Tomlin at the 2014 Kennedy Center Honors
|Birth name||Mary Jean Tomlin|
September 1, 1939 |
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|Medium||Stand-up, television, film, theatre|
|Spouse||Jane Wagner (m. 2013)
(domestic partner, 1971–2013)
Mary Jean "Lily" Tomlin (born September 1, 1939) is an American actress, comedian, writer, singer and producer. Tomlin began her career as a stand-up comedian, and performing Off-Broadway during the 1960s. Her breakout role was performing as a cast member on the variety show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In from 1970 until 1973. She currently stars on the Netflix series Grace and Frankie as Frankie Bergstein. Her performance as Frankie garnered her nominations for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 2015 and 2016.
In 1974 Tomlin was cast by Robert Altman in her first film; her performance as Linnea Reese in Nashville won her several awards and nominations for the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
In 1977, her performance as Margo Sperling in The Late Show won her the Best Actress Award at the Berlin International Film Festival and nominations for the Golden Globe and BAFTA Award for Best Lead Actress. Her other notable films include 9 to 5 (1980), All of Me (1984), Flirting with Disaster (1996), Tea with Mussolini (1999), I Heart Huckabees (2004), and Grandma (2015).
Her signature role was written by her wife (then partner), Jane Wagner, in a show titled The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe which opened on Broadway in 1985 and won Tomlin the Tony Award for Best Lead Actress in a Play. She is also known as the voice of Ms. Frizzle on the children's series The Magic School Bus. She won her first Emmy Awards in 1974 for writing and producing her own television special, Lily. Tomlin won a Grammy Award for her 1972 comedy album This Is a Recording. In 2014 she was given Kennedy Center Honors.
Tomlin was born in Detroit, Michigan, the daughter of Lillie Mae (née Ford; 1914-2005), a housewife and nurse's aide, and Guy Tomlin (1913-1970), a factory worker. She has a brother, Richard Tomlin. Tomlin's parents were Southern Baptists who moved to Detroit from Paducah, Kentucky, during the Great Depression. She is a 1957 graduate of Cass Technical High School. Tomlin attended Wayne State University and originally studied Biology. She auditioned for a play, and it sparked her interest in a career in the theatre and she changed her major. After college, Tomlin began doing stand-up comedy in nightclubs in Detroit and later in New York City. She continued studying acting at the HB Studio. Her first television appearance was on The Merv Griffin Show in 1965.
In 1969, after a stint as a hostess on the ABC series Music Scene, Tomlin joined NBC's sketch comedy show Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Tomlin was an instant success on the already established program, in which in addition to appearing in general sketches and delivering comic gags, she began appearing as the regular characters she created; they became well known and she portrayed them outside of the show in later recordings and television specials:
- Ernestine was a nosy, condescending telephone operator who generally treated customers with little sympathy. Ernestine often snorted when she let loose a barbed response or heard something salacious; she also wore her hair in a 1940s hairstyle with a hairnet, although the character was contemporary. He opening lines were often the comical, "one ringy dingy... two ringy dingy", and, "is this the party to whom I am speaking?" In the sketches, Ernestine was usually at her switchboard taking calls. She occasionally called her boyfriend, Vito, a telephone repair man, or her pal Phoenicia, another operator. PETA's campaign against SeaWorld.
- Edith Ann is a precocious five-and-a-half-year-old girl who waxes philosophical on everyday life, either about life as a kid or things for which she feels she has the answers, although she is too young to fully understand. She often ends her monologues with "And that's the truth", punctuating it with a noisy raspberry. Edith Ann sits in an oversized rocking chair (to make Tomlin seem child-sized) with her rag doll, Doris, and often talks of life at home with her battling parents and bullying older sister, Mary Jean (Lily Tomlin's given birth names). Edith Ann has an oversized, playfully aggressive dog named Buster and a boyfriend named Junior Phillips, a possibly unrequited love. (Only Edith Ann and "Doris" appear in the Edith Ann sketches.) Tomlin voiced her in 2 prime-time cartoon adaptations of the character that aired on ABC in 1994.
- Mrs. Judith Beasley is a housewife and mother from Calumet City, Illinois, who is often chosen for television commercials and offers "good consumer advice". She appears in the film, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, as the lead character's neighbor.
- The Tasteful Lady is a somewhat prudish and prissy, conservatively dressed middle-aged apolitical woman who dispenses advice on gracious living and a life of elegance.
- Susie the Sorority Girl is a blonde collegiate who could be the Tasteful Lady's daughter. Humorless and melodramatic, her biggest worries are the likes of who took her missing album by The Carpenters.
- The Consumer Advocate Lady is a dour, austere woman who rigidly inspects and tests products for their alleged value. The Consumer Advocate Lady is something of a variation of Mrs. Beasley.
- Lucille the Rubber Freak is a woman addicted to eating rubber, whose monologue details her habit from its beginning (chewing the eraser on pencils) to her obsessive rock bottom (eating the tip off mother's cane). Tomlin performed this character as part of her Laugh-In audition.
- Tess/Trudy is a homeless bag lady who accosts theater-goers and various passers-by with her offbeat observations and tales of communications with extraterrestrials. ("They don't care if you believe in 'em or not—they're different from God.")
- Bobbi-Jeanine is a showbiz veteran of the lounge circuit where she sings and plays organ. She often dispenses advice. ("It's not called Show Art, it's Show Business.")
Tomlin was one of the first female comedians to break out in male drag with her characters Tommy Velour and Rick. In 1982, she premiered Pervis Hawkins, a black rhythm-and-blues soul singer (patterned after Luther Vandross), with a mustache, beard and close-cropped afro hairstyle, dressed in a three-piece suit. Tomlin used very little, if any, skin-darkening cosmetics as part of the character, instead depending on stage lighting to create the effect.
'Ernestine' and 'Edith Ann' were by far Tomlin's most popular characters. She occasionally performed as them in various television special programs over the years.
In 1970, AT&T offered Tomlin $500,000 to play her character 'Ernestine' in a commercial, but she declined, saying it would compromise her artistic integrity. In 1976 she appeared on Saturday Night Live as 'Ernestine' in a Ma Bell advertisement parody in which she proclaimed, "We don't care, we don't have to...we're the phone company." The character later made a guest appearance at The Superhighway Summit at UCLA, January 11, 1994, interrupting a speech being given on the information superhighway by then-Vice President Al Gore. She appeared as three of her minor characters in a 1998 ad campaign for Fidelity Investments, which did not include 'Ernestine' and 'Edith Ann.' In 2003, she made two commercials as an "updated" 'Ernestine' for WebEx.
Tomlin brought 'Edith Ann' to the forefront again in the 1990s with three animated prime-time television specials. She published Edith Ann's "autobiography" My Life (1995), co-written with Jane Wagner.
Tomlin released her first comedy album on Polydor Records in 1972, This Is A Recording, an album of Ernestine's run-ins with customers over the phone. The album hit #15 on the Billboard Hot 200, becoming (and remaining as of 2011) the highest-charting album ever by a solo comedienne. She would earn a Grammy award that year for Best Comedy Recording.
Tomlin's second album, 1972's And That's The Truth, a collection of monologues as Edith Ann, was nearly as successful, peaking at #41 on the chart and earning another Grammy nomination. (Tomlin has two of the three top charting female comedy albums on Billboard, sandwiching a 1983 Joan Rivers release.)
Tomlin's third comedy album, 1975's Modern Scream, a parody of movie magazines and celebrity interviews features her performing as multiple characters, including Ernestine, Edith Ann, Judith and Suzie. Her 1977 release Lily Tomlin On Stage, was an adaptation of her Broadway show that year. Each of these albums earned Tomlin additional Grammy nominations.
Tomlin made her dramatic debut in Robert Altman's Nashville, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress; she played Linnea Reese, a straitlaced, gospel-singing mother of two deaf children who has an affair with a womanizing country singer (played by Keith Carradine). The Oscar that year went to Lee Grant for her role in Shampoo. A comedy-mystery, The Late Show, teaming Tomlin with Art Carney, was a critical success in 1977. One of the few widely panned projects of Tomlin's career was 1978's Moment by Moment, directed and written by Wagner, which teamed Tomlin in a cross-generational older woman/younger man romance with John Travolta.
Tomlin soon had the greatest hit of her film career with 1980's 9 to 5, in which she played a secretary named Violet Newstead who joins coworkers Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton in seeking revenge on their monstrous boss, Franklin M. Hart, Jr., played by Dabney Coleman. The film was a huge success and one of the year's top-grossing films. Tomlin starred in the 1981 science fiction comedy, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, a send-up of consumerism, and was the sickly heiress in the comedy, All of Me, opposite Steve Martin.
Tomlin and Bette Midler played two pairs of identical twins who were switched at birth in the 1989 comedy, Big Business. Tomlin also played chain-smoking waitress Doreen Piggott in Altman's 1993 ensemble film Short Cuts, based on stories by Raymond Carver. Tomlin performed in two films by director David O. Russell; she appeared as a peacenik Raku artist in Flirting with Disaster and later, as an existential detective in I ♥ Huckabees. In 2007, a video recording surfaced showing Tomlin and Russell in a heated exchange over the shooting of a scene in Huckabees.
Tomlin collaborated again with director Robert Altman in what would prove to be his last film, A Prairie Home Companion (2006). She played Rhonda Johnson, one half of a middle-aged Midwestern singing duo partnered with Meryl Streep.
Broadway and stage shows
Tomlin was the first woman to appear solo in a Broadway show with her premiere of Appearing Nitely at the Biltmore theatre in April 1977. The same month, she made the cover of Time magazine with the headline "America's New Queen of Comedy". Her solo show then toured the country and was made into a record album titled On Stage. In 1985, Tomlin starred in another one-woman Broadway show The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, written by her long-time life partner, writer/producer Jane Wagner. The show won her a Tony Award, and was made into a feature film in 1991. Tomlin revived the show for a run on Broadway in 2000 which then toured the country through mid-2002. In 1989, she won the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in Chicago theatre. Tomlin premiered her one-woman show Not Playing with a Full Deck at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in November 2009. It was her first appearance in that city, though she did tape an Emmy-winning TV special, a spoof of Las Vegas called Lily: Sold Out which premiered on CBS in January 1981.
Return to television
Tomlin voiced Ms. Frizzle on the animated television series The Magic School Bus from 1994 to 1997. Also, in the 1990s, Tomlin appeared on the popular sitcom Murphy Brown as the title character's boss. In 2005 and 2006, she had a recurring role as Will Truman's boss Margot on Will & Grace. She appeared on the dramatic series The West Wing for four years (2002–2006) in the recurring role of presidential secretary Deborah Fiderer.
In the 2008-2009 fifth season of Desperate Housewives she has a recurring role as Roberta, the sister of Mrs. McCluskey (played by Kathryn Joosten, who coincidentally had played Tomlin's secretarial predecessor on The West Wing). During the 2008 Emmy Awards, Tomlin appeared as part of a tribute to the influential 1960s television series Laugh-In. Tomlin voiced Tammy in the 2005 The Simpsons episode, "The Last of the Red Hat Mamas". Tomlin provided a voice for the film Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, which was released in August 2009.
Tomlin and Kathryn Joosten were in talks to star in a Desperate Housewives spin-off, which was given the green light in May 2009. The series plan was scrapped due to Joosten's illness, a recurrence of lung cancer; Joosten died on June 2, 2012, twenty days after the onscreen death from cancer of her Desperate Housewives character, Karen McCluskey. Tomlin guest-starred as Marilyn Tobin in the third season of Damages and in an episode of NCIS, most notably the Season 9 episode, "The Penelope Papers", playing Agent Timothy McGee's (Sean Murray) grandmother, Penelope Langston. In 2012, Tomlin guest starred on the HBO series Eastbound and Down. Appearing as Tammy Powers, mother of Kenny Powers, the show's main character, Tomlin appeared in three episodes of Season 3.
Tomlin co-starred with Reba McEntire in the TV series Malibu Country as Reba's character's mother Lillie Mae. The series started shooting in August 2012 with a premiere date of November 2, 2012 at 8:30pm ET, but was canceled in 2013 after 18 episodes.
Tomlin stars opposite Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston in the Netflix original series Grace and Frankie. Tomlin plays Frankie Bergstein, recently separated from her husband of forty years (Waterston), while Fonda plays Grace Hanson, recently separated from her husband (Sheen). Grace and Frankie become reluctant friends after learning their husbands are leaving them to be with one another. She received her first Emmy nomination as a lead actress for the role.
Tomlin met her future wife, writer Jane Wagner, in March 1971. After watching the after-school TV special "J.T." written by Wagner, Tomlin invited Wagner to Los Angeles to collaborate on Tomlin's comedy LP record album And That's The Truth. The couple had no formal coming out. Tomlin said in 2006:
I certainly never called a press conference or anything like that. [Back in the '70s,] people didn't write about it. Even if they knew, they would [refer to Jane as] "Lily's collaborator," things like that. Some journalists are just motivated by their own sense of what they want to say or what they feel comfortable saying or writing about. In '77, I was on the cover of Time. The same week I had a big story in Newsweek. In one of the magazines it says I live alone, and the other magazine said I live with Jane Wagner. Unless you were so really adamantly out, and had made some declaration at some press conference, people back then didn't write about your relationship. In '75 I was making the Modern Scream album and Jane and I were in the studio. My publicist called me and said, "Time will give you the cover if you'll come out." I was more offended than anything that they thought we'd make a deal. But that was '75—it would have been a hard thing to do at that time.
Tomlin stated in 2008, "Everybody in the industry was certainly aware of my sexuality and of Jane...in interviews I always reference Jane and talk about Jane, but they don't always write about it."
Tomlin has been involved in a number of feminist and gay-friendly film productions, and on her 1975 album Modern Scream she pokes fun at straight actors who make a point of distancing themselves from their gay and lesbian characters—answering the pseudo-interview question, she replies: "How did it feel to play a heterosexual? I've seen these women all my life, I know how they walk, I know how they talk..."
Tomlin has received numerous awards, including: four primetime Emmys; a special 1977 Tony when she was appearing in her one-woman Broadway show, Appearing Nitely; a second Tony as Best Actress, two Drama Desk Awards and an Outer Critics Circle Award for her one-woman performance in Jane Wagner's The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe; a CableACE Award for Executive Producing the film adaptation of The Search; a Grammy Award for her comedy album, This is a Recording (a collection of Ernestine the Telephone Operator routines) as well as nominations for her subsequent albums Modern Scream, And That's the Truth, and On Stage; and two Peabody Awards — the first for the ABC television special, Edith Ann's Christmas: Just Say Noël and the second for narrating and executive producing the HBO film, The Celluloid Closet.
In 1992, she was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award. Tomlin was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2003 she was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Also in 2003, she was recognized again by Women in Film with the Lucy Award in recognition of her excellence and innovation in her creative works that have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television. In March 2009, Tomlin received Fenway Health's Dr. Susan M. Love Award for her contributions to women's health.
In December 2014 she was one of five honorees for the annual Kennedy Center Honors.
- 1986 Best Actress in a Play, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe
- 1977 Special Tony Award, Lifetime Achievement
Tomlin has won six Emmy awards and a Daytime Emmy:
- 1981 Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series, Lily: Sold Out (ABC)
- 1974 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy-Variety, Variety or Music Special, Lily (1973) (CBS)
- Jerry McPhie, Irene Pinn, Herbert Sargent
- Outstanding Writing—Comedy-Variety or Music Special
- 1974 Lily (CBS)
- 1976 Lily Tomlin (ABC)
- Ann Elder, Christopher Guest, Lorne Michaels, Earl Pomerantz, Jim Rusk, Lily Tomlin, Jane Wagner, Rod Warren, George Yanok, Writers. Additionally, Lily (1973; above), in which she starred but did not produce, won for Outstanding Comedy-Variety, Variety Or Music Special, 1974 Jerry McPhie, Herb Sargent, producers; Irene Pinn, executive producer)
- 1978 The Paul Simon Special (NBC)
- Outstanding Voice-Over Performance
- Daytime Emmy Award
Works and publications
- Tomlin, Lily, and Jane Wagner. On Stage. New York, N.Y.: Arista, 1977. Recorded live at the Biltmore Theatre, New York City. Audio book on LP. OCLC 858894156.
- Wagner, Jane, Elon Soltes, Wendy Apple, and Lily Tomlin. Appearing Nitely. Valley Village, Calif.: Tomlin and Wagner Theatricalz, 1992. Recorded live at the Huntington Hartford Theater in Los Angeles, Calif. Originally produced for television in 1978. Video recording. OCLC 28219227.
- Wagner, Jane. Edith Ann: My Life, So Far. New York: Hyperion, 1994. As told to and illustrated by Jane Wagner. ISBN 978-0-786-86120-0. OCLC 31236871.
- Tomlin, Lily, Jane Wagner, and Anna Deavere Smith. Conversation with Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner, October 25, 1994. San Francisco: City Arts & Lectures, Inc, 1994. Masonic Auditorium. OCLC 743427376
- Wagner, Jane. J.T. New York: Carousel Films, 2000. DVD. Originally broadcast in 1969. Jeannette Du Bois, Theresa Merritt, Kevin Hooks. OCLC 63681705.
- Tomlin, Lily, and Jane Wagner. And That's the Truth. United States: Universal Music Enterprises, 2003. Recorded live at The Ice House, Pasadena, March 1976. Audio book. OCLC 212930925
- Tomlin, Lily, and Jane Wagner. The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. Tarzana, Calif.: Laugh.com, 2005. 1992 HBO television film. A film adaptation of the Broadway play by Jane Wagner. OCLC 63664207.
- Wagner, Jane, Marilyn French, and Lily Tomlin. The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. New York, NY: ItBooks, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2012. Reprint. Originally published: New York: Harper & Row, 1986. Based on the Broadway play written by Wagner starring Lily Tomlin. Includes an Afterword by Marilyn French and Reflections by Lily Tomlin and by Jane Wagner. ISBN 978-0-062-10737-4. OCLC 798732509.
- Wagner, Jane C., and Tina DiFeliciantonio. Girls Like Us. New York, NY: Women Make Movies, 2013. Originally produced as a motion picture documentary film in 1997. DVD. OCLC 843761980.
- "Monitor". Entertainment Weekly (1275). September 6, 2013. p. 25.
- "Lillie M Tomlin - United States Social Security Death Index". FamilySearch. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
- "LilyTomlin>Biography". FilmReference.com. Retrieved March 6, 2009.
- "Mary Jean Tomlin - United States Census, 1940". FamilySearch. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
- Fischbach, Bob (October 1, 2008). "Stage holds the magic for Tomlin". Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved July 29, 2008.
- Duralde, Alonso (March 15, 2005), "Thoroughly modern Lily", The Advocate
- Kelly, Kevin (August 11, 1985). "Lily Tomlin Mysterious Modest and Multifaceted". The Boston Globe. Retrieved July 29, 2008.
- Lily Tomlin at the Paley Center accessed 8-24-2015
- Kelli Bender, "Lily Tomlin Reprises Ernestine Role for PETA's New Ad Blasting SeaWorld," People, 14 April 2016.
- Chambliss, John (January 7, 2010). "Lily Tomlin, Playing Lakeland Next Week, Dishes on Her Act, Sexuality and Retiring". The Ledger. Lakeland, FL. Retrieved October 16, 2012.
- Elliott, Stuart (September 4, 1998). "Lily Tomlin in Madison Ave. debut with Peter Lynch". New York Times. Retrieved October 16, 2012.
- Season 2 Episode 1, September 18, 1976
- Rutenberg, Jim (January 15, 2003). "WebEx to Begin $8 Million Campaign". New York Times. Retrieved October 16, 2012.
- "Chart beat: Katy Perry, Kathy Griffin, Miley Cyrus". Billboard.com.
- Rose, Charlie (16 August 2015). "Grandma: A look at the film "Grandma" with director Paul Weitz and actor Lily Tomlin.". Charlie Rose. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
- Scott, A. O. (19 August 2015). "Review: In ‘Grandma,’ Lily Tomlin Energizes an Intergenerational Road Trip". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
- Murphy, Mekado (19 August 2015). "‘Grandma’ (With Movie Trailer): Paul Weitz Narrates a Scene". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
- "Exclusive News on Ponyo's English Voice Talent Cast". Ghibli World. November 26, 2008. Retrieved November 30, 2008.
- "Wives" Spins, New York Post, May 12, 2009
- Galloping "Girls", New York Post, May 18, 2009
- The Associated Press (21 August 2015). "Lily Tomlin Isn't Buying Her Own Hype". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
- Tomlin, in Shulman, Randy (April 27, 2006). "Lily Tomlin". Metro Weekly (Washington, D.C.). Retrieved January 7, 2014.
- Tomlin in Radosta, Jim (May 30, 2008). "Lily Tomlin Interview". Just Out. Not online. Quote referenced in sources including Kaye, Frank (February 16, 2012). "Lily Tomlin Graces the Stage". Baltimore Gay Life (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland). Retrieved January 7, 2014.
- Smith, Liz (January 3, 2014). "Was life a 'Cabaret' for Bob Fosse? Yes, no, maybe". Tribune Content Agency. Retrieved January 7, 2014.
- Silverman, Stephen M. (January 7, 2014). "Lily Tomlin Marries Jane Wagner After 42 Years Together". People. Retrieved January 7, 2014.
- Takeda, Allison. "Lily Tomlin Marries Girlfriend Jane Wagner After 42 Years Together: "They Are Very Happy," Rep Says".
- "Fall Season 2013: Episode 6 | In the Mixx". Inthemixxshow.com. 2013-10-17. Retrieved 2014-06-29.
- "The Envelope: Entertainment Awards Database" search for Lily Tomlin. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 25, 2011.
- "Lily Tomlin Awards & Nominations". IMDB.com.
- "Lily Tomlin Awards & Nominations". IBDB.
- "Grammy Past Winners Search" for Comedy Album This is a Recording. Grammy.com. Retrieved September 25, 2011.
- "Past Recipients: Crystal Award". Women In Film. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
- "Past Recipients". WIF.org.
- "Women's Dinner Party 2009" (Press release). Fenway Health. March 5, 2009. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
- Brassart, Scott; Maytag, PJ (February 24, 2012). "Honoring Lily and Jane: A lifetime of love and companionship". The BottomLine Magazine. San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. Retrieved October 28, 2012.
- "Award Search". Official Emmy Awards site (search for Lily Tomlin).
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