One of the saddest times in Rivers’s life since I have known her was when her best friend Tommy Corcoran died a few years ago. Rivers spoke to him three times a day and he walked Melissa down the aisle at her wedding. When I ask her about the challenges of getting old she says, “The loss of friends. It’s the thinning out of people with whom you have a history, whom you adore. I feel amazing. I truly feel like I am 25. I walk everywhere. There’s nothing wrong with me. The mind is going better than ever. But I look at my living room at night and I see Tommy and the good times and that just really upsets me. There’s no one to call up. Nobody cares that you got home. That’s horrible. To go into your apartment and nobody cares that you came off the plane very late. And suddenly you develop tremendous attachments to your dogs. And then you know that it’s sick. They are animals and they love me, but it isn’t right to say, ‘My dogs! I’ve got to rush home to the dogs!’ They’ll be just fine without me.” There is a long silence as she looks up to keep the tears from ruining her makeup. “And the other thing with age is that you have no tolerance. You just think, Ugh, don’t. I’ve played this game. You just want to say to people, ‘I’ve been through it.’ ”
After the first day at Sundance, Rivers insists that I move out of my fleabag hotel and into a giant suite that is connected to her giant suite at the Stein Eriksen Lodge. “It’s already paid for,” she says, “and I will only use it to put on hair and makeup.” And so we become roommates for a couple of days.
When we get home at night, and she closes the door between our suites, I can tell she is staying up late. “My day starts when I get home and it’s finally over,” she says. “I take my bath and do my crossword. I call it puttering. I may read a book. I go through The Wall Street Journal, I watch television. I want two and a half hours with no one talking. I went to bed at 4 a.m. last night. I do that every night.”
In the morning, Rivers comes in wearing her nightgown and no makeup, and she and Martyn begin the lengthy beautification routine. At one point in the film, as Rivers is sitting in a chair getting made up for some event, she says to the camera, “It’s very scary when you see yourself totally without any makeup … Oh, it gives me the willies. Who is that person? So, I get up in the morning and the first thing I do is I get into makeup. I was never the natural beauty. No man has ever, ever told me I’m beautiful.” The insecurity is touching, and perhaps a clue as to why she has availed herself of so much plastic surgery over the years.
Rivers has had three big relationships since Edgar. “Spiros was my first one, my Greek shipping tycoon. That lasted four years.” Then there was Bernard, the cheap one. “He wouldn’t get a car and driver. A man who had $150 million. I was standing there in the pouring rain at Lincoln Center and he said to me, ‘You are so spoiled.’ I remember saying to him, ‘If you were an actor, Bernard, and had no money, we would be on the subway and I wouldn’t be saying a word. But you have $150 million, Bernard. And I’m wearing $700 shoes, and this is silly. What are we proving here?’ Bernard carried the ketchup back and forth to the Hamptons. Does that tell you everything?”
And then there was Orin Lehman, of the Lehman Brothers family, who served as New York State’s parks commissioner. He was a World War II hero who was injured in the Battle of the Bulge and had the use of only one leg and walked with metal braces. Rivers was with him for nine years, until she caught him cheating, in 2001, and threw him out. “I was mad about Orin,” she says. “Love of my life. Adored him. People would say, ‘Orin Lehman? Blech.’ Melissa never got what I liked about him. But he was amazing. A gentleman. He was elegant. He got everything. He was so brave. I loved the bravery. That this man walked. He willed himself to walk. I know it sounds strange, but he was very sexy.”
I ask her if she still hopes to meet someone. “Yes, but it’s very hard at this age. The pickings are so slim. I’d love to have somebody. And my terms are: Pay every bill I have and you’ve got to understand that I love my life and I love the theater. Talk about set in your ways. I love what I do, I love how I do it. I have my country house, I have my family, and I have my career. Where are you going to fit in? Call me a week from Tuesday.”