Are Joan Rivers' Jokes Headed to the Smithsonian?

Illustration by: Koren Shadmi

"We would be interested," says a museum director as the late comedian's gag file could join dresses, shoes and a $35 million apartment on the sales block

This story first appeared in the Oct. 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Two months before Joan Rivers' death on Sept. 4 at 81, the legendary comic told an interviewer, "I've said to Melissa, 'Sell anything and everything you don't want.' " Now daughter Melissa Rivers appears to be granting her mother's wishes.

Rivers' $35 million Manhattan apartment — 5,190 square feet of neo-French Classic opulence — is back on the market, where it has been listed off and on since 2009. That and the rest of Rivers' reported $150 million estate has been left to her daughter — with a small fund for her four dogs.

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But that still leaves dresses, shoes, jewelry, photos, awards and other valuables from her five-decade career. Among them is her collection of thousands of jokes, each typed on an index card and filed according to subject. Rivers' publicist Judy Katz tells THR that "no decisions have been made" on the fate of the jokes but says plans will take shape "at some point." Ricki Stern, director of 2010's Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, thinks they should end up where fans can enjoy them: "I'd hope they are held in some kind of museum."

One potential destination is the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, which in 2011 mounted an exhibit around its acquisition of Phyllis Diller's gag file. Says Valeska Hilbig, the museum's deputy director, "We would be interested in discussing her legacy with [Rivers'] family when the time is right." Another possible home is the Library of Congress, which holds Bob Hope's joke collection. A more accessible option would be to scan them and put them online — something Rodney Dangerfield's widow did with his one-liners this year on Rodney.com. "It was a labor of love and continues to be," says Joan Dangerfield.

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But Brian Paco Alvarez, who as former chairman of the Liberace Foundation oversaw the now-closed Liberace Museum in Las Vegas, thinks Rivers' heirs should be more ambitious: "I could see [permanent] exhibits of her life and her comedy," says Alvarez. "And while she didn't leave behind any pianos, man, she has a wardrobe."

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