Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Phyllis Diller -- Happy 90th Birthday !

The first solo female stand-up comedienne I ever saw perform was Phyllis Diller in the 1950s. She had a somewhat outrageous appearance, offered a humorous perspective on life, that resulted in almost automatic laughter from her audience. Her jokes were often accented by her own "deep throaty laughter." She is thought by many to be "...a pioneer of female stand-up comedy" as noted HERE where you can read more about her and see a most recent picture taken in February 2007.

You'll read of her many movies, television shows, other talents, including the fact "Phyllis Diller has appeared as a piano soloist with 100 symphony orchestras across the country..." She, also, often performed with one of her favorite comedians, Bob Hope, entertaining our military troops on USO tours around the world.

She elicited many laughs describing life, including family interactions, sometimes portraying a fictional version wife and mother. She created characters many thought to be actual people, such as her husband "Fang." She said, even her real eventual ex-husband wanted to be thought of as Fang.

Some of her one-liners can be read at BrainyQuote including these about being old:

"You know you're old if they have discontinued your blood type."

"You know you're old if your walker has an airbag."

I have continued to enjoy her humor through the years. I don't recall being aware of any solo female stand-up comics until she came on the scene. The fact that she came from my home state at the time, and a city not too far from where I was living, pleased me that "local gal makes good."

She was appearing at a rather exclusive local supper club, Danny Deeds' The Maramor, where celebrity stars generally performed when they made appearances in our city when I saw her. I was elated when she agreed to make a guest appearance on the local live TV show with which in earlier posts I have mentioned my association. Subsequent years she usually made a guest appearance whenever she was performing in town.

I was always impressed with her manner as she had achieved international star status by that time, but made no pretense at being other than her ordinary self. She always arrived promptly at our studios unaccompanied, unlike some entertainers who came with a large entourage. She had the taxicab driver wait for her, then left after her appearance, equally unobtrusively.

Our station did not provide the luxury of a special room in which guests could relax with beverages and treats prior to their appearances, unlike television networks' "Green Rooms," but she didn't protest. Instead she was ushered into our other smaller studio that wasn't in immediate use. Each time she appeared, off camera she was very genuine, unassuming, friendly, what is sometimes characterized as down to earth. She often engaged in entertaining banter, likely as warm-up for her appearance, with any of us present, along with some of our technical staff who managed to find some excuse to come into the studio where we were.

Once she was on camera her quick repartee' followed by her loud laughter had our cast, studio audience and staff joining along with her. Our at home audience likely was infected with that same raucous laughing reaction as we were.

You can hear her laughter and comments by listening to an NPR "Weekend Edition" audio interview with Scott Simon, see several video excerpts from a documentary, "Goodnight, I Love You," and learn about her book Like A Lampshade In A Whorehouse.

One feature in her comic routines often made reference to her eccentric looking appearance. Her hair standing straight out from her head, looked as though it was electrified. She often humorously belittled her own facial features, especially her nose, not unlike the attitude of many women toward their bodies. Truth be known, some women probably responded with laughter to this self-deprecating humor as did I. Even then the worship of youth, facial and body perfection features was, and has continued to be promoted as the appearance to be emanated for all women at whatever the cost.

How refreshing it had been to see a woman overcome that idea by becoming a star, a celebrity, loved by many men and women world-wide. She went out of her way to not adopt the desired perfect appearance, or even try to approximate it. On some level, I always thought that was part of her attraction, certainly a focus of her humor.

I must admit to thinking she just might have let down all those women when some years ago I read that she had undergone plastic surgery to "correct" those "flaws" about which she had for so long humorously lamented. I suppose there are several ways in which to view her actions. For some women I expect they shared the same disappointment I felt that the face with which she had achieved stardom, at a level beyond that which many of near-perfect sculpture never acquire, had been rejected.

On the other hand, she was at least characteristically honest and forthright as she well should have been. Her appearance was altered, so to deny she had surgery as so many do, would have been unbelievable. She did receive recognition for her public revelation as noted in this biographical quote with picture HERE:
"She was recently honored by the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery for having the courage to publicly bring plastic surgery "out of the closet." A 2007 photo of her is HERE.

One other view on the pros and cons of cosmetic surgery is that her body is her own, she earned the money her surgery cost, therefore she is fully entitled to do as she pleases. That's certainly a philosophy I support, that a woman's body is her own, as is the right to make decisions about the welfare of that body.

Still, I think there are wider implications impacting health care, cosmetic surgery and all who are aging as we all are. Some thoughts well worth considering have to do with the effects of perpetuating the youth-look as the ideal over a natural aging appearance. Regrettably artificially acquired youth-seeking looks may magnify adverse attitudes in our society toward aging. I have expressed my personal view on that topic in archive post (11/16/06) "Redhead Aging Naturally".

I respect Phyllis Diller's right to make the choice she did for her own cosmetic surgery. I continue to laugh at most of her jokes. I think she was a ground-breaking entertainer whose feat should make all women proud. I speak of her in the past tense as an entertainer, only because she is retired though she is obviously alive and well. I envy those lucky friends and family around her that I'll bet she continues to regale with her special humor.

Happy 90th birthday, Phyllis Diller ... and many more !

Here's a news item link I just located HERE. Seems we need to send a "Get Well" wish to Phyllis Diller, too, because she injured her back.


  1. I loved Phyllis back in the 50's and 60's. I remember the first time I saw her play the harpsichord, and how impressed I was. It showed her as a person with several talents, not just comedy. Happy 90th, Phyllis!

  2. I was also a Phyllis Diller fan. It hurts to think she's now 90 years old.

  3. I loved the routine she did about stuffing the turkey for Thanksgiving. She was putting the stuffing in the turkey's mouth with eyebrow tweezers and didn't get done in time for Thanksgiving so decided she would shoot for Christmas. So she put the turkey in the refrigerator ,kept it as a pet and threw it food every once in a while.

    You really made me laugh and I love you ,Phyllis

    Happy 90th Birthday!!!!!!

  4. This was a great post -- thanks for an insider's visit with one of my favorite entertainers.

  5. Thanks, Jo! I love her, too! We Ohio women gotta stick together! She's a unique woman!

  6. She was on 'The View', a few months ago and was as funny as ever....She is also in that film, "The Aristocrats'....To see it is to believe it...LOL!
    She certinly was a true pioneer and is STILL an inspiration...! I wish her well and I hope she recovers quickly from this unfortunate back fracture...Not easy at 90 years old.
    A lovely tribute, Joarad.....

  7. What a walk down memory lane. Great look-back. Diller was a piece, wasn't she? She is part of our past.

  8. Phyllis was truly one of a kind...an original. Happy 90th Phyllis...bless her 'cigarette-holder' heart.

  9. Phyllis Diller 90? Doesn't seem possible.

    She is such a funny lady.

  10. My husband and I were at Ceasar's Lake Tahoe in the 90's to see Kenny G. As we walked in to the lobby we saw that Ms. Diller was having an art display and we zipped right in there. We were dressed very nicely for the show and looking around when suddenly behind me was Ms. Diller herself. She was TINY and smiling and she introduced herself. Just as I was about to introduce my handsome husband to her ... she hilariously pushed me to the side and walked right to him and said, "And ... who are youuuuu?" We laughed and she was just lovely. If you have never been close to Ms. Diller - she is about the tiniest person I have ever met - her hands are child-like but elegant and her smile was electric. My husband was very flattered by the way. What a nice surprise. Besides that - she was exhibiting beautiful, beautiful paintings there. The Kenny G concert was fine - but meeting Ms. Diller was a hoot!!!

  11. hey mo: Thanks for adding your interesting experience to the comments. Hope you make it back here and see this response as I was unable to link to your blog. The link when I clicked on your blog name tells me only that yours is a new blog started in July '08. Welcome to the blogosphere!

  12. HAPPY BIRTHDAY Phyllis!

    I've seen some of her routines on videos, ones they couldn't show on television, and have NEVER laughed so hard in my life! She's one heck of a woman!

    YOU are a true BLESSING to this life!