Helene

Phyllis Diller, 1917-2012

13 posts in this topic

This is sad news. I'm glad she had such a successful career and large, fond, and devoted group of fans.

I didn't recall that Diller's national tv debut was on Jack Paar in 1958. I do remember her early appearances a couple of years later on the Ed Sullivan Show -- with routines about things like preparing a disastrous Thanksgiving dinner. Publicity at the time played up the fact that she was a "real" housewife and that her comedy was a wild elaboration based on actual experience. This background story was, I think, a big part of her popularity at a time when Americans were beginning to question the assumption that all women were natural "homemakers."

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Beleaguered housewife jokes and self-deprecating jokes about her looks were also the stock-in-trade of another pioneer, Joan Rivers (who has also persisted with extensive plastic surgery long after the law of diminishing returns set in).

Interesting that Diller's mother and sister-in-law brought suit against her to prevent her from using them as material in her act. Woody Allen's first wife did the same thing.

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I actually caught Diller's last, quite recent gig on the Bold and the Beautiful and remember thinking it was strangely, sentimentally, very entertaining. She played a doddering character who was also a soap-style deus ex machina to bring one of the show's older on-again/off-again couples back to the altar--she just happened to have recently gotten licensed to marry people--and, well, she was all too believably doddering. But genuinely funny too.

The veterans playing opposite her exactly captured the spirit of the whole goofy episode...They seemed as bemused/amused as I felt. She had some other short gigs on the show at least some of which I saw...in one of them I believe she helped disguise one of the show's most beautiful characters as homely etc.--sort of riffing on her gags about her own looks much earlier in her career. So, in B&B, she was a kind of wierd fairy godmother figure in different plots...but it's the last time I actually remember. Kind of delightful not just that she lived into her 90's but that she was still working into her 90's.

Edited to add: I do realize the Bold and the Beautiful is not what Phyllis Diller was famous for...

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Edited to add: I do realize the Bold and the Beautiful is not what Phyllis Diller was famous for...

Yes, but she was one of the generation of entertainers who rarely said "no" to an opportunity -- I never saw her live, but grew up with her on my radar, from her appearances on variety television, talk shows and game shows. Is there a contemporary equivalent to Hollywood Squares?

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I'm all for people working as long as they want to work but on those occasions when I saw Diller in her final years I can't say the spectacle was a particularly edifying one. It's also nice to retain a sense of timing that tells you when to get off the stage. Obviously this isn't true of all elderly performers. I think it has less to do with generational issues than the need for attention - some performers have it under control, others not so much. I don't know how Diller was set up financially but money can play a role as well. And of course there's the desire to keep doing something you enjoy.

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I'm all for people working as long as they want to work but on those occasions when I saw Diller in her final years I can't say the spectacle was a particularly edifying one. It's also nice to retain a sense of timing that tells you when to get off the stage. Obviously this isn't true of all elderly performers. I think it has less to do with generational issues than the need for attention - some performers have it under control, others not so much. I don't know how Diller was set up financially but money can play a role as well. And of course there's the desire to keep doing something you enjoy.

The Bold and the Beautiful -- which I do watch now and then depending on what plots are being rehashed -- does not set the bar particularly high.

(Seriously off topic, but...when it comes to people who don't know when to leave the stage--and this even when the stage involves getting struck in the head--I believe there are few entertainers who can compete with aging boxers...)

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Also off topic - watch while you can, Drew. I fear the remaining soaps will not be with us long.

Yes, the "when to quit" problem afflicts athletes as well as performers.The categories have some overlap when you think about it.

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I have taken one of Ms Diller's sayings as my housekeeping motto.

"You clean the damn house, and six months later you have to do it all over again!"

Loved her. RIP

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She paved the way for Joan Rivers.

I remember when Fang handed her a ton of steel wool and told her to knit him a Volkswagen.

[There were Volkswagen jokes in those days.]

Explosively funny woman.

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told her to knit him a Volkswagen.

Oh, I remember that one -- I laughed and laughed.

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Apparently Diller worked hard and thoughtfully at creating her performance persona, according to Janson Zinoman in today's NY Times. Zinoman claims she "remains underappreciated."

Phyllis Diller and Her Comic Craft

Subtitle is: "Her flamboyance lives on in Lady Gaga; her laugh in Eddie Murphy."

Paul, the article includes an interesting comparison with Joan Rivers.

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Apparently Diller worked hard and thoughtfully at creating her performance persona, according to Janson Zinoman in today's NY Times.

Yes, fascinating seeing the photos of her out of character. Without the crazy wings and costumes, she was a lovely woman.

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