of celebrity and the red carpet changed since your days working the red carpet pre-shows on E!?
Melissa Rivers: It’s gotten so careful and so controlled. God bless stylists and I’m glad we sort of created an industry, but it’s too careful. There’s a loss of personality. Everybody looks the same. My biggest complaint is the homogenization of it all. There are no more individual personalities. That’s why when someone does stand out it’s because they look like they’re wearing the dress and the dress isn’t wearing them. It’s not something that they got shoved into. At that time it was also lightening in a bottle. It was a time when a lot of the stars were women who were very into fashion, when the red carpets really started to take off. You had Sharon Stone, you had Nicole Kidman, you had these women who were very into fashion and understood it, and appreciated it.
PR.com: When you had gotten married it was a big deal and it was this gorgeous fairytale wedding that everyone talked about. I read everything you said in your book about how your gut was telling you, even to the point where you became physically ill on the morning of your wedding, that it probably wasn’t the right move…
Melissa Rivers: (Laughs) All I needed was a piano to drop from the sky!
PR.com: It’s interesting how your body will actually manufacture an illness. That’s proof that it is really all connected; your mind and your body.
Melissa Rivers: I truly believe in that.
PR.com: At the time was it about you thinking you found the right guy, or was it about having the fairytale wedding?
Melissa Rivers: We had been living together for a really long time and it just seemed like that was the next step. When we got engaged my mom said to me, “You can have the wedding in New York and I’ll take care of everything and deal with everything, or you can have it in L.A., but I’m not going to be able to help as much because I live in New York.” So I went, “Ok, we’ll do it in New York.” In hindsight it’s amazing the emotional disconnect I had. I cared about the band and where my friends got to sit, but even the dress, as involved as I was, I really wasn’t. It was really my mom and Vera (fashion designer Vera Wang). I remember one time we were doing a fitting and I thought the dress needed one less layer of tulle, and they thought it needed two more. Guess who won? (Laughs). Weddings really are not about the bride and the groom. That’s just the reason to have the party. It has nothing to do with the relationship between the two people.
PR.com: I can’t relate to all of that mayhem. I couldn’t care less about any of that stuff.
Melissa Rivers: I have a friend who’s getting married and we’re all like, “Oh my God, she’s gonna be a nightmare!” She’s in her thirties and she is an event planner. So she’s been waiting for this moment her whole life, and even her mom knows to get the hell out of the way.
PR.com: A hurricane is coming though (laughs)!
Melissa Rivers: Oh, you have no idea (laughs)! We’re already all joking that the week of the wedding everybody takes all their prescriptions and throws them into a pile, and we divvy them up over who is having to deal with which situation. That’s our running joke. We’re already like, “Ok, whoever has to be with her that morning gets all the Xanax; Prozac if you get her two days before (laughs).” But I always say, step back and take it all in. And I applied that to The Apprentice. Everybody asked me what I got out of The Apprentice. I always say that for me it was graduate school. It was a master class in producing [television]. I stopped everyday and tried to remove myself from the situation to just look around at what was going on around me, technically. Then being able to watch the show and see the structure of how the show was put together, it was a master class. That’s what I tell people with their weddings. And when you’re having a baby; but you need drugs to be able to take that in.
PR.com: I did it with no drugs.
Melissa Rivers: Are you high!? Why?
PR.com: My mother had natural childbirth and she convinced me I could do it.
Melissa Rivers: My mom told me that too, but you know that’s a great big giant lie. My mom was like, “I didn’t have anything. They gave me one shot of painkiller and that was it.” You know what that shot was? I finally figured it out. They gave them Demerol IV. No wonder they didn’t feel anything (laughs)!
PR.com: I don’t like drugs. They told me I could take Demerol or narcotic painkiller, or the Epidural or Spinal Block. I don’t like narcotic drugs, and no one was sticking a needle into my spine, so I was out of options.
(I actually did get through my labor and delivery with good ol’ fashioned Lamaze breathing, and it actually worked.)
Melissa Rivers: I was all about the Epidural. I had Cooper when Cindy Crawford did the Gurmukh Yoga and everyone was doing the home birth, and my OB gave me a great piece of advice. She said, “In all the years that I’ve delivered babies I have never seen any [baby] turn to the mother after natural childbirth and say ‘thank you.’”
PR.com: If I have another one I’ll go for the Epidural. Natural childbirth once in a lifetime is enough.
Melissa Rivers: I hope you got a “push” gift. If not, you’re owed a big one. Whatever he was going to spend, double it! I tell all my guy friends, “Don’t even think about showing up at the hospital without push gift. And you went natural. Every now and then walk around and wince, and when he asks what’s wrong with you just say, “Oh nothing, just residual pain.”
Melissa Rivers: My next book will be called “Tips For Getting Shit.”
PR.com: That’s funny, and there are so many books that could spin off of this one.
Melissa Rivers: I’m working on a book called “The Big Book of Bridesmaid’s Dresses.” It’s about the good, the bad and the indifferent.
PR.com: Bridesmaids dresses always make for a good punch line.
Melissa Rivers: Always! Someone asked me what it’s about and I said, “I can’t tell, but it’s about something that every woman has had to endure, and no, it’s not sex (laughs).” I am also working on a series called “Melissa Can’t Cook.” It’s for women like all of us who can run billion dollar companies but we can’t put a glue stick back in our glue gun. And secretly, we all really want to be Martha Stewart. Somewhere deep down, we all really do want to be able to make really pretty cupcakes.
Melissa Rivers’s book, “Red Carpet Ready” is now available through The Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. at Amazon.com and at Borders and Barnes & Noble bookstores nationwide.
For more information, visit melissarivers.com.