PHYLLIS DILLER

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Did You Know About Phyllis Diller's Donation to the American History Museum?

At the American History Museum, there are quite a few famous donors to choose from. Just to keep things interesting, let's play a game called guess the donor. We'll start with some clues, such as this joke. You know, you're old when your walker has an airbag. Yep. It's Phyllis Diller.

One of America's most successful comics decided before her death to write a letter to the Smithsonian Institute, making them an offer they couldn't refuse. Curator Dwight Bowers received the letter from Diller. In the letter, in all her modesty, Phyllis said that ever since she heard of the inclusion of Archie Bunker's chair in the Smithsonian display, she has wondered if the Institute might have interest in something of hers. Phyllis Diller then enclosed a bio of her career, stating in case you're not familiar with my work. Yes, she was superbly modest. She then went on to say that she has kept the dress that she wore with Bob Hope during his 1966 Vietnam Expedition. She's basically saying, in case you're not familiar with my work, hello, Bob Hope and I were in Vietnam together performing for the troops. Just in case you've been living under a rock.

So how did Phyllis Diller get her start? Back in 1955, Diller was a working mom with five kids.. back when life as a suburban housewife was thought to be mundane.

She had a desire to perform comedy based upon her suburban housewife experiences, and she took to the stage at 37 years old as the world's worst housewife at a nightclub in San Francisco. The rest, as they say, is history.

Decades later, at 84 years old, she chose to donate much of her personal comedy memorabilia to the American History Museum. Perhaps so you can always think of her role in making way for the presence of women in comedy, because she was the first woman to successfully have a career as a stand-up comic which is a very big deal. Phyllis Diller was extremely generous to the Smithsonian, saying take what you like. The curator immediately chose the costume that she wore on Broadway in the hit Hello Darling. The costumes were as flamboyant as the comic herself. Phyllis told him that this is one of my favorites. This is a costume she wore with Bob Hope and is replete with wonderful feathers.

Even more interesting, however, was the joke file she kept in her room as if it were a shrine... and it is indeed a shrine to comedy. Over her career, Diller amassed an enormous collection of jokes. So immense it took her own version of the Dewey Decimal System to keep it organized, with many promising headings such as Avon lady, Dad, service, astrology, astronauts, Miss America and more.

A truly interesting fact about Phyllis Diller is that she holds a record for telling the most jokes. Yes, in the Guinness Book of World Records with 12 laughs a minute. Jokes such as, I was so ugly. Oh, I don't know how to tell you. I wore a choke chain till I was 12. My own Ouija board told me to go to hell. A Peeping Tom threw up on my windowsill. Or 2 Irish guys walk out of a bar. It could happen.

Phyllis Diller says she just wanted to make everybody feel good. She obviously took this to heart and now the Smithsonian has all her lines to prove it.

Phyllis Diller's Last Interview Shows What a Funny, Kind and Appreciative Woman She Was

On behalf of the Northwest Ohio Film Foundation and her Legions of fans from around the town of Lima, Ohio and around the world... It gives me great pleasure and honor to present Phyllis Diller comic icon, comic trailblazer, and comedic genius with the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Phyllis: Oh, you're going to give me that. Well, then I like you already.. isn't that beautiful? Isn't that beautiful? What a lovely gift and a stunning award. Thank you. It is just gorgeous. Absolutely, plus the thought behind it warms my heart. And who ever would have ever thought that little Lima Ohio would end up the fast track. I love it. Why has Lima always been a creative place? Full of bright people doing bright things and I'm so honored to be from Lima. I thank you so much Lima for this and I feel very honored. And I'm also very very happy for Lima, that it keeps going onward and upward. You know that we have built a wonderful entertainment thought complex with the help of Jimmy Krause who generously gave money and he was always keeping money coming in. A lot of people don't think that area is worthy but it is a worthy thing. It's the icing on the cake cake. Yummy yummy.

It was so nice of you to come all the way from Lima, which is pretty much east coast clear to the west coast and bring me this very heavy and fancy award. I am going to treasure this for the rest of my life. And wen I say all my life, I think so long ha ha ha, you know you get real old and you think of how little time there is left. This is one of the high points of what time I have. I wish every little child could grow up in a Lima because there were so many cultural aspects that we took for granted. Yes, I wish that every child could live in a town like Lima where people got along with each other. There weren't that many divorces there, divorce was a big deal. And if the fireman went through town fast one day, that was excitement. I prefer that kind of safe slow excitement, but I'm very proud of Lima and you know, you read about children going to school carrying guns and all that crap makes me sick.. it shouldn't be happening, of course that comes down from the parents. We've got to be better parents.

I think I grew up pretty well. I think you did too because here I am with you, Lynn, and you have given me this beautiful award and I'm very grateful to you. Thank you so much. I want these kids to be good kids.

Lynn (interviewer): When you started, you had your first gig at the Purple Onion way back in 1955. Did you ever think when you went on stage the first time that you would have the career that you've had?

Phyllis: Yes, I did. This doesn't happen by accident. This was my plan. Of course, I felt it right then. Yes, it was know where you're going. I believe you design where you're going then go. When I began, I was making $60 a week. It's not a lot of money back then... no it never was a lot of money. You work your way very slowly.

Lynn: You've done a lot of work with Bob Hope?

Phyllis: Yes, a lot of my best work was with Bob and I once went with him into Vietnam. Yes. That was a big trip. Like, well, that was very exciting because it was a real war and they were dropping bombs around. We would get on big airplanes and the helicopter seated 38 people and and they had guns out the windows going bang bang bang so I was really proud to be a part of it and to be able to spread cheer. That's all we really did with morale boosters.

Lynn: What you do now is a transition from comedy to art and I know that you've done a lot, so was there even a transition or did you just do it naturally?

Phyllis: I've been painting and drawing pictures and playing all my life. It's just that I finally decided to press that button. I love art and art should be a part of everyday life. It should be a part of breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Lynn: And what inspires the artwork that you create?

Phyllis: Moments of the day. A lot of girls were afraid of the stage. But then they saw me alone on stage. She's there and she is standing. She's talking and she said something funny. I'm going to leave you with my favorite joke. I love it beyond belief. A mother's trying to get her son up in the morning. And she's running into a lot of problems. And he says, give me one good reason why I have to get up. She says you're 42, and you're the principal. hahahaha

Phyllis Diller Biography of How She Became a Comedian

She's more than just another pretty face. She's a comedy veteran who has been entertaining audiences for almost half a century. She's the groundbreaking comedian for women. It's Phyllis Diller, who started her career in comedy as a housewife with five kids and in the 1950s, back when there were absolutely no female stand-up comics. Her material came from her own life. As she once put it, half my act was about how much I hated ironing. I was saying things. All the women thought about but didn't say.

Her brand of domestic humor caught on, bringing her fame, fortune, and facelifts.. and paving the way for female comics to follow. Her biggest jokes were always at her own expense but her fight to get to the top of the comedy world was anything but funny. She was told as a housewife to get out of here. Don't do this. No woman had crossed before stand-up comedy went through a revolution and Phyllis Diller was one of the revolutionaries. She was such a breakthrough and she was the first celebrity to go public about cosmetic surgery. As she said, it's one of the greatest things that ever happened to me.

Show Business was a faraway world to the people of Lima, Ohio in 1917. Lima was a prospering town of 50,000 and a major rail center for Western Ohio. Hoping to share in that Prosperity was 55 year old Perry Driver, the brother of a confederate soldier and a recent arrival from Virginia. A widower, Perry married a local woman at age 38 and both worked in his modest insurance business. Despite their advanced age, the couple had a child Phyllis born on July 17th 1917. Her parents were determined to channel their only child into a variety of interests, especially music. Whenever the Drivers would have company, they would trot out Phyllis and she would sit down and play the piano which she did beautifully.

Phyllis also had a playful side for which he paid a serious price in 1926. Nine-year-old Phyllis climbed behind the wheel of the family's Model T and started to drive it. She ended up hitting a very solid post and messed up her face and damaged her nose. That crooked nose left permanent scars on her self-image as well as her face. So as a teenager, instead of using looks, Phyllis discovered another way to be popular. She kept up with her piano playing and also used a sharp sense of humor to make people laugh.

These talents soon found herself the center of attention, especially with the boys. Laughter and hard work would help the teenage Phyllis get through the Great Depression which hit Lima and the Driver family hard. Bank failures brought Perry Drivers onsurance business to a halt. As a result, Phyllis had to take any odd job she could find to help support her family.

In 1935 as the country began to recover, 18 year old Phyllis driver left Lima to try to start a career in music at the Sherwood Music Conservatory in Chicago. She dreamed of becoming a concert pianist, but after two years she realized she was not nearly as talented as her classmates. Reluctantly, she dropped out instead. She returned to Ohio and enrolled in tiny Bluffton college. She began studying for a teaching certificate, but that plan changed when she was introduced to a local boy named Sherwood Diller. Phyllis dropped out of college and eloped with Sherwood in 1939 and within a year, they had their first child.

Slowly, Phyllis came to realize that her new husband couldn't hold a job. He tried very hard to make a living. He suffered from agoraphobia which made it difficult for him to work with others or be a provider. Over the next 12 years, the family grew to five children and the Dillers moved around the country as their troubled father pursued a succession of short-lived careers.

With Sherwood's psychological problems, the family survival now depended on the 33 year old Phyllis, but leaving her children to go to work was painful. In 1950, the family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where Phyllis' natural sense of humor helped her land a job as a copywriter at a local radio station. Her wit and comedic abilities shined through her work and caught the notice of her husband. He encouraged Phyllis to become an entertainer, to go into comedy. Although reluctant at first, Phyllis eventually agreed to give it a try. If it weren't for Sherwood, there would be no Phyllis Diller. He gave her the ambition and the drive to become a comic while working as a copywriter.

Phyllis made her debut at a comedy club in 1955 and soon caught a following, which grew and grew. That's how a small-town girl from Ohio became the pioneer for women's comedy.

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