Joan Rivers Grew Up On This Block in Brooklyn


Joan Rivers, who died yesterday at 81, grew up in Brooklyn. She was born in Brooklyn in 1933 as Joan Alexandra Malinsky. This is the corner where she spent her childhood in Crown Heights, at New York Avenue and Eastern Parkway, before her family moved to Larchmont.

Rivers was one of New York’s patron saints, like Lou Reed or Joey Ramone, one of the great die-hard New Yorkers. She went to Barnard College on the Upper West Side. When she died, she was living in her condo on East 62nd Street, near Fifth Avenue. We were tipped off by the location of Rivers’ childhood home by a little remembrance of New York that ran on Vulture, in which Rivers rhapsodized about BamCinematek and attempting to door Citi Bike riders:

The first time I was in the city I was about 13, and I went in with a friend to see Where’s Charley? with Ray Bolger. I just wanted to get out and get going. Home was Brooklyn, New York. Eastern Parkway and New York Avenue, which was known as Doctor’s Row. All doctors, so it was great to get sick. It was wonderful. We were right off of Eastern Parkway, which was all leafy and green. Everybody knew everybody. It was a terrific place. You could ride your bike. You were totally safe.

But New York was the magic city. New York was where you took the subway in and you came out and you were either in Times Square or you were on Fifth Avenue. New York was Oz. All I wanted to do was get out of Brooklyn and get into Oz. All I wanted to do was find that Emerald Road, the Emerald City, the Yellow Brick Road. That’s all I wanted.

So I decided to do a little pilgrimage. The corner where Rivers grew up is still full of stately homes and brownstones. It’s just a few avenues down from Franklin Avenue, where new restaurants and bars and cafes and yoga studios are opening at a frenzied pace. In the time since she roade her bike down Eastern Parkway, the neighborhood has changed over and over again, that endless cycle of metamorphosis we all know well. But you can imagine it, the leafy boulevard, the concerned parents, the little creaky bike.

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Farewell, Joan. Brooklyn will miss you.




  1. With all due respect to Joan and her fans:
    She made me laugh yes, but…to my mind, Joan was just someone who – after her initial success- turned into yet another arrogant /rich elitist —while masquerading as an free-thinking iconoclast.
    Below are some of Joan Rivers demeaning comments in New York magazine, ridiculing and demeaning the Occupy Wall Street protests:
    So how does she feel about Occupy Wall Street, in general? “I think Occupy Wall Street was terrific the first week, and it has now turned into a very happy druggy party. I suggest they all get jobs and go back to work,” she responded. “What was an amazing and wonderful thing, I now find just ridiculous. Everyone’s on drugs and everybody’s singing, and they now have a DVD out, and now they want to do a reality show.” Any fashion advice for the protesters? “Wash, rinse, and repeat.”

    • Joan was pointing out something nearly all people acknowledge about the Occupy movement – that after the initial surge, it floundered a bit trying to find its message, coherent leadership, and purpose among the many people who joined; some of whom WERE there to live out their hippie fantasies of doing drugs and sleeping in public places to defy the “man” instead of trying to effectuate real social change. It’s a joke about one aspect of something that really happened (which is basically the definition of comedy), not a dissertation on the many complex facets of the Occupy movement. Lighten up.

    • Occupy Wall Street was an ugly, disrespectful movement of selfish losers.

      They took over a public space for themselves, making it unavailable for use by the general public for months, including office and construction workers who couldn’t relax and eat lunch there. Their drum playing disrupted the sleeping and dining habits of local residents.

      Local very small vendors, including Sam’s Falafel, lost 70 percent or so of their revenue for a long period. I asked them – this is is not second hand info.

      A small restaurant allowed the Occupy people to use the bathroom. They repaid his kindness by vandalizing it. The restaurant closed weeks later, as normal people avoided the area.

      The Occupy people were the scum of the earth, who did no good, and much harm. May they drop dead next Tuesday at 9am.

  2. Thank you for this piece. I remember that block from the doctors my family went to in the 1950s and early 1960s. My mom saw a Dr. Uviller there, and a couple of doors down was my eye doctor, a scary German woman who told me that reading the little letters in Hebrew in Hebrew school was bad for my eyes and that reading too much in English even was bad for my eyes. (I thought she was a Nazi but in retrospect I imagine she was a Holocaust survivor.) My own pediatrician was on Eastern Parkway, but at Turner Towers across from the Brooklyn Museum — which he told me he had never once gone into into his life. I saw him till he retired in 1969, when I guess it was stupid to be driving to my pediatrician anyway. Eastern Parkway from Grand Army Plaza to Kingston Avenue and the neighboring streets were filled with doctors in those days. The houses like the ones above originally belonged to the “alrightniks” (see Alfred Kazin’s memoir, “A Walker in the City”) — which is what the Jews of Brownsville called the wealthy, assimilated Jews of Crown Heights. I have recently sublet on Nostrand, near Eastern Parkway, and I think it’s always been a beautiful place.


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