Posted: August 22, 2012 | Leave a Comment
Dear Phyllis Diller died on August 20th (Monday) at the age of 95. She lived a long and busy life. She was a kind and generous lady, an exceptional talent and it saddens me to know that I won't be seeing her again. As a kid, I watched her on the Ed Sullivan show. It blew me away to see a woman on stage doing such funny stuff and being so successful. Phyllis wrote her own jokes and came up with her own unique persona. She was a pioneer. At a time when women were stereotyped to make fun of their "foolish, little girl ways" or to vamp unapologetically, she exaggerated her insecurities, joked about marriage and fidelity, and generally told the truth! She was a heroine to me and to many of my contemporaries who went on to work in comic art, theatre, and stand up comedy.
I had the good fortune to meet her personally when she came to North Bay to do a one woman show. She was wonderful. I had left a book ("Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse") for her to sign in the green room of the theatre, and I left her a book of my own. She signed her book to me and told me she enjoyed my work. She read FBorFW! I was thrilled. She said to call her if I was ever in LA, and I warned her that I would. The next time I was in Los Angeles, I did call her and she invited us over. Rod and I joined Phyllis and a friend for dinner at a local restaurant and it was a wonderful evening. She wore a wig- (I never saw her without one) and enjoyed being "Phyllis" for the people around us who recognized her right away. The next time I saw her was at her home. Our family was taking a Christmas cruise on a ship which left from Los Angeles and she invited us all to her home for a pre-Christmas dinner. I wanted to give her a unique gift, so I gave her a box of ginger chocolates and a nose hair trimmer. She loved them both. Funny gifts are the best.
Phyllis' home is a classic tudor style with leaded glass windows, rich patterned wallpaper, and hardwood floors. It's elegant and charming, and her kitchen with it's red cupboard doors is warm and welcoming. There is a formal dining room, but we sat in a tiny alcove under a grand, tasselled leaded glass lamp and enjoyed another fine evening with her. Phyllis had the most beautiful eyes. They were a deep, clear blue and she looked at you with such genuine interest and care. She had a beautiful smile which made her raucous laugh even funnier. Even though you knew it was coming, it was always unexpected. In her peach coloured living room, there is a grand piano with many photos on it. A painting of Bob Hope stands beside it on a stand with a light on it; something that made me think she must have loved him very much. Upstairs, is her painting studio, an office where she keeps her joke cabinet, a room for her stage clothing, and all of her wigs. In fact, the walls in this room are covered with wigs: All shades of blonde, some with curls, others with hair standing on end, some in rollers. She was a tiny lady. Her dresses, which hung on two long racks, were varied and colourful and about a size 4. I wouldn't have been able to wear her shoes either - because they too are very small. She led us through her whole house - something strangers would not be invited to do, so I considered myself a friend. How amazing to be considered a friend by Phyllis Diller! Over the years, I have kept in touch through letters and packages. She and I both love ginger and chocolate, and I regularly sent her a box of both. As she became more house bound, I sent her all of Stuart MacLean's recordings, which she loved to listen to in bed. Stuart is Canada's most beloved story teller whose regular broadcasts can be heard on the CBC every weekend. She wrote to Stuart to tell him that she loved his work and he was thrilled to receive her letter.
The last time I saw her was in her home. The two of us sat together in her hallway nook. She had a tray of munchies on the table and she offered me a martini. She said that she had had a wonderful life, and when it came to comedy and comedians she had known and worked with the best. I kept in touch with her until a couple of months ago. I sent her another package of ginger and chocolate, and when she didn't send a note in return, I wondered if I would be hearing news I didn't want to hear. Someone said that she died with a smile on her face. I'm betting that she did. My guess is that Bob Hope and company had her USO bags packed and ready and were waiting for her to join them on the road. Like everyone else who loved Phyllis, I will miss her very much. LJ
[photo of a cat on a sofa, lying near a "Farley" plushie]
This is a photo Phyllis sent of her cat, "Miss Kitty," with her favourite plush pal Farley!