Phyllis Diller, an irrepressible lady with an outrageous laugh, is recognized as the leading female standup comic in the world today. She has starred on television, in movies, and on stage, and has headlined in venues all around the world as a professional comic. She is approaching her fifth decade in show business.
A late bloomer, she started her career at the age of 37. At the time, she was a working housewife and mother of five children employed at radio station KSFO, San Francisco, as a publicist, newspaper writer and columnist.
Urged by her husband, Sherwood Diller, she prepared a night club act and was booked into San Franciscos Purple Onion. She slithered around the piano, lampooned current celebrities, brandished a cigarette holder and made fun of high fashion and life in general. Her first appearance took place on March 7, 1955. Booked for 2 weeks, she stayed of 89!
She followed this debut by a tour, polishing her act and developing the housewife and daily routines that has made her the high priestess of the ridiculous. She played the Blue Angel in New York and appeared on the Jack Paar Show. From that point her career rocketed. In a scant five years she made it to Carnegie Hall.
Ms. Diller has starred in three television series, countless specials, and has made guest appearances on hundreds of top-rated shows including three segments of NBCs "Blossom" during the 1993-94 season. "I love TV," she says. "Its not my fault if the tubes blow out when I laugh."
Her movie career bean with a brief but memorable role as Texas Guinan, the fabulous nitery owner of the Roaring Twenties, in Elia Kazans "Splendor in the Grass." Since then, shes been in 21 films, including a dramatic role in Elmer Rices prize-winning satire, "The Adding Machine," filmed in London. She recently completed roles in the following films: "Silence of the Hams," (portraying a 90 year old secretary), "Happily Ever After" as the voice of Mother Nature, "West From North Go South," and "Wisecracks," a feature length documentary on women in comedy.
She co-starred with Bob Hope in three films: "Boys! Did I Get A Wrong Number," Eight on the Lam," and "The Private Navy of Sergeant OFarrell." A long time friend, Hope is one of her biggest boosters. She accompanied him on one of his Christmas jaunts to Vietnam. Hope told reporters the wars would have been over in three days if Phyllis had cooked for the enemy. She also appeared on 22 of his TV specials. She calls him "my idol."
Although films and television have been important to her success, Ms. Diller has special fondness for "live" performances. She has drawn capacity crowds to virtually every major supper club and concert hall coast to coast; from Caesars Palace in Las Vegas to the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. Internationally famous she makes frequent appearances in Canada, England, Bermuda, Monte Carlo, and recently completed her 16th tour of Australia. Very few (if any) current celebrities can match that record.
The highlight of her stage career was her portrayal of Dolly Gallagher Levi in the Broadway production of "Hello Dolly!" She returned to the stage in 1988 playing the feisty Mother Superior in "Nunsense" in San Francisco. But equally satisfying have been stints in summer arena and tents, and vast showcases like Soldiers Field in Chicago and Madison Square Garden in New York City.
From 1972 to 1982, Ms. Diller appeared as piano soloist with over 100 symphony orchestras in the US and Canada. Audiences have acclaimed her interpretation of such works as Beethovens Concerto # 1 and various works of Bach. Her piano virtuoso name was Dame Illya Dillya. She has written four best selling books for Doubleday: "Phyllis Dillers Housekeeping Hints," "Phyllis Dillers Marriage Manual," "The Complete Mother," and the most recent, "The Joys of Aging and How To Avoid Them" (all are out of print). These books, and several comedy albums crystallize the famous Diller wit – the housewifes lament about her hair, her clothes, her housekeeping ability, kids, pets, neighbors – the gamut of American suburban life. A poem she wrote entitled "My Prayer" has been set to music by Alvin Mills.
There are many unexpected facets to this vivacious and forthright person. She may, as she says, "Look like a lamp shade in a whorehouse" when she goes on stage but, off stage, Phyllis has one of the most expensive and largest wardrobes in the world.
Ms. Dillers approach to comedy is unique. She writes most of her own material, editing her words so tightly that she can deliver as many as 12 punch-lines per minute. And she strictly avoids off-color jokes and situations, even in todays permissive atmosphere. She works on her act all the time to keep it current.
Phyllis describes her comedy as "tragedy revisited." She "rolls em in the aisles" with jokes about her figure (or lack hereof); the attempts of medical science to make her more attractive; her sex life with her mythical husband, Fang; her face-lifts; her mother-in-law, and her next door neighbor. There is seemingly no particular order to her zaniness, but, simply stated, she is always funny.
In the course of her career, Ms. Diller has won many rewards in recognition of her talent and her patriotic and philanthropic activities. She is a former honorary mayor of Brentwood, California, and received Ph.D. ("Is that an abbreviation of Phyllis Diller?) degrees in Human Letters from National Christian University in Dallas and from her Alma Mater, Bluffton College in Ohio, as well as a Doctorate from Kent State.
In March, 1990 she was named Celebrity Businesswoman of the Year by the National Association of Women Business Owners. In 1991, she broke the 74-year attendance record at the St. Louis Muny Opera where she appeared as the Wicked Witch in "The Wizard of Oz." In 1992, she received the Lifetime Achievement at the televised Annual Comedy Awards. She was given the 1993 Lifetime Humor Award by the National Humor Institute.
She is the recipient of a recent award from the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery for "the tremendous breakthrough in acceptance for our field, when she was the first person to have the courage to proclaim her surgery and show her results publicly."
Other honors include the Golden Apple from the Hollywood Womens Press Club as most cooperative actress; the USO Liberty Bell Award "for demonstrating concern for the welfare and morale of our armed forces"; and in 1981 she received the AMC Cancer Institute Humanitarian Award and was inducted into the Ohio Womans Hall of Fame for her contribution as entertainer, author and actress. She was featured on Ralph Edwards "This Is Your Life" in 1971 and has her own star on Hollywood Blvd.
Born Phyllis Driver in Lima, Ohio, on July 17, 1917, Ms. Diller was an only child of older parents. She graduated from Central High School in 1935 and studied at Sherwood Music Conservatory in Chicago for three years. Music studies continued at Bluffton College in Bluffton, Ohio, where she met her first husband, Sherwood Diller.
Car buffs and automotive editors might be interested in Phyllis Dillers four cars – a custom made Checker Wagon, circa 1967; an Excalibur 1927 Mercedes Phaeton (red); a 1959 Silver Cloud Rolls Royce; and a 1971 Mercedes Sedan (SL 200).
Ms. Diller lives in a large, English style home in Brentwood Park, Los Angeles. Also, there are her assistants who are kept busy with correspondence, travel arrangements and thousands of requests from fans. "The place used to be haunted," she says, "but the ghosts havent been back since the night I tried on all my wigs," she cracks with the raucous laugh that has become the trademark of both her humor and her humility.
The real Phyllis Diller is quite different from her stage persona, though both share a rare good humor, warmth, and a love of people. Properly coifed and dressed with flair, she is a fabulous cook, a gifted painter and a devoted mother and grandmother. In spite of her youthful appearances, she continues to kid herself about ugliness, skinniness, ineptness and just about every defect a woman can have.