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L E’s Stories – “Make Fun Of Yourself And The Whole World Laughs” – A Tribute To The Comedic Genius Of Phyllis Diller

There are certain personalities that were prevalent during the time that Bone Daddy was recording this video library that I am publishing on our ImaSportsphile web site who simply deserve to be showcased as a significant player in the world of sports, music, comedy and entertainment…..and comedian Phyllis Diller is one of those folks…..for she was truly one of The Queens Of Comedy…..who could do it all…. stand up comedy….comedic skits….comedic and dramatic roles in many films…..and a mentor to female comedians for generations to come….so, today’s L E’s Story showcases the many talents of a wonderful icon of comedy.                                                                                                                                                            

Comedy – 1969 – Phyllis Diller Live Being Politially Incorrect With Skinny Jokes

 

Phyllis Diller (July 17, 1917 – August 20, 2012) was an American actress and comedienn….who was best known for her eccentric stage persona, self-deprecating humor, wild hair and clothes and exaggerated, cackling laugh.  Diller was one of the first female comics to become a household name in the U.S., credited as an influence by Joan Rivers, Roseanne Barr, and Ellen DeGeneres, among others.  She had a large gay following and is considered a gay icon.  She was also one of the first celebrities to openly champion plastic surgery, for which she was recognized by the cosmetic surgery industry.                                   

Comedy – 1978 – Phyllis Diller in The Motorcycle Chase

 

Diller contributed to more than 40 films, beginning with 1961’s Splendor in the Grass. She appeared in many television series, featuring in numerous cameos as well as her own short-lived sitcom and variety show. Some of her credits include Night Gallery, The Muppet Show, The Love Boat, Cybill, and Boston Legal, plus 11 seasons of The Bold and the Beautiful. Her voice-acting roles included the monster’s wife in Mad Monster Party, the Queen in A Bug’s Life, Granny Neutron in The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, and Thelma Griffin in Family Guy.                                                                                                          

Comedy – 1968 – The Dean Martin Show – With Comedian Phyllis Diller At The Bar With Deano

 

After moving to Alameda, California, Diller began working in broadcasting in 1952 at KROW radio in Oakland, California. In November of that year, she filmed several 15-minute segments for the Bay Area television series Phyllis Dillis, the Homely Friendmaker…..when she dressed in a housecoat to offer absurd “advice” to homemakers…..as Diller also worked as a copywriter at KSFO radio in San Francisco….as well as a vocalist for a music-review TV show called Pop Club, hosted by Don Sherwood.                  

Comedy – 1977 – On Location Special – Comedian Phyllis Diller Live in Concert

 

With the encouragement of her husband, Diller made her debut as a stand-up comedian at age 37 in the basement of the San Francisco North Beach club, The Purple Onion, on March 7, 1955. Up until then, she had only tried out her jokes for fellow PTA moms at nearby Edison Elementary School.  Her first professional show was a success and the two-week booking stretched out to 89 consecutive weeks.  Diller had found her calling and eventual financial success while her husband’s business career failed. She explained, “I became a stand-up comedienne because I had a sit-down husband.”                                 

Comedy – 1977 – Phyllis Diller Stand-Up Routine – “Fat Jokes”

 

In a 1986 NPR interview, Diller said she had no idea what she was doing when she started playing clubs…. cuz in the beginning, she never saw another woman on the comedy circuit…..so, with no female role models in a male-dominated industry…..she initially used props and drew from her educational and work background as a basis for satire….while spoofing classical music concerts and advice columns.  She wrote her own material and kept a file cabinet full of her gags, honing her nightclub act. Sid Caesar,  Milton Berle, and Jonathan Winters were early influences….but Diller developed a singular comedic persona….which was a surreal version of femininity. This absurd caricature with garish baggy dresses and gigantic, clownish hair made fun of her lack of sex appeal while brandishing a cigarette holder with a wooden cigarette because she didn’t smoke….while punctuating the humor with a hearty cackle to show she was in on the joke.  At the time, Diller said, “They had no idea what I was. It was like—’Get a stick and kill it before it multiplies!'”

Her first national television appearance was as a contestant on Groucho Marx’s quiz show You Bet Your Life in 1958.  Multiple bookings on the Jack Paar Tonight Show led to an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, which brought her national prominence as she continued to perform stand-up throughout the U.S.            

Comedy – 1969 – The Ed Sullivan Show – Featuring Comedian Phyllis Diller

 

Starting in 1959 and throughout the 1960’s, she released multiple comedy albums, including the titles Wet Toe in a Hot Socket!Are You Ready for Phyllis Diller?, and The Beautiful Phyllis Diller.  In the early ’60s, Diller performed at the Bon Soir in Greenwich Village, where an up-and-coming Barbra Streisand was her opening act.  She was offered film work and became famous after co-starring with her mentor Bob Hope, who described her as “a Warhol mobile of spare parts picked up along a freeway.”  They worked together in films such as Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!Eight on the Lam and The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell, all critically panned, but Boy did well at the box office. Diller accompanied Hope to Vietnam in 1966 with his USO troupe near the height of the Vietnam War.                                                                                                    

Comedy – 1964 – The Bob Hope Comedy Hour – With Dean Martin And Phyllis Diller

 

She appeared regularly as a special guest on many television programs, including What’s My Line? Mystery Guests. The blindfolded panel on that evening’s broadcast included Sammy Davis, Jr., and they were able to discern Diller’s identity in three guesses. Diller made regular cameo appearances, making her trademark wisecracks on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Self-deprecating to a fault, a typical Diller joke had her running after a garbage truck pulling away from her curb. “Am I too late for the trash?” she’d yell. The driver’s reply: “No, jump right in!” She became a semi-regular on The Hollywood Squares, starting in 1967, appearing in 28 episodes until 1980.                                                                                               

Comedy – 1964 – What’s My Line – With MLB’s Clete & Ken Boyer + Phyllis Diller + Sammy Davis Jr

Diller continued to work in film, making an appearance as Texas Guinan, the wisecracking nightclub hostess in Splendor in the Grass. Throughout the 1960’s, she appeared in more than a dozen, usually low-budget, films. She also began a career in voice work, providing the voice of the Monster’s Mate in Mad Monster Party (1967).  Diller also starred in the short-lived TV series The Pruitts of Southampton  in 1966 and1967….which was later retitled The Phyllis Diller Show, a half-hour sitcom on ABC….as she received a Golden Globe nomination in 1967 for her role in Pruitts. Diller hosted a variety show in 1968 titled The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show.

 

Comedy – 1967 – The Phyllis Diller Show – With Guest John Astin of The Addams Family

 

Beginning December 26, 1969, she had a three-month run in Hello, Dolly!….while playing opposite of  Richard Deacon…..as the second to last in a succession of replacements for Carol Channing in the title role….which included Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable and Pearl Bailey. After Diller’s stint, Ethel Merman took over the role until the end of the series’ run in December 1970.  Diller continued working in television throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s…..while appearing as a judge on the premiere and subsequent episodes of The Gong Show…..and as a panelist on the Match Game PM show.  She also guest-starred in The Mouse FactoryNight GalleryLove American StyleThe Muppet Show and The Love Boat…..and between 1999 and 2003, she played roles in 7th Heaven and The Drew Carey Show.                                     

Comedy – 1958 – You Bet Your Life Starring Groucho Marx – With Aspiring Young Comic Guest Phyllis Diller

 

Her successful career as a voice actor continued when Diller guested as herself in “A Good Medium is Rare,” a 1972 episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies. In 1998, Diller provided the voice of the Queen in A Bug’s Life…..and among her other animated films are The Nutcracker Prince in 1990, as Mousequeen….Happily Ever After in 1990, as Mother Nature….and Casper’s Scare School in 2006, as Aunt Spitzy. She also voiced characters in several television series, including Robot ChickenFamily GuyWait Till Your Father Gets HomeCaptain PlanetCow and ChickenHey Arnold! as Arnold’s grandpa’s sister Mitzi, The Powerpuff GirlsAnimaniacsJimmy Neutron as Jimmy’s grandmother, The Wild Thornberrys, and King of the Hill She also played Peter Griffin’s mother, Thelma, on Family Guy in 2006.                                   

Comedy – 2012 – The Smithsonian Institute Present Famous Donors – With Comedian Phyllis Diller

 

Diller had studied the piano for many years and was an accomplished player but decided against a career in music after hearing her teachers and mentors play with much more skill than she thought that she would be able to achieve. She still played in her private life, however, and owned a custom-made  harpsichord.  Between 1971 and 1981, Diller appeared as a piano soloist with symphony orchestras across the country under the stage name Dame Illya Dillya. Her performances were spiced with humor, but she took the music seriously. A review of one of her concerts in The San Francisco Examiner called her “a fine concert pianist with a firm touch.”

 

Comedy – 1969 – The Liberace Show – Featuring Comedian Phyllis Diller

 

 

 

 

 

 

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