Diller, Phyllis, 1917-2012

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Phyllis Ada Driver (b. July 17, 1917, Lima, OH - d. August 20, 2012, Los Angeles, CA). She studied at the Sherwood Music Conservatory in Chicago, IL for three years, beginning in fall 1934. She married Sherwood Anderson Diller, and the couple and their children moved from Ypsilanti, MI to Alameda, CA in 1945. Diller began her career as writer and women's editor for the San Leandro News-Observer . From June 1951 to 1954, Diller's jobs included: head of newspaper and radio ad copy in the advertising office of Kahn's, a department store in Oakland, CA; copywriter, publicist, and continuity girl at the radio station KROW in Oakland, CA; and, finally, director of promotion and merchandising at KSFO radio in San Francisco, CA. Her copywriting was distinguished by its comedic flair.

Diller performed in several small and semi-professional venues before getting a lengthy gig at The Purple Onion, a nightclub in San Francisco, CA in March 1955. Following this successful run, she gave opening performances at The Purple Onion in Los Angeles, CA in summer 1956. In Los Angeles, Diller made her first national television appearance as a contestant on the NBC game show You Bet Your Life, hosted by Groucho Marx. Thereafter, she toured the country, performing in major nightclubs such as Mister Kelley's in Chicago, IL, The Blue Angel and The Bon Soir in New York, NY (where she worked with a young Barbra Streisand), The Crescendo in Los Angeles, CA, and The Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, FL. Diller's stand-up act pushed the envelope by lampooning women's roles in the 1950s and 1960s. In particular, she broke from the tradition set by male comedians who complained about their wives by creating a fictional husband, the ne'er-do-well Fang.

Around 1958, Diller made the first of many appearances on The Tonight Show and The Jack Paar Show, the latter for which she eventually became a writer. These appearances brought her heightened success, and led to her discovery by Bob Hope. Diller worked with Hope for decades, performing with him on 23 television specials, in the feature films Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1960), Eight on the Lam (1967), and The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell (1968), and as part of his USO troupe in Vietnam in 1966. Diller's film work from this period also includes Splendor in the Grass (1962) and voice work in the Rankin/Bass animated film Mad Monster Party (1967). Beginning in the 1960s, Diller became a household name through many TV appearances featuring her stand-up act. She also starred in two short-lived TV series, the half-hour sitcom The Pruitts of Southhampton (later titled The Phyllis Diller Show, 1966-67) and the musical variety show The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show (1968). From 1961-1970, Diller recorded five albums and published four books. She concluded the 1960s with her Broadway debut in Hello Dolly!

Recent film roles include voice work in Disney's A Bug's Life (1998) and the documentary The Aristocrats (2005). Recent television work includes recurring roles on the series Titus (2001-02), 7th Heaven (1999-2003), The Bold and the Beautiful (1999-2004), and The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2002-2004).

In May 1971, Diller drew upon her training as a pianist and made her debut in a concert with Pittsburgh Pops, initiating 10 years of work as a concert pianist. In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Diller continued frequent appearances on the stage and screen, and became known as one of the first celebrities to proudly admit to having had plastic surgery.

In 2002, Diller retired from stand-up comedy work. Her final performance, at the Suncoast Hotel in Las Vegas, NV, is captured in the documentary Good Night, We Love You (2006). Post-retirement, Diller wrote an autobiography titled Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy (2005), turned her hobby of drawing and painting into another career, and has continued to make appearances on television and in film.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Guide to the Daily Worker and Daily World Photographs Collection, 1920-2001 Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
referencedIn Phyllis Diller collection, [ca. 1961-ongoing]. Museum of Performance & Design
referencedIn President Ronald Reagan appears on stage with some of the cast of "Bob Hope's High Flying Birthday Extravaganza," a television show celebrating comedian Bob Hope's 84th birthday. On stage are actor Kirk Cameron, comedienne Phyllis Diller, actor Emmanuel Lewis, comedienne Lucille Ball and Bob Hope. The show preceded the ninth international airlift competition Airlift Rodeo '87.Exact Date Shot Unknown National Archives at College Park
referencedIn Betty Rollin Papers Wisconsin Historical Society, Newspaper Project
creatorOf Phyllis Diller papers, 1934-2011 University of California, Los Angeles. Library Special Collections.
creatorOf Diller, Phyllis. The Phyllis Diller show. "A house is not a zoo" / starring Phyllis Diller ; written by Lou Derman and Elon Packard. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
contributorOf ROWAN AND MARTIN AT THE MOVIES National Archives at College Park
creatorOf Turteltaub, Saul, 1932-. Papers, 1960-1968. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
contributorOf Hollywood Star-Spangled Revue: Saluting 25 Years of U.S. Savings Bonds National Archives at College Park
creatorOf Diller, Phyllis. Phyllis Diller papers, 1937-1985. Univerisity of Wyoming. American Heritage Center.
contributorOf Savings Bond Public Service Announcement with Phyllis Diller National Archives at College Park
referencedIn Gypsy Rose Lee papers, 1910-1970 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
contributorOf Bob Hope Show, Tan Son Nhut, South Vietnam United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn Comedienne Phyllis Diller smiles for the camera as the Bob Hope Christmas show arrives at Korat Air Base, Thailand, to entertain American servicemen. National Archives at College Park
referencedIn John Eldon Thayer collection of motion picture memorabilia, 1916-1979. Harvard Theater Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn American Vaudeville Museum collection, 1845-2007, (bulk 1910-1940) University of Arizona Libraries, Library Special Collections
referencedIn President Richard Nixon Sings "God Bless America" with Composer Irving Berlin during the Vietnam POW Dinner at the White House Richard Nixon Library
creatorOf Diller, Phyllis. The Pruits of Southhampton. Learn to be a millionaire / written by Lou Derman and Elon Packard. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
referencedIn New Yorker records New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
contributorOf Records of U.S. Air Force Commands, Activities, and Organizations. 1900 - 2003. Moving Images Relating to Military Aviation Activities. 1947 - 1984. BOB HOPE CHRISTMAS SHOW, KORAT AB, THAILAND National Archives at College Park
referencedIn Diller, Phyllis collection, [ca.1961-ongoing]. Museum of Performance & Design
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Alpert, Herb person
associatedWith American Museum of Vaudeville corporateBody
associatedWith Ball, Lucille, 1911-1989 person
associatedWith Berlin, Irving person
associatedWith Blocker, Dan, 1928-1972 person
associatedWith Brown Les 1912-2001 person
associatedWith Bryant, Anita person
associatedWith Burnett, Carol person
associatedWith Communist Party of the United States of America. corporateBody
associatedWith Cullen, Frank, 1936- person
associatedWith Damone, Vic person
associatedWith Davis, Sammy, Jr., 1925-1990 person
associatedWith Day, Doris, 1924- person
associatedWith Douglas, Kirk, 1916-.... person
associatedWith Greene, Lorne person
associatedWith Griffith, Andy, 1926-2012 person
associatedWith Heatherton, Joey person
associatedWith Heston, Charlton person
associatedWith Hope, Bob, 1903-2003 person
associatedWith Jones, Carolyn, 1930-1983 person
associatedWith Knotts, Don, 1924-2006 person
associatedWith Landon, Michael, 1936-1991 person
associatedWith Lee, Gypsy Rose, 1914-1970 person
associatedWith Lewis, Emmanuel, 1971- person
associatedWith Martin, Dean, 1917-1995. person
associatedWith Martin, Dick, 1922-2008 person
associatedWith McNair, Barbara person
associatedWith McNeilly, Donald, 1945- person
correspondedWith New Yorker Magazine, Inc corporateBody
associatedWith Nguyen, Cao Ky person
associatedWith Nixon, Pat, 1912-1993 person
associatedWith Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994 person
associatedWith Payne, Robert, 1911-1983 person
associatedWith Peppard, George person
associatedWith Reagan, Ronald person
associatedWith Rockettes (Dance company) corporateBody
associatedWith Rollin, Betty. person
associatedWith Stewart, James, 1908-1997 person
associatedWith Thayer, John Eldon, 1899-1980 person
associatedWith Turteltaub, Saul, 1932- person
associatedWith United States Department of the Treasury corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Treasury Department. Savings Bond Division corporateBody
associatedWith Westmoreland, William C. (William Childs), 1914-2005 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Actors and actresses
Humorists, American
Women comedians
Women comedians


Birth 1917-07-17

Death 2012-08-20



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