|2009||Phyllis Diller on Comedy|
|2007||Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller On Comedy|
|2001||Phyllis Diller: Live From Los Angeles|
|1967||What's Left of Phyllis Diller|
|1965||The Best of Phyllis Diller|
|1962||Are You Ready for Phyllis Diller?|
|1961||Phyllis Diller Laughs|
|1959||Wet Toe In A Hot Socket|
|The Beautiful Phyllis Diller|
|Great Moments Of Comedy With Phyllis Diller|
|2007||Phyllis Diller: Not Just Another Pretty Face|
|2004||Goodnight, We Love You: The Life and Legend of Phyllis Diller|
|1977||On Location With Phyllis Diller|
|2005||Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse|
|1981||The Joys of Aging and How to Avoid Them|
|1969||The Complete Mother|
|1967||Phyllis Diller's Marriage Manual|
|1966||Phyllis Diller's Housekeeping Hints|
Often called “The First Lady of Stand-Up,” Phyllis Diller arrived after pioneers Jean Carroll and Moms Mabley, but surpassed them and became the first female superstar of monology. Through the 60’s, she had hit records, played all the top clubs, made films and starred in her own TV series. Thirty years later she could still command packed houses, a comedy institution. And, courtesy of a half dozen trips to the plastic surgeon, she looked like she had been preserved in some cryogenic institution decades earlier. Asked for the secret to her success she said, “I never tried to be a phony, never tried to be a star. A lot of performers try to be someone else. I never did. I don’t know if that’s the answer to my longevity in a very competitive business but it’s the only answer I can think of.”
A student at Bluffton College, the girl from Lima, Ohio had talent as a writer (she had written comedy for the school newspaper), and also as a singer and pianist. After marrying Sherwood Diller (oddly, there was an actress already named “Phyllis Diller” who starred in a 1934 film called “Maniac”) her aspirations for a musical career ended and she became a full time housewife, raising five kids.
Feeling unfulfilled and needing some extra cash to help support the family, Diller began writing for the local San Leandro News Observer. She began writing comic articles and decided to put them into monologue form. She made her debut at San Francisco’s legendary Purple Onion nightclub at the age of 37.
Initially she created the character of a campy chanteuse, singing sophisticated songs (“I’d Rather Cha-Cha Than Eat”), lampooning “chi chi” topics like Yma Sumac records and Vogue Magazine, and offering arch one-liners: “I’m dedicated to culture. I honestly believe there’s absolutely nothing wrong with going to bed with a good book—or a friend who’s read one.” She managed to get on Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life” as a budding comic/contestant but her career wasn’t taking off.
Bob Hope saw her perform in 1959. He saw promise in her, even though she bombed: “I bombed marvelously. I never flagged…he saw courage…He says ‘You are great.’ “From then on I had what’s called high self-esteem.” She developed the confidence to try more personal, conversational material based on her housewife lifestyle: “I was making a pudding and I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t get the spoon out. Well, the Food and Drug Administration people showed up. They wanted to stir it and the whole room went around! And then they wanted to take it to their lab to test it. They had to. One of their guys was now stuck in it!”
She created a series of jokes about husband “Old Fang Face,” shortened to “Fang.” The “Fang” character became an audience favorite, long after she divorced Sherwood Diller in the mid 60’s. The only subject that took more abuse than Fang was herself.
Like her idol, Bob Hope, she developed a one-liner style that gave the customers more jokes for their money. She livened up the gags with eccentric costuming. In the 60’s she favored the outlandishly harried housewife look: garish clothes, a blonde frightwig, gloves and a cigarette holder. In subsequent decades she dropped the cigarette holder, disgusted by smoking. She began wearing outfits that were simply on the lunatic fringe of fashion. Most of all, there was her trademark, a loon-like cackling laugh. She said it developed “probably out of desperation and nervousness” as she waited for the audience to get the gag.
Diller co-starred in several films with Bob Hope, but it was at the nadir of his movie career and did nothing to promote hers. A sitcom series about a filthy rich eccentric on Long Island missed as well, but in stand-up, she remained a hot attraction. A frustrated singer since her college days, she finally got the chance to record a “straight” album of pop and rock tunes and in the 70’s replaced Carol Channing in “Hello Dolly” on Broadway. She was proud to sing a few songs that had previously been removed because Channing “didn’t have the register.” From time to time Diller appeared at the piano for serious concerts with symphony orchestras.
Known for her generosity, Diller performed often for charity, always shared her comic theories with young comedians, and was always willing to talk about “the secrets” of her success. She pointed to Claude Bristol’s book “The Magic of Believing” as a strong influence on her life and recommended it to those in need of direction. “I’m for mental attitude being up and positive,” she said. “When something goes wrong, it isn’t going to stay that way.” In the 80’s she was almost as well known for her plastic surgery as her comedy. She underwent a nose job, teeth straightening, cheek implants, tucks, even breast lifts. The latter surgery surprised most fans. She laughed and admitted, “I convinced everyone I was flat. I was 38D. I had nursed the world.” Back in the early 60’s she had even shot a nude test photo session for Playboy. One of Diller’s more pioneering beauty procedures was having her eyelids tattooed black so she wouldn’t have to bother applying eyeliner. She was one of the first stars to acknowledge the “changes” and to offer advice and encouragement for anyone thinking about similar procedures.
Always active, always performing, Diller enjoyed her travel schedule. Single since the 60’s, quite eligible and attractive, she always seemed to be in the company of a handsome escort. When she was alone, it was definitely by choice. Gracious to fans, despite the constant interruptions for autographs and questions that made them “the bane of my existence,” she preferred wearing disguises to the cruelty of simply walking away. She would often out in public wearing a nun’s habit. She may have gotten the idea after playing Sister Mary Regina in a stock production of “Nunsense” in 1988.
Diller received honorary doctorates from National Christian University and Kent State, both institutions praising her enviable life achievements. A realist, she always believed she had to get the most out of her one go-round: “My mother taught and ran a church. She spoon fed me fundamental religion…I didn’t buy it…And I’m fearless. I don’t mind dying. I’m going to die and I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to be truly dead!”
As a comic (the “tough and punchy” term she preferred to “comedienne”) few could be so lively. She came out with energy, good nature and her ecstastic laugh, blitzing the audience with sight, sound, and one-liner fury: “I went to this plastic surgeon. He took a look at me and just wanted to add a tail! He said my face looked like a bouquet of elbows! My foot doctor sent me to a blacksmith! Lloyd’s of London refused to insure my face. They told me—what the hell more could happen to it?”