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Phyllis Diller Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (2) | Trade Mark (2) | Trivia (33) | Personal Quotes (16)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 17 July 1917Lima, Ohio, USA
Date of Death 20 August 2012Brentwood, Los Angeles, California, USA  (heart failure)
Birth NamePhyllis Ada Driver
Height 5' 1" (1.55 m)

Mini Bio (1)

The indefatigable nonagenarian finally put out an autobiography in 2005 and entitled it "Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse", which pretty much says it all when recalling the misfit life and career of the fabulous, one-of-a-kind Phyllis Diller. It may inspire all those bored, discouraged and/or directionless housewives out there to know that the one-time 37-year-old chief bottle washer and diaper disposer of six started out writing comedy routines for her fellow female laundry mates as a sort of reprieve from what she considered her everyday household doldrums. Little did she know she would wind up an entertainment legend who would share the biggest comedy stages with the likes of Bob Hope, George Burns and Jack Benny.

They said it couldn't be done back then (to be a successful lady comic, that is) but the doyenne of female stand-up did just that -- opened the doors for other odd-duck funny girls who dared to intrude on what was considered a man's profession. Initially, the comedienne whipped up an alter-ego that could have only been created with the aid of hallucinogens. Boldly facing the world as a scrawny, witchy-faced, flyaway haired, outlandishly costumed, cigarette-holding, magpie-cackling version of "Auntie Mame", Phyllis Diller made a virtue out of her weird looks and cashed in on her wifely horror tales and her own idiosyncratic tendencies. Diller's solid fan base has been thriving now for over five decades.

She was born Phyllis Ada Driver on July 17, 1917 in Lima, Ohio to Perry Marcus and Frances Ada (Romshe) Driver. A student at Lima's Central High School, she went on to study for three years at the Sherwood Music Conservatory in Chicago, Illinois, before transferring to Bluffton (Ohio) College where she served as the editor of the school's more humorous newspaper articles. She was a serious student of the piano but was never completely confident enough in her performance level to try and act on it as a possible career.

Before she knew it, Phyllis was married (to Sherwood Anderson Diller at age 22 in November 1939), and had become the mother to a brood of six (one child died in infancy). On the sly, she was an advertising copywriter. During World War II, the family moved to Michigan where her husband found work at the Willow Run Bomber Plant. A natural laughgetter, Phyllis began writing household-related one-liners and the feedback from the fellow wives greatly encouraged her. When the family moved to California for job-related reasons, Phyllis became a secretary at a San Francisco television station. By this time, she had built up the courage to put together a nightclub act. The local television hosts at the station (Willard Anderson and Don Sherwood) thought her act was hilarious and invited her on their show in 1955. Not long after, at age 38, Phyllis made her debut at San Francisco's Purple Onion nightclub. What was to be a two-week engagement was stretched out to more than a year and a half. The widespread publicity she received took her straight to the television talk and variety circuits where she was soon trading banter with Jack Paar, Jack Benny and Red Skelton, among others, on their popular television series. She was even a contestant on Groucho Marx's popular quiz show You Bet Your Life (1950).

Throughout the 1960s, audiences embraced her bold and brazen quirkiness. Chumming up with the best of Hollywood's comedy talent, Diller formed a tight and lasting relationship with Bob Hope, appearing in scores of his television specials and co-starring in three of his broad 1960s comedy films (Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966), Eight on the Lam (1967) and The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell (1968). Diller also joined Hope in Vietnam in 1966 with his USO troupe. She meshed perfectly with the far-out popular cult figures of her era (remember Tiny Tim?) and found the best writers to help her with her material -- Joan Rivers, herself, before she became big, wrote for the wisecracking comedienne.

Phyllis' star celebrity eventually took its toll on her marriage. She separated from and eventually divorced Sherwood (1965), who had, by this time, become a favorite topic and target of her act in the form of husband "Fang". That same year, she married singer, film actor and television host Warde Donovan who appeared with her in the slapstick movie Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady? (1968). They divorced in 1975.

By this time, Diller was everywhere on the small screen. A special guest on hordes of television series and comedy specials and, especially on such riotfests as Laugh-In (1977) and the Dean Martin celebrity series of roasts, she became a celebrity on the game show circuit as well, milking laughs on such established shows as The Hollywood Squares (1965) and The Gong Show (1976). She also had best-selling comedy records to her credit and humorous anecdotes to pitch that made it to the bookstore shelves, such as "Phyllis Diller Tells All About Fang". However, stand-up remained her first love. Perhaps way too broad or too much of a schtick artist to sustain her own television series, she did attempt to find a suitable vehicle but came up short. The Phyllis Diller Show (1966) had Phyllis pretty much pulling out all the stops (fright wig, garish outfits and all) as a wacky widow invariably scheming to keep up a wealthy front despite being heavily in debt. She had the reliably droll Reginald Gardiner and cranky Charles Lane as foils and even Gypsy Rose Lee was in there pitching, but the show didn't jell. Revamped as "The Phyllis Diller Show", several of comedy's best second bananas (John Astin, Paul Lynde, Richard Deacon, Billy De Wolfe, Marty Ingels) were added to the mix, but the show was canceled after a single season. A second try with The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show (1968), a comedy/variety show that had the zany star backed by none other than Rip Taylor and Norm Crosby, lasted only three months.

Seldom has Diller managed (or even been offered) to take her funny face off long enough to appear for dramatic effect. Somewhat more straightforward roles came later on episodes of Boston Legal (2004) and 7th Heaven (1996). Back in 1961, interestingly enough, she made both her stage and film debuts in the dramas of William Inge. Her theatrical debut came with a production of "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" and she appeared first on film in the highly dramatic Splendor in the Grass (1961), lightening things up a bit with a cameo appearance as larger-than-life nightclub hostess Texas Guinan. Phyllis later impressed with her harridan role in the film The Adding Machine (1969) opposite Milo O'Shea. She also enjoyed a three-month run on Broadway in "Hello, Dolly!" with Richard Deacon co-starring, and has appeared in other delightful shows and musicals over time -- "Wonderful Town" (she met her second husband Warde Donovan in this production), "Happy Birthday", "Everybody Loves Opal" and "Nunsense". In 1993, Phyllis was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Her cackling vocals have enhanced animated features, too, what with Mad Monster Party? (1967) and A Bug's Life (1998). It took a heart attack in 1999 to finally slow down the comedienne and she eventually announced her retirement in 2002.

Eldest son, Peter Diller died of cancer in 1998, her third child died at two weeks old in 1945, and a daughter, Stephanie Diller, died of a stroke in 2002. Her other children are Sally Diller, Suzanne Sue Diller and Perry Diller. As late as January 2007, Phyllis made an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (1992). She was set to return on her 90th birthday in July but a back injury forced her to cancel. Hopefully, we have not seen the last of this beloved comedy icon tickles the funny bone whenever and wherever she shows up. Phyllis Diller died at age 95 of heart failure on August 20, 2012 in her home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (2)

Warde Donovan (7 October 1965 - 12 May 1975) (divorced)
Sherwood Anderson Diller (4 November 1939 - 3 September 1965) (divorced) (6 children)

Trade Mark (2)

Mentioning her fictional husband "Fang" in her stand-up act
Her distinctive cackling laugh

Trivia (33)

In 1999, she suffered a serious heart attack. Although not expected to live, Diller recovered well enough to return to the stage for a couple of years.
Received the Women's International Center (WIC) Living Legacy Award in 1990.
She had a total of six children, though only three were still living as of July 2006, including youngest son Perry Diller who has appeared in at least two television documentaries on his mother.
Has had numerous face lifts, a popular topic in her comedy routines.
Briefly served as honorary mayor in the affluent town of Brentwood, California.
Studied at Chicago's Sherwood Music Conservatory for three years before eloping with Sherwood Anderson Diller in 1939.
As of 2000, she had appeared as a piano soloist with 100 symphony orchestras across the United States, including performances in Dallas, Denver, Annapolis, Houston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Cincinnati.
Nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Shame for her recorded version of The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction".
She describes her comedy as "tragedy revisited".
She was a housewife in a San Francisco suburb with five children and an underemployed husband who eventually convinced her to make money with the talent she regularly displayed in PTA skits.
Had a 10-year affair with "the love of my life", lawyer Robert Hastings before his death on May 23, 1996.
Breakthrough came in March 1955, age 37, with debut at San Francisco's Purple Onion club, and career was launched with subsequent appearance on Jack Paar's show. Later got major boost from Bob Hope, who saw Diller in a Washington, D.C. club. She went on to appear in three of Hope's movies and 23 of his television specials.
Her second marriage, to actor Warde Donovan, actually lasted only nine weeks.
Announced her retirement from nightclub/stage tours at age 84. Had pacemaker implanted at age 81. Lives in Brentwood section of Los Angeles, California. [May 2002]
Attended a Las Vegas function on invitation of Wayne Newton, to help celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Stardust Hotel and Casino. [July 2003]
Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy" by Ronald L. Smith. Pg. 137-139. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387
She worked as a copywriter before becoming a comedienne.
Retired from acting and stand-up routine in 2002 at age 84, due to ill health. Continued to lend her voice to animated characters in movies.
In her later years after several cosmetic procedures, she posed semi-nude for spicy pictures proposed to be in Playboy magazine, similar to those published of Joan Collins, to prove that women can still be sexy in their 50s and 60s. The photos were not published in the magazine, but one is included in her autobiography "Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse".
Has a large collection of Waterford Crystal which she has collected over the past 50 years.
Among her five children with Sherwood Anderson Diller were sons Peter Diller (now deceased), Perry Diller and daughters Sally Diller, Stephanie Diller (also deceased) and Sue Diller.
In the mid-1960s, the trademark quirky dresses that she wore during performances were designed by Gloria Johnson of Omaha, Nebraska. Phyllis jokingly referred to Johnson as "Omar of Omaha", as tent dresses were in vogue at the time.
Before Joan Rivers made it as a stand-up comic, she wrote jokes for Diller.
The cigarette with holder that she was famous for using in her stand-up routines in the 1960s and 1970s was only a prop for the act. She was a lifelong non-smoker.
A once highly serious student of the piano, she owns a custom-made harpsichord which she prizes.
Often erroneously attributed with being the mother of Susan Lucci. Although their ages do not preclude this, they are not related.
Diller's career was highlighted in "The Slapstick Queens", by James Robert Parish, published by A. S. Barnes in 1973.
She was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7001 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California on January 15, 1975.
She was awarded a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars on March 8, 2001.
She was awarded a Star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame on May 16, 1993.
She was cremated and her ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean.
Interviewed in "The Great Comedians Talk About Comedy" by Larry Wilde (1968).
Her longtime agent was Fred Westbrook.

Personal Quotes (16)

A stand-up comic is judged by every line. Singers get applause at the end of their song no matter how bad they are.
It's a good thing that beauty is only skin deep, or I'd be rotten to the core.
Always be nice to your children because they are the ones who will choose your rest home.
Aim high, and you won't shoot your foot off.
My house used to be haunted, but the ghosts haven't been back since the night I tried on all my wigs.
"Fang" is permanent in my act of course. Don't confuse him with my real husbands. They are temporary.
I bury a lot of my ironing in the backyard.
I still take the pill because I don't want any more grandchildren.
I once wore a peekaboo blouse. People would peek and then they'd boo.
I never made "Who's Who" but I'm featured in "What's What?".
I realized on our first wedding anniversary that our marriage was in trouble. Fang gave me luggage. It was packed.
Most children threaten at times to run away from home. This is the only thing that keeps some parents going.
Homework can't kill you, but why take the chance?
I love to go to the doctor. Where else would a man look at me and say "Take off your clothes."?
You know, you're old when someone compliments you on your alligator shoes, and you're barefoot.
My timing is so precise, a heckler would have to make an appointment just to get a word in.

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