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JOAN RIVERS: SHE’S MUCH HAPPIER WITH HER NEW TV IMAGE

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Will the real Joan Rivers stand up?

Word is that this 56-year-old Phi Beta kappa graduate of Barnard College is privately a studious, retiring intellectual who devours three or four books a week is especially fond of histories."Yeah," she acknowledged, "I read history. But it doesn't make you nice. Hilter read history, too."

She said her "new" TV image partly reflects her state of mind.

"I'm coming out of a very bad stage."

Ms. Rivers is back before the public as well, hosting "The Joan Rivers Show," the nationally syndicated talk show launched by Tribune Entertainment seven months ago.

Some people would call that the "old" Joan Rivers, remembering the high-octane motor-mouth who did gleeful wheelies all over Liz and Cher and Bo on "The Tonight Show" and, briefly, her own "Late Show" on the then-fledgling Fox Broadcasting Newwork.

On her new show, Ms. Rivers is merrier and less manic, a midly sarcastic, big sister. The blonde switchblade has become a butter knife.

Day-to day working conditions also are a factor.

"I'm not being beaten up off-stage," she said. "At the Fox show, you'd come off and there'd be 12 people screaming at you. Here I'm working with people that like me and that I like. Obviously, it's going to show if I'm a performer. You can't work in an environment hwere you're unhappy and not have it show up."

Whiel the personality she exhibits on the talk show is closer to the private Joan Rivers, she said the other Joan Riers in not just an act. It's a facet.

"We're all so many different personalities. The late-night personality was much more caustic and much wickeder, if that's a term to use, because it's late night. Daytime is a softer time of day, and you just react differently.

"My style has changed," she said. "In the beginning, I started with Woody Allen - I'm a very good friend - and I was called originally the femal Wood Allen.

"You just evolve. If you work every night at something, whether it's painting or performng or whatever, obivously it's going to change. It's going to evolve into something different from what it started as years ago.

"You should change. I hope my style keeps changing. I hope 10 years fro now I'll say,'... she's different. She's grown."

If Ms. Rivers doesn't evolve, it won't be for lack of work. In addition to her daytime show, she also does nightclub work and benefits. And she recently completed a CBS movie called "Bad Times in Beverly Hills" (in which she has the starring role) and has another CBS movie in develoment for which she wrote the story.

"If I can continue to work... that's wonderful," she said. "If not, you'll see me at the Holiday Inn. I don't like to sit around. I'm not one of the ladies who lunch. My daughter and I were laughing. She's always going to be saying to her children, `Grandma's on the road."'