"When I was born, the doctor said it was the first
full-term miscarriage he'd ever seen."
Diller was born Phyllis Ada Driver in
Lima, Ohio on July 17, 1917. She was an only child of middle-aged parents and
studied music in college where she met her first husband Sherwood Diller. Though
she was famous for her clownish "hag" persona - in her private
life she was an elegantly dressed matron who enjoyed martinis, cooking, playing
piano and painting. By 1952, the 35 year old Diller was married with 5
children and working as an advertising copywriter. Prodded by her husband to
earn cash for laughs, Diller began telling jokes on local Oakland CA radio and
She made her official stand-up comedy stage debut on March 7,
1955 at the San Francisco club: The Purple Onion (140 Columbus Ave) where she
was an instant hit and appeared for 89 weeks in a row. Her stage character was a
true original in the Eisenhower-era: A garishly coiffed housewife who
unashamedly hated cooking and cleaning and told everybody about her annoying
kids and lazy, unaffectionate hubby "Fang".
On my honeymoon with
Fang, I wore a peek-a-boo nightie. He peeked and booed.
Diller's late-night national television debut came on The
Jack Parr Show in 1959. Two years later, the first of her five comedy
albums, Phyllis Diller Laughs, was released. Three years later, she
was booked at Carnegie Hall.
Diller's career heyday came in the 1960s with countless TV
appearances and several film co-starring roles with Bob Hope in Boy,
Did I Get A Wrong Number!, Eight on the Lam, and The
Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell. She landed her own sitcom on
ABC-TV called The Pruitts of Southampton (1966-67) about a
financially ruined widow keeping up appearances amongst her wealthy neighbors.
The theme song was "marvy poo" but ratings were not - and the show
fizzled after one season. 1967 was also the year Diller did her memorable voice
work in the Rankin/Bass animated film Mad Monster Party as The
Diller credited much of her early confidence and success to a motivational
book, The Magic of Believing (1948) by Claude M Bristol, which
also influenced her buddy Liberace and George Burns.
She wrote four best selling comedy paperback books for Doubleday: Phyllis Diller's Housekeeping
Hints, Phyllis Diller's
Marriage Manual, The Complete Mother, and The Joys
of Aging and How To Avoid Them.
"If your children insist on writing their name in the
dust on the coffee table, don't let them write the year."
In 1972, the year she played
herself on a Scooby Doocartoon episode, Diller (age 55)
added a new element to her comedy act: jokes about her plastic surgery and
attempts at beauty. She underwent 15 surgeries in her lifetime.
I had to do something. I was so
wrinkled I could screw my hats on.
In her personal life, she was married and
divorced twice and had a long-time partner named Robert Hastings from 1985 until
his death in 1996.
I admit, I have a tremendous sex drive. My
boyfriend lives 40 miles away.
Diller continued to appear on TV and tour clubs
and theaters around the world into her eighties. A gourmet cook, she avoided
hotel food and preferred to cook on a hotplate for herself and staff back in her
suite as a way to unwind after a show. For years, she traveled with trunks of
cooking supplies until it proved to be a burden under modern airport
In 2003, at age 86, Diller retired from life on
the road. Her farewell from the stage was the subject of the
documentary Goodnight, We Love You.
I never made Who's Who, but I'm
featured in What's That?
One of the nice people on my
tour told me that Phyllis would occasionally open her home to people interested
in purchasing her art. I got Phyllis's number from a pal, made the call,
and set up the appointment. Myself and about half a dozen friends were
granted a viewing. We also had to make sure we would put out and buy
A date was agreed upon in January of
2007. Phyllis was having a dinner party that evening, but we had about 45
minutes before her guests arrived, to peruse the collection. We were
guaranteed a meet & greet with our purchases.
Last night for dinner I cooked something so
bad, the cat covered it.
We rang the bell and were escorted
in. We were pointed to where the paintings were and how they were
priced and told to bring the paintings we wanted back to the secretary to pay
for them. Cash only.
We had free reign of one wing. Paintings
I got nosey and ventured into a room. It was
the studio where she made her art. She made some crazy
Screen capture from the documentary Goodnight, We Love You.
In the corner was a suitcase with this luggage
tag. From this point on, she was known in my home as Phil Dil.
I. Found. The. Wig. Room.
The room was crammed with wardrobe and
jewelry. Everything had a price tag on it. Everything.
Stole a curler
off of a fright wig. Hell yes. It was so old the foam part
disintigrated, but I still have the pink thingy. You can see it too, if
you come to Dearly Departed Tours.
I left something behind. Hey, I'm not
I went further down the hall and found an
office with a Dewey Decimal style file case. I opened a drawer.
Shit. Every Phil Dil joke was typed and filed on a card. I picked up
one randomly, it was a joke about Bela Abzug. Seriously, I was
dying. Why I didn't take one? I don't know. There were
THOUSANDS. That's a huge regret. I learned later that she
donated that cabinet containing over 50,000 jokes, to the Smithsonian's
National Museum of American History. No doubt they will never see the
light of day again.
Screen capture taken from the documentary Good Night, We Love
The painting I chose was a
poem/meditation/prayer that she wrote. There were some great
paintings in the same price range, but I wanted something a little more
personal. I brought it to the secretery, paid for it ($500. Cash
ONLY.) and anxiously waited for Phil Dil to arrive.
We were given instructions,
"Madame will enter the room. You will not refer to her as Phyllis,
but as Madame or Ms. Diller. Madame will sit with you here (pointing to
the sofa) and sign the back of your purchase. Then Madame will walk to the
foyer and pose with each of you in front of this painting."
I waited my turn and sat on the sofa. She
had done a Tonight Show appearance just the night before.
Scott: You rocked on the
Phil Dil: I what?
Scott: You rocked.
Phil Dil: Is that a good thing?
Scott: Yes, it's a very good
Do you only do your own jokes?
Phil Dil: Yes.
Scott: You wrote every joke you
Phil Dil: Yes.
Scott: Even the porkchop joke?
Phil Dil: I wrote that one, I
had to tie a pork chop around my neck to get the dog to play with me.
Scott: That is a classic joke
Phil Dil: That's what happens
to a good joke.
I asked her to autograph the back of
my painting by "signing" her laugh. She looked at me for a
moment, then wrote this.
I got up and waited my turn for a photograph. The
"I (the secretary) will take the picture with
your camera. We will do this on the count of three. Not on
four. I will count one, two, three and take the picture on
Phil Dil approached.
Scott: May I put my arm around you?
Phil Dil: I don't think so.
one two SNAP
Phyllis was an atheist. She supposedly
posed for Playboy, who nixed the pics because she looked too good.
In 2001 Phil Dil had a crazy thing
happen: She was in a limo, and the driver needed to get directions.
The female driver got out to ask directions, leaving the limo in neutral instead
of park. The limo rolled over and killed the driver. Phil Dil was
still inside when it crashed into a tree. She was uninjured.
She lost a son to shortly after birth.
Another son died of brain cancer in 1998 and her daughter to a stroke in
2002. For some reason she became estranged from her other two daughters in
Phil Dil's health woes began with a couple of
heart attacks in 1999. She had a pacemaker installed. She
suffered a near stroke in 2004 which caused her to have slurred speech which was
cured with therapy. In 2005 she had an excruciating fall and cracked her
head on a night table and broke her neck. She fell and had a fractured
disk in her back, and a slip-and-fall outside of a
Nevada casino that cracked her pelvis.
What hobby do ladies over 80 have?
On Monday morning, August 20, 2012, Phyllis
Diller died in her home. She was 95 years old.
She was cremated and scattered at sea along
with the cremains of a predeceased boyfriend Robert Hastings. Both
family's would hire a yacht and have the ceremony.
At her death, Diller was survived by a
son, Perry; a daughter, Suzanne Mills; four grandchildren; and a
Despite her many films and status as a comedy
icon, she was ignored in the death roster during the February 2013 Oscar
Phyllis's home of almost 50 years was sold in January
of 2013 for 9.35 Million.
Her beloved 4 cars included: a custom
made Checker Wagon, circa 1967; an Excalibur 1927 Mercedes Phaeton (red); a 1959
Silver Cloud Rolls Royce; and a 1971 Mercedes Sedan (SL 200).
She appeared in 22 of Bob Hope's annual TV
Constantly carrying a cigarette
holder, Phyllis never smoked. It was strictly a prop.
In the mid-1960s, her trademark quirky stage
dresses were designed by Gloria Johnson of Omaha, Nebraska.
After she divorced Sherwood Diller in 1965, his
mother ("Moby Dick") and sister ("Captain Bligh") sued her
for defamation of character in an effort to keep her from talking about them in
her act. She insisted she was talking about a fictional family, not them,
and eventually settled out of court.
Between 1971 and 1981, she performed as a
concert piano soloist with over 100 symphony orchestras under the phony name
Dame Illya Dillya.