In "Last Girl Before Freeway," veteran entertainment writer Leslie Bennetts delves into the tumultuous and fascinating life of the late Joan Rivers. It's a juicy, intimate biography of a performer whose career spanned 60 years. Bennetts spoke to FOX411 about the caustic comic who died in 2014.
FOX411: Why did you choose to write a book about Joan Rivers?
Leslie Bennetts: I've been at this business for a very long time and I have got to say in my entire career, which has spanned many decades, I have never encountered a subject more complicated, fascinating, infuriating, hilarious, heartbreaking and just plain compelling as Joan Rivers. She's an unbelievable subject.
FOX411: What made her complicated?
Bennetts: When she started her career, comedy was a boys’ club, very hostile to women and as we all know she broke down many barriers for women and helped to create new opportunities for women but Joan Rivers grew up with a lot of old-fashioned double standards. While she made jokes about them in her stand-up comedy she also suffered terribly because of them. She always felt like women are totally judged on their appearance, there are double standards about age and opportunity and pay and so many other things.
Yet the contradictory thing about her was even though she suffered from all these prejudices she also became one of the toughest enforcers of them. She was doing slut shaming and fat shaming of other women in her comedy before those terms were even invented. She was an incredible pioneer and yet she refused to call herself a feminist. Joan said if she was branded a feminist, "I can see those ticket sales flying out the window."
The other thing about her life story that is so unbelievably compelling is I'm not sure I can think of another life story that has the extreme highs and lows. She was queen of comedy, she was at the top of her world, she'd made a fortune, she had everything she wanted in life and then in mid-life she was completely ruined. Her husband killed himself, her career was destroyed, she found out she was $37 million in debt. She lost everything and that was at an age when people don't usually recover. She was in her mid-50's. The amazing thing about her is that she not only made this incredible comeback in comedy and went out on top at 81 having shown no signs of flagging but she also built a billion dollar company in her 60's and 70's. Her company where she sold jewelry and clothing on QVC. This was a woman who always thought you had to have a husband to handle her financial affairs and yet she became a CEO when she was a senior citizen. It's very dramatic and it's very inspiring.
FOX411: She really was a survivor.
Bennetts: Oh my gosh she had this motto, never give up, never quit. She's a role model for anyone who's up against any kind of challenge in their life.
FOX411: What do you think she would have made of Donald Trump’s candidacy?
Bennetts: Somebody said to me that it's a shame she's not here because she would have gone to town on doing comedy about this. I don't think she would because she didn't really do political comedy. Her former manager said she idolized Donald Trump because he had a lot of money and she worshiped money. She certainly would have liked to be a billionaire too and he gave her that show ("Celebrity Apprentice") which was a turning point in making her a hot commodity again in the entertainment industry when she won. I don't know. She didn't identify as a feminist. She might well have supported Donald Trump but I don't know. Even though she was very right-wing in a lot of her politics she confided to a friend that she had voted for Obama last go-round. She was very contradictory and very unpredictable in most areas of her life.
FOX411: Have you been in touch with Melissa?
Bennetts: I've been in touch with Melissa since the beginning. She's been extremely supportive. I've sent the book to her and the last I heard was she hadn't read it yet but she's been terrific to me.