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Phyllis Diller (born Phyllis Ada Driver; July 17, 1917) is a Golden Globe-nominated Americanmarker actress and comedienne, considered one of the pioneers of female stand-up comedy. She created a stage persona of a wild-haired, eccentrically-dressed housewife who makes jokes about a fictional husband named "Fang" while waving a cigarette holder. Diller is credited with opening the doors of stand-up comedy to women.

Early life

Diller was born to Perry Marcus Driver and his wife, the former Frances Ada Romshe, in Limamarker, Ohiomarker, United Statesmarker.

Diller attended Lima's Central High School, then studied for three years at Sherwood Music Conservatory, Chicago, Illinois. She then transferred to Bluffton College in Bluffton, Ohio, where she met fellow "Lima-ite" and classmate, Hugh Downs.

Diller was a housewife, mother, and advertising copywriter. During World War II, Diller lived in Ypsilanti, Michiganmarker while her husband worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant. 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.

Although she has made her career in comedy, Diller studied as a serious piano student for many years. She later decided against a career in music after hearing her teachers and mentors play with much more ability than she thought that she would be able to achieve. She still plays in her private life, however, and owns a custom-made harpsichord which she prizes.


In the mid 1950s, while residing in the East Bay city of Alameda, Californiamarker, near the Naval Airbase, Diller was employed at KGO-TV in San Francisco as a secretary. A man named Willard Anderson hosted a TV show there called the "Belfast Pop Club" along with a young Don Sherwood. They would conduct interviews and do skits with celebrities and the younger generation. The show was filmed live on set and it lasted only a half-hour on Saturdays. It was an early advertisement for Belfast Mug Root Beer, now known as Mug Root Beer. Willard thought she was so funny that he invited her onto his show and started her stand up career at San Franciscomarker's legendary nightclub, The Purple Onion.

Diller appeared as a stand up at The Purple Onion for 87 straight weeks, where she cultivated her talent and perfected her act. Diller's fame was expanded when she co-starred with Bob Hope in 23 TV specials and three films in the 1960s: Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!, Eight on the Lam and The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell. Although only Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! performed well at the box office, Hope invited Diller to perform with him in Vietnammarker in 1966 with his USO troupe during the height of the conflict in that country.

Diller seemed to be everywhere in pop culture in the 1960s. She appeared regularly as a special guest on many television programs during that decade. For example, she did a stint as one of the What's My Line? Mystery Guests on the popular Sunday night CBS-TV program. 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 brief & pithy 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?" she'd yell. The driver's reply: "No, jump right in!"

Though her main claim to fame is her stand-up comedy act, Diller also has appeared in other films besides the three mentioned above, including a cameo appearance as Texas Guinan, the wisecracking nightclub hostess in the 1961 Hollywood production of Splendor in the Grass. She appeared in more than a dozen, usually low-budget movies, including as "The Monster's Mate" in the Rankin/Bass animated cult classic Mad Monster Party (1967), co-starring Boris Karloff.

Diller also starred in two short-lived TV series: the half-hour sitcom The Pruitts of Southampton (later retitled The Phyllis Diller Show) on ABC from 1966-1967, and the variety show The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show on NBC in 1968. More recent television appearances for Diller have included at least three episodes between 1999-2003 on the long-running family drama 7th Heaven, in one of which she hilariously boozed it up while cooking dinner for the household, and a 2002 episode of The Drew Carey Show, as Mimi Bobek's grandmother. She posed for Playboy, but the photos were never run in the magazine. Her voice can be heard in several animated TV shows, including The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972) as herself, 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 Dec. 26, 1969, she had a three month run on Broadway 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 show's run in Dec 1970.

In 1993, she was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

Hollywoodmarker films have continued to capitalize on Diller's charm and recognizability. In 1998, Diller parlayed her unique cackle into the vocals for the Queen in Disney/Pixar's animated movie A Bug's Life. In 2005, Diller was featured as one of many contemporary comics in a documentary film, The Aristocrats. Diller, who avoids working blue, 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.

On January 24, 2007, she appeared on The Tonight Show and performed stand-up, before chatting with Jay Leno. Leno asked her to come back on her birthday for a celebration, and she said she'd be delighted.

Diller had a cameo appearance in an episode of ABC's Boston Legal on April 10, 2007. She appeared as herself, confronting William Shatner's Denny Crane character, alleging to have had a torrid love affair with him in the past. They seemed to have enjoyed a romantic moment in a foxhole during World War II.

Diller is a member of the Society of Singers, which supports singers in need. In June 2001 at the request of fellow Society member and producer Scott Sherman, she appeared at Kansas Citymarker and Philadelphiamarker Pride events in support of gay pride and rights. The mayor of Philadelphia officially proclaimed June 8, 2001, as "Phyllis Diller Day" in Philadelphia. On stage she was presented an official proclamation to a standing ovation. In 2006, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom proclaimed February 5, 2006 "Phyllis Diller Day in San Francisco," which she accepted by phone.

She has also recorded at least five comedy LP's, one of which was Born To Sing, released as Columbia CS 9523.

Although known for decades for waving cigarette holders in her comedy act, Diller is a lifelong nonsmoker, and the cigarette holders were stage props that the nonsmoking comedian had specially constructed.

Personal life

Diller, a longtime resident of Brentwoodmarker, Californiamarker, credits much of her success to Bob Hope, in large part because he included her in the pictures and Vietnam USO shows mentioned above. She is an accomplished pianist as well as a painter.

Diller has been married and divorced twice. She also dated Earl "Madman" Muntz, a pioneer in oddball TV and radio ads. She had six children from her marriage to her first husband, Sherwood Anderson Diller. Her first child was Peter (b. 1940; d. 1998 of cancer). Her second child Sally, born in 1944, has suffered from schizophrenia most of her life. Her third child, a son, was a blue baby who lived for only two weeks in an incubator. A daughter, Suzanne, was born in 1946, followed by another daughter Stephanie (b. 1948 d. 2002 of a stroke) and a son Perry (b. 1950). Diller's second husband was actor Warde Donovan, who turned out to be homosexual. Her youngest son Perry, now 58, oversees her affairs today. Diller is not the mother of actress Susan Lucci, despite an urban legend to that effect, frequently passed through viral emails under trivia headings such as "Did You Know...?"

Diller has candidly discussed her plastic surgery, a series of procedures first undertaken when she was 55. The results have drawn numerous awards and acknowledgments from plastic surgeons and medical organizations. In her 2005 autobiography, she wrote that she has undergone "fifteen different procedures".

Diller has suffered medical problems, including a heart attack in 1999. After a hospital stay she was fitted with a pacemaker and released. A bad fall resulted in her being hospitalized for tests on her head and pacemaker in 2005. She has since retired from stand-up comedy appearances. She wrote 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. A screenplay about Diller's early years in stand-up, according to blind items in the trades, is in preproduction with Patricia Clarkson slated to play the comedienne. Diller, though retired, maintains a fairly stimulating environment within her home. She spends much of her time painting, cooking, and gardening.

On July 11, 2007, USA Today reported that she fractured her back and had to cancel a Tonight Show appearance, during which she had planned to celebrate her 90th birthday.


Features: Short Subjects:
  • Rowan & Martin at the Movies (1968)
  • The Lion Roars Again (1975)

Television work


  1. Phyllis Diller - Yahoo! TV
  2. Phyllis Diller (I) - Biography
  3. Phyllis Diller credits at IMDB
  4. Hello, Dolly! replacement cast members at IBDB
  5. Lampshade, p. 211
  6. Ethel Merman credits at IBDB
  7. Lampshade, p. 213
  8. Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse, p. 53
  9. Lampshade, p. 247-248
  11. Lampshade, p. 57
  12. Lampshade, p. 60;
  13. Lampshade, p. 64
  14. Lampshade, p. 258
  15. Lampshade, p. 69
  18. Lampshade, p. 233

External links

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