Phyllis Diller

Bold text Phyllis Diller (born Phyllis Driver, July 17, 1917) is a Golden Globe-nominated American comedienne, considered to be one of the pioneers of female stand-up comedy. She created a stage character persona that was a wild-haired, eccentrically-dressed housewife who made jokes about a fictional husband named "Fang" while smoking from a long cigarette holder. Another distinct characteristic is her cackling laugh, one of the best-recognized in comedy. Diller is given credit for opening the doors for the stand-up comedy field to women such as Rita Rudner, Totie Fields, Joan Rivers, Lily Tomlin, Sandra Bernhard, Joy Behar, Rosie O'Donnell and Roseanne Barr.


Early life

Phyllis Driver was born on July 17, 1917, to Perry Marcus Driver and his wife, the former Frances Ada Romshe, in Lima, Ohio. She attended Lima 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. 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 talent than she thought she'd be able to achieve. She still plays in her private life, however, and owns a custom-made harpsichord which she prizes.


Residing in the East Bay city of Alameda, California, near the Naval Airbase, Diller began her career as a stand up at San Francisco's legendary nightclub, The Purple Onion, for 87 straight weeks. This is 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: Eight on the Lam, The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell, and Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!. All of these films were failures at the box office, but Hope invited Diller to perform with him in Vietnam 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 by way of her distinctive laugh 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 brief television series: The Pruitts of Southampton on ABC in 1966 and the variety show The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show on NBC in 1968. More recent television appearances for Diller have included a guest spot on the long-running family drama, 7th Heaven, where she hilariously boozed it up while cooking dinner for the household, and 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 on Scooby Doo as herself, Jimmy Neutron as Jimmy's grandmother, and on Family Guy as Peter Griffin's mother.

She appeared on Broadway in 1969 in the long-running Hello, Dolly as the last in a succession of replacements for Carol Channing, following Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Betty Grable, and Pearl Bailey.

Hollywood 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 City and Philadelphia 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 Brentwood, California, 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 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 1993, she was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

Diller has been married and divorced twice. She also dated Earl "Madman" Muntz, a pioneer in oddball TV and radio ads. She had five children from her marriage to her first husband, Sherwood Anderson Diller. Her daughter Sally has suffered from schizophrenia for most of her life. Diller's second husband was Warde Donovan, who turned out to be gay. Two of her children have predeceased her, both dying of cancer, and her youngest son Perry, now 55, oversees her affairs today. One of Phyllis' offspring is not actress Susan Lucci, despite an urban legend to that effect, often showing up in people's e-mailboxes as "Did You Know...?" trivia.

Recently, Diller has suffered serious 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 in a film due to be released in 2007.

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


"The reason why women don't play football is because eleven of them would never wear the same outfit in public."

"A smile is a curve that sets everything straight."

"Aim high, and you won't shoot your foot off."

"If you don't have wrinkles you haven't laughed enough."

"Always be nice to your children because they are the ones who will choose your rest home."



  • The Last Guy on Earth (2008)



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