Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Phyllis Diller: 1917-2012

Phyllis Diller died on Monday at her home in Brentwood, California. She was 95.

Ms. Diller was a comedian who told jokes that piled on the laughs in rapid succession. 
“I realized on our first wedding anniversary that our marriage was in trouble. Fang gave me luggage. It was packed. My mother damn near suffocated!”
Phyllis Diller was born on July 17, 1917, in Lima, Ohio. As a child she played the piano and sang; by the time she got to high school, she also had an interest in writing and dramatics. In 1935, her last year at Central High School, she was voted the school’s most talented student.

She entered Bluffton College in Bluffton, Ohio, with thoughts of becoming a music teacher. She married Sherwood Anderson Diller in 1939.

The Dillers moved to California, where he was an inspector at a Navy air station and later held various other jobs—none, by Ms. Diller’s account, for very long. They struggled financially, even with Ms. Diller working too. She wrote a shopping column for a newspaper and advertising copy for a department store in Oakland, then moved on to a job as a copywriter, continuity writer and publicist for a radio station in Oakland, before joining a San Francisco station as director of promotion and merchandising.

Phyllis Diller made her professional debut at the Purple Onion, a San Francisco nightclub, in 1955. She was soon being booked at nightclubs all over the country, and she became nationally known after several dozen appearances on Jack Paar’s Tonight Show, beginning in 1958.

She was believable as well as hilarious when she talked about her husband, Fang; her mother-in-law, Moby Dick; and her sister-in-law, Captain Bligh. She was so believable that shortly after she divorced Sherwood Diller in 1965, his mother and sister sued her for defamation of character in an effort to keep her from talking about them in her act. She insisted that she was talking about a fictional family, not them, and eventually settled out of court.

Ms. Diller was never really the grotesque-looking woman she made herself out to be; her body, in fact, was attractive enough that when she posed nude for a Playboy photo spread the pictures ended up not being published—the magazine was going for laughs, and decided that they looked too good to be funny.

She became one of the first celebrities not just to have plastic surgery but also to acknowledge and even publicize that fact. By the 1990s she had had more than a dozen operations.

Ms. Diller's network television ventures—The Pruitts of Southampton (1966-67), and The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show (1968)—were both short-lived. She had a recurring role on The Bold and the Beautiful and did voice-over work on various cartoon shows, including Family Guy.

She made a number of films, including three with Bob Hope—Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966), Eight on the Lam (1967) and The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell (1968).

Between 1971 and 1981 she appeared as a piano soloist with one hundred symphony orchestras across the country under the name Dame Illya Dillya. 

She appeared on Broadway, stepping into the lead role in Hello, Dolly! for three months in late 1969 and early 1970. She painted, and wrote a number of books, including Phyllis Diller’s Housekeeping Hints, The Joys of Aging and How to Avoid Them and Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy.

Ms. Diller is survived by a son, Perry; a daughter, Suzanne Mills; four grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

When she appeared in Las Vegas in May 2002, three years after suffering a heart attack, Ms. Diller announced that this would be her last stand-up performance. She stuck to that decision. Her final performance was captured in the 2004 documentary Goodnight, We Love You.

     New York Times   

1 comment:

Kathy said...

I had no idea how hard working Phyllis Diller was, nor how talented in so many areas. She always came across as angry to me.