Joan Rivers' Rise From Rags to TV Retail Riches

Joan Rivers QVC - P 2014
PRNewsFoto/Joan Rivers Holiday Fragrance Collection

Joan Rivers QVC - P 2014

The comedian's QVC partnership, forged in 1990 out of desperation, has pulled in more than $1 billion

This story first appeared in the Sept. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

When Joan Rivers first agreed to develop a collection for a new home shopping channel called QVC, she wasn't just taking advantage of a new business opportunity. She was desperate. It was 1990, less than three years after the cancellation of her short-lived late-night Fox show and the suicide of her husband, Edgar. "In those days, only dead celebrities went on [QVC]," Rivers told the Staten Island Advance in 2004. "My career was over. I had bills to pay."

Rivers originally had been approached by a plastic surgeon and a marketing executive to create a line of skin-care products for QVC. But the plan fell through when the doctor backed out, leaving Rivers with nothing to sell. That's when she suggested reproducing a gift from Edgar, a bee pin. "Joan sold out the bee pin in minutes, and that was the beginning of it," says Michael Karlin, her longtime business manager.

Twenty-four years later, Rivers' QVC sales exceed $1 billion, with the Joan Rivers Classics Collection alone generating $4.5 million in sales annually, making her one of the network's top sellers. "We sold over 6,000 products, and there was not a single product she didn't sign off on," says Joan Rivers Worldwide CEO David Dangle. Rivers actually had to rebound again in 1994, when the company that owned her fashion line went bankrupt. So she bought it herself, re-registering the corporation as JMAM LLC, for Joan, Mine All Mine.