August 6, 1920|
London, Ontario, Canada
|Died||May 13, 1985
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Lung cancer|
Comedy writer for radio and television
Selma Diamond (August 6, 1920 – May 13, 1985) was a Canadian-born American comedic actress and radio and television writer, and is known for her high-range, raspy voice and her portrayal of Selma Hacker on the first two seasons of the NBC television comedy series Night Court.
Life and career
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Diamond was born in London, Ontario in 1920 to a tailor and his wife, but moved at a young age to Brooklyn, New York. She was graduated from New York University and published cartoons and humour essays in The New Yorker before making the jump to radio and, eventually, television. Her earliest radio writing credits included You Bet Your Life, Duffy's Tavern, and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. In 1950, she became one of the staffers hired by legendary comedy writer Goodman Ace (who'd previously hired her for some work on Danny Kaye's short-lived 1940s' radio show) for The Big Show (1950–52), the ninety-minute weekly radio variety program hosted by Tallulah Bankhead and featuring some of the biggest entertainers of the era.
She moved on to television as one of the writers for Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca's groundbreaking Your Show of Shows. Diamond was reputed to have been the inspiration for the Sally Rogers character on The Dick Van Dyke Show, which centered on the head writer for a fictitious, mercurial television comedian. While writing for another Caesar vehicle, Caesar's Hour, Diamond earned an Emmy nomination. She also worked for Goodman Ace once again, writing for Perry Como's successful television series.
Diamond wasn't always taken seriously by her writing peers. Bob Schiller, who had also written for Duffy's Tavern and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, told author Jordan R. Young (for The Laugh Crafters), "The jury is still out on whether Selma was a comedy writer. She was really a very interesting character—salty, and she was—exactly what you saw on camera is what she was." By the 1960s and 1970s, Diamond was familiar as a frequent guest on The Jack Paar Show and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and she made numerous film appearances, including It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (as the unseen telephone voice of Spencer Tracy's wife, Ginger Culpepper), Bang the Drum Slowly (as hotel switchboard operator Tootsie), and All of Me (as Margo). In 1982, she appeared in My Favorite Year with a memorable small role as wardrobe mistress for King Kaiser's Comedy Calvalcade, a fictional show which clearly echoed the time and venue of her work for Sid Caesar. She was also a semi-regular for four seasons of the Ted Knight comedy series Too Close For Comfort. For many years, Diamond resided in a co-op apartment at 60 Sutton Place South in Manhattan until she moved out in the late 1970s. The diminutive Diamond, who was a chain smoker, was one of the original cast of Night Court until she was stricken with lung cancer and died at age 64 in Los Angeles. Coincidentally, her successor playing the female bailiff, Florence Halop, died of lung cancer after one year on the cast of Night Court.