|This article needs additional citations for verification. (October 2013)|
Diller on February 25, 2007
|Born||Phyllis Ada Driver
July 17, 1917
Lima, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||August 20, 2012
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Natural causes|
|Alma mater||Bluffton College|
|Occupation||Stand-up comedian, actress, voice artist|
|Known for||The Pruitts of Southampton
A Bug's Life
The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
|Spouse(s)||Sherwood Anderson Diller (m. 1939–65)
Warde Donovan (Tatum) (m. 1965–75)
|Partner(s)||Robert P. Hastings (c.1985–96; his death)|
Phyllis Ada Driver (July 17, 1917 – August 20, 2012), better known as Phyllis Diller, was an American stand-up comedian, actress, singer, dancer, and voice artist, best known for her eccentric stage persona, her self-deprecating humor, her wild hair and clothes, and her exaggerated, cackling laugh.
Diller was born Phyllis Ada Driver in Lima, Ohio on July 17, 1917, the only child of Perry Marcus Driver (June 13, 1862 – August 12, 1948), an insurance agent, and Frances Ada (née Romshe; January 12, 1881 – January 26, 1949). She had German and Irish ancestry (the surname "Driver" had been changed from "Treiber" several generations earlier). She was raised Methodist. She attended Lima's Central High School, then studied piano for three years at the Sherwood Music Conservatory of Columbia College Chicago before transferring to Bluffton College, where she met fellow "Lima-ite" and classmate Hugh Downs.
Although she made her career in comedy, Diller had studied the piano for many years. She decided against a career in music after hearing her teachers and mentors play with much more skill than she thought that she would be able to achieve. She still played in her private life, however, and owned a custom-made harpsichord.
Diller began her career working at KROW radio in Oakland, California in 1952. In November of that year, she began filming a television show titled Phyllis Dillis, the Homely Friendmaker. The 15-minute series was a Bay Area Radio-Television production, directed for television by ABC's Jim Baker. In the mid-1950s, while residing in the East Bay city of Alameda, California, Diller was employed at KSFO radio in San Francisco. Bill Anderson wrote and produced a television show at KGO-TV called Pop Club, which was hosted by Don Sherwood. Pop Club was a live half-hour show that combined playing records with "experts" rating them, and dancing girls encouraging audience participation. The show was an early advertisement for Belfast Root Beer, the show's main sponsor, later known as Mug Root Beer. Anderson invited her onto his show on April 23, 1955, as a vocalist.
Diller first appeared as a stand-up at The Purple Onion in San Francisco on March 7, 1955, and remained there for 87 straight weeks. She appeared on Del Courtney's Showcase on KPIX-TV on November 3, 1956. In the mid-1950s, she made appearances on The Jack Paar Show and was a contestant on Groucho Marx's quiz show You Bet Your Life. After moving to Webster Groves, Missouri, near St. Louis, in 1961, Diller honed her act in St. Louis clubs, such as Gaslight Square's Crystal Palace. By the mid 1960s, St. Louis was home to her.
Diller became most famous for her movie and TV appearances with Bob Hope during the 1960s: Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!, Eight on the Lam, and The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell. Although all of these films were critically panned, Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! did well at the box office and Diller accompanied Hope to Vietnam in 1966 with his USO troupe during the height of the Vietnam War.
Throughout the 1960s, she appeared regularly as a special guest on many television programs. For example, she appeared as one of the What's My Line? Mystery Guests. The blindfolded panel on that evening's broadcast included Sammy Davis, Jr., and they were able to discern Diller's identity in just three guesses. Also, Diller made regular cameo appearances, making her trademark wisecracks on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Self-deprecating to a fault, a typical Diller joke had her running after a garbage truck pulling away from her curb. "Am I too late for the trash?", she'd yell. The driver's reply: "No, jump right in!". She also appeared on the daytime game show The Match Game in 1964 and 1965, adding comedic entertainment to the show.
Though her main claim to fame was her stand-up comedy act, Diller also appeared in other films, including a cameo appearance as Texas Guinan, the wisecracking nightclub hostess in Splendor in the Grass. She appeared in more than a dozen (usually low-budget) films. She provided the voice of the Monster's Mate in Mad Monster Party (1967).
Diller also starred in two short-lived TV series The Pruitts of Southampton (1966–1967); later retitled The Phyllis Diller Show, a half-hour sitcom on ABC; and The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show (1968), a variety show on NBC. Subsequent TV appearances included at least three episodes between 1999 and 2003 on the long-running family drama 7th Heaven, in one of which she got drunk while cooking dinner for the household; and a 2002 episode of The Drew Carey Show  as Mimi Bobek's grandmother. Once, she posed for Playboy, but the photos were never run in the magazine. Diller's voice can be heard in several animated TV series, including The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972) as herself, Hey Arnold! as Arnold's grandpa's sister Mitzi, The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2002) as Jimmy's grandmother, and on Family Guy in 2006 as Peter Griffin's mother, Thelma Griffin.
Beginning December 26, 1969, she had a 3-month run in Hello, Dolly! (opposite Richard Deacon), as the second to last in a succession of replacements for Carol Channing in the title role, which included Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, and Pearl Bailey. After Diller's stint, Ethel Merman took over the role until the end of the series' run in December 1970.
In 1998, Diller provided the voice of the Queen in A Bug's Life. Among her other animated films were The Nutcracker Prince (1990, as Mousequeen), Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child (1990, as Mother Nature) and Casper's Scare School (2006, as Aunt Spitzy). Diller guested as herself in "A Good Medium is Rare," a 1972 episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies. Other television series for which she voiced characters include Robot Chicken, Family Guy, Jimmy Neutron, Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, Captain Planet, Cow and Chicken, Hey Arnold!, The Powerpuff Girls, Animaniacs, The Wild Thornberrys, and King of the Hill.
In 2005, Diller was featured as one of many contemporary comics in The Aristocrats. Diller, who avoided blue comedy, did a version of an old, risqué vaudeville routine, in which she describes herself passing out when she first heard the joke, forgetting the actual content of the joke.
In 2003, after hearing of the donation of Archie Bunker's chair to the Smithsonian Institution, Diller opened her doors to the National Museum of American History. She offered up some of her most iconic costume pieces, as well as her gag file, a steel cabinet with 48 file-drawers with more than 50,000 jokes she had recorded on index cards during her career. From August 12 to October 28, 2011, the Albert H. Small Documents Gallery at the National Museum of American History displayed Diller's gag file and some of the objects that became synonymous with her comedic persona—an unkempt wig, wrist-length gloves, cloth-covered ankle boots, and a bejeweled cigarette holder.
On January 24, 2007, Diller appeared on The Tonight Show and performed stand-up before chatting with Jay Leno. Leno has stated that Diller would infrequently call him to contribute jokes during his time as the host of The Tonight Show.
Diller was a member of the Society of Singers, which supports singers in need. In June 2001, at Scott Sherman's request, she appeared at Kansas City and Philadelphia Pride events. The mayor of Philadelphia officially proclaimed June 8, 2001 as "Phyllis Diller Day". She was presented an official proclamation onstage to a standing ovation. In 2006, Mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom proclaimed February 5, 2006, "Phyllis Diller Day in San Francisco", which she accepted by phone.
Between 1971 and 1981, Diller appeared as a piano soloist with some 100 symphony orchestras across the country under the stage name Dame Illya Dillya. Her performances were spiced with humor, but she took the music seriously. A review of one of her concerts in The San Francisco Examiner called her "a fine concert pianist with a firm touch."
Diller was married and divorced twice. She had six children from her marriage to her first husband, Sherwood Anderson Diller. Her first child was Peter (born September 1940; died 1998 of cancer). Her second child Sally, born in November 1944, has suffered from schizophrenia most of her life. Her third child (born 1945), a son, lived for only two weeks in an incubator. A daughter, Suzanne, was born in March, 1946, followed by another daughter Stephanie (born October 1948, died 2002 of a stroke) and a son Perry (born February 1950). She states, "we lost the second shortly after he was born...a blue baby who lived just two weeks in an incubator." Phyllis described the child as having a deformity of the hands and possibly being blind. She said he was given her father's name of Perry, a name that would later be given to their youngest child.) . Diller's second husband was actor Warde Donovan (born Warde Tatum), whom she married on October 7, 1965. She filed for divorce three months later, having found him to be bisexual and alcoholic, though they reconciled on the day before the divorce was to have become final. Their marriage continued until she divorced Donovan in 1975.
She was the partner of Robert P. Hastings from 1985 until his death on May 23, 1996.
"Fang", the husband that Diller frequently mentioned in her act, was entirely fictional and not based on either of her actual husbands.
She candidly discussed her plastic surgery, a series of procedures first undertaken when she was 55. In her 2005 autobiography, she wrote that she had undergone "fifteen different procedures". Her numerous surgeries were the subject of a 20/20 segment February 12, 1993.
Diller penned her autobiography in 2005, titled Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse. A direct-to-DVD version of the project, complete with early live clips of Diller, and interviews with her showbiz colleagues including Don Rickles, among others, was released in December 2006.
Illness and death
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As she passed her 80th birthday, Diller began to suffer from various ailments. In 1999, she suffered a heart attack and after a hospital stay, she was fitted with a pacemaker and released. A bad fall resulted in her being hospitalized for neurological tests and pacemaker replacement in 2005. Approaching the age of 90, Diller retired from stand-up comedy appearances.
On July 11, 2007, USA Today reported that she had fractured her back and had to cancel an appearance on The Tonight Show, during which she had planned to celebrate her 90th birthday. On January 4, 2011, Diller made one of her final public appearances on Anderson Cooper 360° as part of a panel of comedians.
- Splendor in the Grass (1961)
- The Fat Spy (1966)
- Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966)
- Eight on the Lam (1967)
- Silent Treatment (1968) (unfinished)
- The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell (1968)
- Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady? (1968)
- Mad Monster Party (1967) (voice)
- The Adding Machine (1969)
- The Sunshine Boys (1975)
- A Pleasure Doing Business (1979)
- Pink Motel (1982)
- Doctor Hackenstein (1988)
- Pucker Up and Bark Like a Dog (1990)
- The Nutcracker Prince (1990) (voice)
- The Boneyard (1991)
- Wisecracks (1992) (documentary)
- The Perfect Man (1993)
- Happily Ever After (1993) (voice)
- The Silence of the Hams (1994)
- A Bug's Life (1998) (voice)
- The Debtors (1999)
- The Nuttiest Nutcracker (1999) (voice) (direct-to-video)
- Everything's Jake (2000)
- The Last Place on Earth (2002)
- Hip! Edgy! Quirky! (2002)
- Bitter Jester (2003) (documentary)
- Motocross Kids (2004)
- West from North Goes South (2004)
- Goodnight, We Love You (2004) (documentary)
- The Aristocrats (2005) (documentary)
- Madman Muntz: American Maverick (2005) (documentary)
- Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006) (documentary)
- Unbeatable Harold (2006)
- Forget About It (2006)
- Celebrity Art Show (2008) (documentary)
- Blaze of Glory (2008) (voice)
- You Know the Face (2009) (documentary)
- Looking for Lenny (2009) (documentary)
- How to Live Forever (2009) (documentary)
- I Am Comic (2010) (documentary)
- Ruth Lyons: First Lady of Television (2011) (documentary)
- The Phyllis Diller Special (1963)
- The Pruitts of Southampton (1966–1967)
- An Evening with Phyllis Diller (1966)
- Batman (1966) Cameo as scrub woman
- The Phyllis Diller Special (1968)
- The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show (1968) (canceled after 13 episodes)
- The Mad, Mad, Mad Comedians (1970) (voice)
- Night Gallery (1970) Episode "Pamela’s Voice"
- Mooch Goes to Hollywood (1971)
- Love American Style "Love and the Heist" (1971)
- The New Scooby-Doo Movies episode 6: "A Good Medium is Rare" (1972) (voice)
- Phyllis Diller's 102nd Birthday Party (1974)
- The Gong Show (1976–1980) (recurring panelist throughout run)
- The Muppet Show (1977)
- On Location: Phyllis Diller (1977)
- CHiPs (Cracked Up) (1978)
- The Love Boat (1979) "The Audit Couple/The Scoop/My Boyfriend's Back as Viola Penny
- Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell sisters NBC (1981 in television)
- Whatever Became Of... (1981) (unsold pilot)
- The Love Boat (1982) The Anniversary Gift/Honey Bee Mine/Bewigged, Bothered and Bewildered" as Martha Morse
- Jonathan Winters: On the Ledge (1987)
- Alice Through the Looking Glass (1987) (voice)
- Full House 1x16 "But Seriously, Folks" (February 5, 1988)
- Top Tomata! (1989) – comedy special featuring Elayne Boosler (cameo)
- 227 (1990) (One episode)
- Cybill "Romancing the Crone" (1996) (self)
- Emily of New Moon (TV series) (1998 & 99) (Great Aunt Nancy Priest)
- Animaniacs (1998) (Suzie) Squirrel
- Hey Arnold! (1999) (Mitzi)
- The Bold and the Beautiful (recurring cast member as Gladys from 1995 to 2004)
- Kiss My Act (2001)
- Titus (2001) (Grandma Titus)
- Even Stevens (2002) (Coach Korns)
- Quintuplets: Chutes and Letters (great Aunt Sylvia)
- The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (Recurring voice of Granny Neutron)
- Casper's Scare School (2006) (voice)
- Family Guy (Recurring voice of Thelma Griffin)
- Robot Chicken (2005) Phyllis Diller Spray N' Play / Mrs. Claus (voice)
- Dawn French's Girls Who Do Comedy (2007) as herself
- Boston Legal (2007) (One of Denny's past lovers)
- The Rosie O'Donnell Show (2011)
- Roseanne's Nuts (2011) (Herself)
- Celebrity Ghost Stories (2011) as herself
- The Powerpuff Girls (2004) as Mask Scara
- The Bold and the Beautiful (2012) 2 episodes as Gladys
- Robert P. Hastings – Obituary – Los Angeles, CA – Tributes.com
- Keepnews, Peter (August 20, 2012). "Phyllis Diller, Sassy Doyenne of Rapid-Fire Comedy, Dies at 95". The New York Times.
- The censuses from 1920 and 1930 state that the Driver family lived on West Mark Street, in Lima
- Genealogy of Phyllis Diller, by Rhonda R. McClure, hosted at www.genealogy.com at the Wayback Machine (archived January 4, 2010)
- Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s – Gerald Nachman – Google Books. Google Books. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
- "Phyllis Diller to receive Lifetime Award from her hometown". WOIO. May 15, 2012. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
- Dailey Review, Hayward, California November 19, 1952.
- Video on YouTube
- The Alameda Times Star, California April 23, 1955
- Pioneers of Television - Phyllis Diller's TV Debut - PBS on YouTube
- Third Marine Division's Two Score and Ten History. Paducah, Ky.: Turner. 1992. p. 13. ISBN 978-1563110894.
- Phyllis Diller credits at IMDb
- Tastes Like Chicken, Vol. 5, Issue 3 (November 2002)
- Hello, Dolly! replacement cast members at IBDB
- Diller, Phyllis; Buskin, Richard (2005). Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy. New York: Penguin Group. p. 210. ISBN 1-58542-396-3.
- Lampshade. p. 211.
- Ethel Merman credits at IBDB
- Lampshade. p. 213.
- St. Louis Walk of Fame. "St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductees". stlouiswalkoffame.org. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
- Minovitz, Ethan (August 20, 2012). "Stand-up comedienne Phyllis Diller dead at 95". Big Cartoon News. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
- "Past Recipients". Women in Film Los Angeles. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
- "Have You Heard the One…? The Phyllis Diller Gag File". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved April 4, 2012.
- Littleton, Cynthia (January 21, 2015). "Jay Leno on Bill Cosby: ‘I Don’t Know Why It’s So Hard to Believe Women’". Variety. Retrieved February 12, 2015.
- "Official Bio". Pink Martini. Retrieved October 31, 2013.
- 'Phyllis Diller on "The Magic of Believing" the book that shaped her life, YouTube, November 3, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ma0FbWLSOcU
- Diller, Phyllis; Buskin, Richard (2005). Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy. New York City: Penguin Group. p. 57. ISBN 1-58542-396-3.
- Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse, p. 53
- Lampshade. pp. 247–248.
- Phyllis Diller : Comedian Profile
- Lampshade. p. 57.
- Lampshade. p. 60.
- Lampshade. p. 64.
- Lampshade. p. 258.
- Lampshade. p. 69.
- Lampshade. pp. 204–207, 224.
- Lampshade. p. 233.
- Severo, Richard; Keepnews, Peter (August 20, 2012). "Laughs Were on Her, by Design". New York Times.
- Buerger, Megan (August 20, 2012). "Phyllis Diller, comedian, dies at 95". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
- Duke, Alan (August 22, 2012). "Comedian Phyllis Diller dies 'with a smile on her face'". CNN. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
- Muppet Central Guides – The Muppet Show: Phyllis Diller
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Phyllis Diller.|
- Phyllis Diller at the Internet Movie Database
- Phyllis Diller at the Internet Broadway Database
- Works by or about Phyllis Diller in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Phyllis Diller's TV Debut with Groucho Marx video, 13 min.
- Lima’s Funniest Lady: Phyllis Diller still remembered as one funny local
- Phyllis Diller on The Ed Sullivan Show on YouTube, video 2 min.
- Interview with Phyllis Diller
- Phyllis Diller stand-up comedy show, 1977 on YouTube video, 6 min.
- Phyllis Diller roasts Ronald Reagan on YouTube video 1.5 min.
- Diller's Entry in the St. Louis Walk of Fame
- Comedy College webpage for Phyllis Diller
- Diller discussing The Magic of Believing on YouTube and its impact on her life.
- NPR interview, Phyllis Diller: Still Out for a Laugh
- Archive of American Television Interview with Phyllis Diller March 8, 2000
- Diller Interview Comedy Hall of Fame, Archives, 2006
- NPR: Not My Job: Phyllis Diller August 4, 2007 on Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!
- Early Articles on Phyllis Diller's career
- Literature on Phyllis Diller
- Phyllis Diller at Find a Grave
- One of the last full length interviews with Phyllis Diller on how she wants to be remembered on YouTube