After what she describes as "a 27-year ban" from appearing on NBC's "The Tonight Show," comedienne Joan Rivers was all smiles Monday when she was one of the famous faces invited to fete Jimmy Fallon for his debut.
Fallon, the new host of "The Tonight Show" replaced Jay Leno after his retirement last month, and had previously featured Rivers, 80, as a guest on his own NBC "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," which aired after "The Tonight Show."
Fallon, 39, has made media headlines for his decision to return "The Tonight Show" back to New York City, where it all began with host Steve Allen and then, Jack Parr. The studio where Fallon tapes the show in New York is the same space he taped his "Late Night" show, which was previously used when hosted by Conan O'Brien, 50, (who included framed photos of Allen and Parr behind his desk when he began hosting duties in 1993) as well as David Letterman, who was behind the desk prior to O'Brien's tenure.
What made Rivers' "Tonight Show" return on Monday even more memorable, is that the date, Feb. 17, 2014, marked exactly 49 years since Rivers first appeared on Johnny Carson's "Tonight" show on Feb. 17, 1965 in the same studio space.
Rivers maintains Carson used his influences at both NBC, and even with his pal Letterman, to ban the comedienne from any late night talk show appearances. Rivers had always credited Carson with launching her career and considered him her mentor. Carson even made her the first permanent guest host for "The Tonight Show," until she angered him striking a deal with Barry Diller to start her own rival talk show on his new Fox network in 1986.
Carson said Rivers had not told him about her decision, until after he was informed by others. Rivers said she had opted to leave NBC at the time only because of rumors of Carson's impending retirement and whispers it would be either Leno or Letterman selected to replace the king of late night talk, rather than a funny female. Carson died at age 79 on Jan. 23, 2005.
After appearances on O'Brien's NBC late night show, Rivers was finally invited to appear on Letterman's CBS talk show on July 22, 2010 (and has subsequently appeared on his show other times, often around Oscars season.)
Greeting Letterman during her 2010 guest appearance, she held a tiny gold compact in her hand to scatter some of her late husband Edgar Rosenberg's ashes under Letterman's desk.
Rivers: "I carry him [Edgar] with me when I appear on late night [talk shows], since, we were banned for so long, I like to tell him: 'Look, we're back.' "
Letterman: "Is there any truth to that Joan?"
Rivers: "Well, look how many times I've been on this [show]? Let's not go there."
Letterman: "Well, we never banned you from being on here."
Rivers: "But I also wasn't booked! And that goes for all late night, including the one who's not even funny. What's his name? Oh, ya...Leno. And darling, he could use help."
Letterman: "But Joan, you left to do your own competitive show, and then you called up Johnny."
Rivers: "Yes, and he slammed the phone down on me and so I called back, and he slammed the phone again, and he never spoke to me again."