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Phyllis Diller (born Phyllis Ada Driver; July 17, 1917) is an American actress and comedian. She created a stage persona of a wild-haired, eccentrically dressed housewife who makes self-deprecating jokes about her age and attractiveness (or supposed lack thereof), her terrible cooking, and about a husband named "Fang" while pretending to smoke from a long cigarette holder. Diller's signature is her unusual laugh.

Early life

Phyllis Diller was born to Perry Marcus Driver and his wife, Frances Ada Romshe (who was about twenty years younger than her husband) in Lima, Ohio..

The censuses from 1920 and 1930 state that the Driver family lived on West Mark Street, in Lima; in both instances, Perry Driver was listed as being an insurance agent. Diller attended Lima's Central High School, then studied for three years at Sherwood Music Conservatory in 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, Michigan, while her husband worked at the historic 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 the piano 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.

Career

Diller began her career working at KROW radio in Oakland in 1952. In November of that year, she began filming a television show titled "Phyllis Dillis, the Homely Friendmaker." The 15-minute series was a BART (Bay Area Radio-Television) production, directed for television by ABC's Jim Baker. The cameraman later admitted that there was no film: The camera was open during the filming. In the mid 1950s, while residing in the East Bay city of Alameda, California, Diller was employed at KSFO radio in San Francisco. Bill Anderson wrote and produced a television show at KGO-TV called "The Belfast Pop Club," which was hosted by Don Sherwood. "Pop Club" was a half-hour show that combined playing records with "experts" rating them, and dancing girls encouraging audience participation. The show was an early advertisement for Belfast Root Beer, known today as Mug Root Beer. Anderson invited her onto his show on April 23, 1955 as a vocalist.

Diller first appeared as a stand-up at The Purple Onion on March 7, 1955 and remained there for 87 straight weeks. Diller appeared on "Del Courtney's Showcase" on KPIX television on November 3, 1956. Diller's fame was expanded when she co-starred with Bob Hope in 23 television 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 Vietnam in 1966 with his USO troupe during the height of the Vietnam War.

Throughout the 1960s she appeared regularly as a special guest on many television programs. For example, she appeared as one of the What's My Line? Mystery Guests. 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 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 has also appeared in other films besides the three mentioned above, including a cameo appearance as Texas Guinan, the wisecracking nightclub hostess in the 1961 film Splendor in the Grass. She appeared in more than a dozen, usually low-budget, movies, including voice work as The Monster's Mate in the Rankin/Bass animated film 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 got drunk 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 December 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 December 1970.

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

In 1998, Diller provided 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 blue comedy, 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.

In 2000, she was awarded the Women in Film Lucy Award in recognition of her excellence and innovation in her creative works that have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television

On January 24, 2007, she appeared on The Tonight Show and performed stand-up, before chatting with Jay Leno.

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 character Denny Crane, alleging to have had a torrid love affair with him. 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. The mayor of Philadelphia officially proclaimed June 8, 2001, as "Phyllis Diller Day." She was presented an official proclamation onstage to a standing ovation. In 2006, Mayor of San Francisco 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 records, one of which was Born To Sing, released as Columbia CS 9523.

Although known for decades for smoking from long cigarette holders in her comedy act, Diller is a lifelong nonsmoker, and the cigarette holders were stage props that she had specially constructed.

Personal life

Diller, a longtime resident of the Brentwood area of Los Angeles, California, credits much of her success to Bob Hope, in large part because he included her in many of his films and his Vietnam USO shows. She is an accomplished pianist as well as a painter.

Family:

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, 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 (born Warde Tatum), whom she married on 7 October 1965 and divorced the following year; they apparently re-married and divorced for a second time in 1974. Her youngest son Perry, now 60, oversees her affairs today. Diller is not the mother of actress Susan Lucci, nor TV personality Dorothy Lucey, despite urban legends to that effect, frequently passed through viral emails under trivia headings such as "Did You Know...?" The husband frequently mentioned in her act, "Fang", was entirely fictional, and not based on either of her actual husbands.

Plastic surgery:

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". Her numerous surgeries were the subject of a 20/20 segment February 12, 1993.

Health problems:

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 neurological tests and pacemaker installation in 2005. She has since retired from stand-up comedy appearances.

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. On January 4, 2011, she appeared looking well on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" as part of a panel of comedians.

Recent pursuits:

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 comedian. Diller spends much of her time painting, cooking, and gardening.

Filmography

Features:

Splendor in the Grass (1961),

The Fat Spy (1966),

Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966),

Eight on the Lam (1967),

Silent Treatment (1968) (unfinished),

The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell (1968),

Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady? (1968),

Mad Monster Party (1967) (voice),

The Adding Machine (1969),

The Sunshine Boys (1975),

A Pleasure Doing Business (1979),

Pink Motel (1982),

Doctor Hackenstein (1988),

Pucker Up and Bark Like a Dog (1990),

The Nutcracker Prince (1990) (voice),

The Boneyard (1991),

Wisecracks (1992) (documentary),

The Perfect Man (1993),

Happily Ever After (1993) (voice),

The Silence of the Hams (1994),

A Bug's Life (1998) (voice),

The Debtors (1999),

The Nuttiest Nutcracker (1999) (voice) (direct-to-video),

Everything's Jake (2000),

The Last Place on Earth (2002),

Hip! Edgy! Quirky! (2002),

Bitter Jester (2003) (documentary),

Motocross Kids (2004),

West from North Goes South (2004),

Goodnight, We Love You (2004) (documentary),

The Aristocrats (2005) (documentary),

Madman Muntz: American Maverick (2005) (documentary),

Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006) (documentary),

Unbeatable Harold (2006),

Forget About It (2006),

Celebrity Art Show (2008) (documentary),

Blaze of Glory (2008) (voice),

You Know the Face (2009) (documentary),

Looking for Lenny (2009) (documentary),

How to Live Forever (2009) (documentary),

Short Subjects:

Rowan & Martin at the Movies (1968),

The Lion Roars Again (1975),

Television work

The Phyllis Diller Special (1963),

The Pruitts of Southampton (1966-1967),

An Evening with Phyllis Diller (1966),

The Phyllis Diller Special (1968),

The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show (1968) (canceled after 13 episodes),

The Mad, Mad, Mad Comedians (1970) (voice),

Night Gallery (1970) Episode "Pamela's Voice",

Mooch Goes to Hollywood (1971),

Love American Style "Love and the Heist" (1971),

The New Scooby Doo Movies episode 6: "A Good Medium is Rare" (1972) (voice),

Phyllis Diller's 102nd Birthday Party (1974),

The Gong Show (1976-1980) (recurring panelist throughout run),

The Muppet Show (1977),

On Location: Phyllis Diller (1977),

Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell sisters NBC (1981 in television),

Whatever Became Of... (1981) (unsold pilot),

Jonathan Winters: On the Ledge (1987),

Alice Through the Looking Glass (1987) (voice),

227 (1990) (One episode),

Hey Arnold! (1999) (Mitzi),

The Bold and the Beautiful (recurring cast member from 1995-2004),

Kiss My Act (2001),

Titus (2001) (Grandma Titus),

Even Stevens (2002) (Coach Korns),

Casper's Scare School (2006) (voice),

Family Guy (Recurring voice of Thelma Griffin),

Robot Chicken (2005) Phyllis Diller Spray N' Play,

Boston Legal (2007) (One of Denny's past lovers),

Roseanne's Nuts (2011) (Herself),

Celebrity Ghost Stories (2011) as herself,

The Powerpuff Girls (2004) as Mask Scara,

The Bold and the Beautiful (2012) 2 episodes as Gladys the Gardner