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A Tribute to
Phyllis Diller

By Martha Bolton

We've had to say goodbye to an incredible talent, a great American, and a genuinely nice woman. Even with her wild hair and out of this world fashions, Phyllis Diller was one classy lady. Despite the cooking jokes (she was a great cook), the housekeeping jokes (her home was immaculate and beautifully decorated), the aging jokes (she got more beautiful as the years wore on, thanks to her oft joked about cosmetic surgeries), Phyllis Diller was not only the Queen of Comedy, but the Queen of Class, too.

Many of the comics of her generation had it. Danny Thomas, who fulfilled a promise he had made to St. Jude to open a children’s hospital.  Bob Hope, who tirelessly entertained our troops abroad, George Burns (as well as Bob Hope) who donated millions to the Motion Picture Hospital and countless other charities. Class.

The generation of comedians had class when it came to their material, too. They respected their audiences, never talking down to them, or turning on them if a joke didn’t work, or doing material that might make their audience squirm. Class.

Phyllis Diller never forgot those who helped her on the way up either. She would often credit Bob Hope for a big boost to her career.   She was in her late thirties before she even began doing stand up, and one night while performing in a Washington DC club, Bob Hope slipped in and caught her act.  Her self-critiques were telling her that she had bombed.  But Bob caught up with her after the show and told her that she was star material.  His encouragement meant so much to her that she kept a portrait of Bob Hope on prominent display in her home.  She never forgot his words to her that night, no matter how successful she became. Class.

And talk about selling a line—no one could do it better than Phyllis Diller. It didn’t matter what show or movie she was cast in, she brought 100% to her performance. And she had fun while doing it.  Phyllis was a walking party.  When she walked into a room, you’d better hang on because she was ready to laugh. And laugh she did. That contagious, outrageous laugh of hers.  You could hear it across the room, the studio, the restaurant, the world. It was unmistakably Phyllis Diller’s laugh.  It was heartfelt and real.  To enjoy life with such abandon, that too was classy.


She was an encourager, too.  On the pages of jokes that I would send to her, she would write notes in her own handwriting, checking off the ones she likes, making comments like “Brilliant,” “Dynamite,” or she would make suggestions on how they could be improved.  That kind of encouragement to a beginning comedy writer was even better than the check.  Class.
She not only blazed the trail for future female comedians, but she helped bring many alongside her. Unselfish support of future competition. Class.

We all know Phyllis Diller as a one of a kind comedian who made us laugh by just walking onto the stage in her zany costumes. But she was a classical pianist, as well as a talented artist of wonderful whimsical paintings, many of which have become the cover of her much anticipated yearly Christmas cards.  Class.
Phyllis Diller had a childlike joy inside of her.  She once told me that whenever she appeared on the Bob Hope TV specials, the two of them were like two kids playing in a sandbox. They both loved to dress up in outrageous costumes.  Neither one of them ever lost that sense of wonder and fun. Class.
We’ve had to say good-bye to a wonderfully classy lady.  To say she left the world a better place would be an understatement. It was reported that she died with a smile on her face.  A fitting farewell from a funny lady who savored all that life has to offer.  And she shared so much of her joy with us.






Copyright 2001-2005 Martha Bolton. All rights reserved.09/28/12 02:57 PM
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