The late Joan Rivers was many things—a trailblazing comedian, a fastidious filer, an acerbic critic of Hollywood fashion—but not many knew her as a history buff (beyond, perhaps, her often joking that she was older than dirt). And as she once gushed in a piece for the Daily Mail, for all of her expensive tastes, one of her most beloved vacation spots was Colonial Williamsburg.
"My favorite place in the world is my plastic surgeon's office, of course," Rivers wrote. "But I also adore Williamsburg in Virginia. It's tiny and magical and so nicely preserved."
Colonial Williamsburg is known as the world's largest living history museum. It's part of Virginia's "Historic Triangle," which also includes Jamestown and Yorktown—all important centers in the early years of the American colonies. Actors in full 18th-century regalia greet visitors, give talks about life in the revolutionary days, and put on demonstrations of everything from loading and firing muskets to cooking lessons in the Governor's Palace kitchens. Rivers first visited the town as a child—"which tells you how old Williamsburg is" she joked to the local newspaper, the Williamsburg-Yorktown Daily—and honeymooned there in 1955 with her first husband.
Rivers said in the Daily Mail that she often liked to go for a few days around Christmas, and she turned her December 2011 visit into a girlfriend getaway. Joining her were two longtime friends: New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams (close "since the day they first met, in 1847," Joan's daughter Melissa Rivers wrote in her tribute book to her mother), and Judith "Judge Judy" Sheindlin. "Another reason I love Judge Judy," Rivers joked in her book Diary of a Mad Diva, "She's worth $150 million. When I ask her if she wants to go on vacation with me to Tahiti, she never has to say, 'Let me check my budget,' because she owns Tahiti."
The trio stayed at the luxury Williamsburg Inn, the kind with sunken marble bathtubs, chandeliers, and cozy afternoon teas by the fire (past guests include Shirley Temple, Queen Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill, and John Travolta). Rivers had her hair done every morning in her bedroom by a local stylist she'd pre-booked while Judge Judy pecked away at her iPad "alongside … a 1773 portrait of whoever Thomas Bolling might've been," Adams reported in her column the following week.
Then, the women went out to see the sites. "We were three tough New Yorkers out to have a good time," Rivers told the local Daily Press. "What didn't we do."
They began with a horse-drawn carriage tour of Colonial Williamsburg led by a private Revolutionary City guide. "Trotting about we saw fifes, drums, muskets, blacksmiths … ladies in frill bonnets, white aprons … flags from the Mother Country and Brit street names," Adams ticked off in her Page Six column. "Enough to make future Queen Kate Middleton whimper: 'This place could've been ours.'"
Judge Judy tested out the high court judge's seat at the 244-year-old Courthouse, where crimes like petty theft and skipping church were tried, while Rivers did a little Fashion Police-ing of the costumed interpreters doomed to frumpy petticoats: "Lose the apron and just look fetching!" she quipped.
Adams, for her part, was entranced by the elaborate hairstyles … of the men. "Fie on powdered wigs because males were as bald as billiard balls. It was because they were stylish," she wrote. "Fashion was to shave one's head. The richer the dude the jazzier his toupee. Maidens in ye days of yore were attracted by the size of a guy's ringlet."
And like any group of longtime friends, they spent plenty of time just enjoying being together and catching up. "I felt sorry for everyone around us because all we did is laugh," Rivers said of their dinners at the local taverns.
"At Christmas [Williamsburg is] heaven," a wistful Rivers later recalled. "No cars are allowed and you've got the snow and the carol singers, the candlelight, the whole American thing. It may not be everybody's cup of tea, but it suits me."