Phyllis Diller (born Phyllis Ada Driver on July 17, 1917, in Lima, Ohio) is an American comedian who is generally considered one of the pioneers of female stand-up comedy. The stage character she created was a wild-haired, oddly-dressed housewife who was ugly but didn't realize it, and made jokes about a husband named "Fang" while smoking from a long cigarette holder. She is also well known for her distinctive, cackling laugh, one of the best-recognized in comedy.
Diller was born to Perry Marcus Driver and Frances Ada Romshe. Her German great-grandfather, Ludwig Treiber, anglicized the surname to Driver. A housewife, mother and advertising copywriter, Diller appeared on The Jack Paar Show and as a contestant on Groucho Marx's quiz show You Bet Your Life in the mid-1950s. Later in the decade, her career took off after selling out 87 straight weeks at San Francisco's legendary nightclub The Purple Onion. It was there that Diller honed her act. In her heyday, Diller achieved a record that still stands today in the Guinness Book of World Records for delivering 12 punchlines per minute, which is typical of her often outrageous, staccato style of comedy.
Bob Hope costarred with Diller in 23 TV specials and in three films in the late 1960s, Eight on the Lam, The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell, and Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!. All of these films were failures at the box office, but Hope invited Diller to perform with him in Vietnam in 1966 with his USO troupe during the height of the conflict in that country.
Though her main claim to fame is her stand-up comedy act, Diller also has appeared in other films besides the three mentioned above, including a scene-stealing cameo appearance as a wisecracking lounge-act emcee in the 1961 Hollywood production of Splendor in the Grass, starring Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty. She appeared in more than a dozen, generally low-budget movies, including as The Monster's Mate in the Arthur Rankin/Bass animated cult classic Mad Monster Party (1967), co-starring Boris Karloff. She also starred in two short-lived television series: The Pruitts of Southampton on ABC in 1966 and the variety show The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show on NBC in 1968. In 1998, Diller parlayed her unique cackle into the vocals for "The Queen" in Disney/Pixar's animated movie A Bug's Life.
More recent television appearances for Diller have included a guest spot on the long-running family drama, 7th Heaven, where she hilariously boozed it up while cooking dinner for the household. In 2005, Diller was featured as one of many contemporary comics in a documentary film, The Aristocrats. Diller did not deliver a version of the joke, however, but did recall the first time she heard the joke (and fainted from shock.)
Diller, a longtime resident of Brentwood, credits much of her success to the late Bob Hope, in large part because he included her in the pictures and Vietnam USO shows mentioned above. She keeps a framed portrait of Hope above her grand piano in the living room of her home, and in her private life she is an accomplished pianist as well as a painter.
Diller has publicly and bluntly discussed her plastic surgery, which changed her persona from being deliberately ugly to being somewhat chic and attractive for her age. Diller's efforts have drawn numerous awards and acknowledgments from plastic surgeons and medical organizations.
Diller has been married three times. She was divorced twice and widowed once. She has five children from her marriage to her first husband, Sherwood Diller, on whom "Fang" was based. Diller's daughter Sally has suffered from schizophrenia for most of her life. Diller's second husband was Warde Donovan. Diller is a grandmother several times over.
Most recently, Diller has suffered serious medical problems which culminated in her being pronounced clinically dead for three minutes. She has since retired from standup performance.
In the Spring of 2005, Diller fell out of bed at her Brentwood mansion and had to have pins surgically inserted into her neck in order to heal properly. Her prognosis for recovery was deemed very good.
She wrote an autobiography titled Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse. A screenplay about Diller's early years in showbiz is in preproduction with actress Patricia Clarkson slated to play Diller in a film due to be released in 2006.
- Splendor in the Grass (1961)
- The Fat Spy (1965)
- Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1966)
- Mad Monster Party (1967) (voice)
- Eight on the Lam (1967)
- Silent Treatment (1968)
- Rowan & Martin at the Movies (1968) (short subject)
- The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell (1968)
- Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady? (1968)
- The Adding Machine (1969)
- Mooch Goes to Hollywood (1971)
- The Lion Roars Again (1975) (short subject)
- The Sunshine Boys (1975) (Cameo)
- A Pleasure Doing Business (1979)
- Pink Motel (1982)
- Doctor Hackenstein (1988)
- Pucker Up and Bark Like a Dog (1990)
- The Nutcracker Prince (1990) (voice)
- Wisecracks (1991) (documentary)
- The Boneyard (1991)
- The Perfect Man (1993)
- Happily Ever After (1993) (voice)
- The Silence of the Hams (1994)
- A Bug's Life (1998) (voice)
- The Debtors (1999)
- 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)
- Forget About It (2005)
- The Aristocrats (2005) (documentary)
- Unbeatable Harold (2005) (currently in post-production)
- The Pruitts of Southampton (1966-1967)
- The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show (1968) (canceled after 4 months)
- The Gong Show (1976-1980) (regular panelist throughout run)
- Jonathan Winters: Over the Ledge (1987)
- Alice Through the Looking Glass (1987) (voice)
- Captain Planet and the Planeteers (1990-1993) (voice)
- Blossom (television) (cast member from 1993-1995)
- Titus (cast member in 2002)