Posts Tagged ‘95th birthday’

Phyllis Diller Turns 95!

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

She was the first female comedian to headline a Vegas Club, the first woman to sneak into the all-male Friar’s Club (in drag!), and one of the first successful female stand-up comics. She’s also appeared on more Bob Hope Specials than anyone except Bob Hope. Phyllis Diller, who turns 95 today, is not only a television pioneer, but a pioneering force for women in entertainment, as well.

Born Phyllis Aida Driver On July 17, 1917 in Lima, Ohio, Diller wanted to be a pianist as a young girl. She attended college at the Sherwood Music Conservatory in Chicago for three years, but left to finish her studies at Bluffton College back in Ohio. She eloped in 1939 with Sherwood Diller, the brother of a classmate, and moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan and then to Alameda, California, where her husband worked at the Naval Air Station. Diller first got a job writing gossip and shopping columns for a local San Leandro newspaper, then as a fashion writer for Conn’s department store, moved on to writing for KROW radio in Oakland, and then to KSFO San Francisco as head of merchandising and press relations.

Her husband encouraged Diller to move to the talent side of the business, which she did by creating her “Phyllis Dillis, the Homely Friendmaker” persona:

Diller and a few friends put together an act, and she soon became the breadwinner of the family. She began a five-year run performing at the Purple Onion night club, toured the country, and in 1958 made her TV debut on You Bet Your Life with host Groucho Marx. She had just begun to comprehend the importance of theatricality and slowly started crafting her signature look: bleach-blonde hair, colorful costumes, and exposed “chicken-legs”:

Two additional items became part of Diller’s persona – her laugh:

And her ever-present cigarette holder:

One of Diller’s most memorable creations was “Fang”, the mythical husband-figure she often complained about in her act, who wasn’t actually based on her real-life husband:

In 1962 Diller made her first hugely successful appearance on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. She soon secured her first movie role, as nightclub hostess “Texas Guinan” in Splendor in the Grass, and appeared in several regional theater plays including “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs” with co-star Blythe Danner. In 1961 Diller became the first female comic to headline in Vegas, at the Flamingo. Of her Vegas act she told us, “I wrote my own material, and no one had ever heard it from a woman’s angle. Now the mother-in-law is his mother… I did a lot of housewife stuff. My first bit was stuffing a turkey. Now you think, well, this isn’t going to interest men, but it did because they’re interested in women. It became funny. If it’s funny, it’ll sell.”

Diller published her first book in 1963 and in 1964 made the first of many appearances on Bob Hope Specials. Diller felt she instantly clicked with Hope:

Throughout the 1960s Diller appeared on numerous talk and game shows, including: The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, I’ve Got a Secret, and Match Game. She traveled to Vietnam to entertain the troops with Bob Hope, and in 1966 starred in The Pruitts of Southampton, later retitled The Phyllis Diller Show – a half-hour sitcom about a wealthy family who suddenly becomes poor (“the opposite of The Beverly Hillbillies” as Diller described it.) She also appeared in a series of films including That Spy, Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number (with Bob Hope), and The Mad Monster Party.

1968’s The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show started out as a 90-minute special that blossomed into a season-long variety show (one of the writers of which was a young Lorne Michaels), and in 1970 became the sixth Dolly in Broadway’s “Hello, Dolly.” In the late ’60s and early ’70s she enjoyed a semi-regular role on Love, American Style, and debuted her “Dame Illya Dillya” concert pianist persona in 1971, which kicked-off a series of symphony shows around the country and allowed her to utilize her piano skills. She very publicly underwent a face-lift in 1972, appeared as judge on the premiere episode of The Gong Show in 1976, and in 1983 became the first woman to dress in drag to sneak into the all-male Friar’s Club (for Sid Caesar’s roast):

Diller suffered a heart attack in 1999, and hasn’t done stand-up since being fitted for a pacemaker. However, she played “Gladys Pope” on the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful from 1999-2004, and continues to make talk show appearances. She’s also active in voiceover work, voicing the Queen in A Bug’s Life, and the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nuttiest Nutcracker.

Stand-up, Broadway, TV, movies, voiceovers… Phyllis Diller is one talented lady. Happy 95th, Phyllis! Here’s to many, many more!

Watch Phyllis Diller’s full Archive interview.

- by Adrienne Faillace

From “Marty” to “Mermaid Man”: Ernest Borgnine Turns 95!

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Ernest Borgnine turns the big 9-5 today!  One of the most prolific, well-respected character actors of all time, Borgnine has appeared in over 200 films. He’s starred in/been an ensemble player in several television series, and thanks to a voiceover role on SpongeBob SquarePants, he’s recently acquired a whole new generation of fans. At 95, Ernest Borgnine is still going strong.

Born Ermes Effron Borgnino on January 24, 1917 in Hamden, Connecticut, Borgnine never thought he’d be an actor. It was at the urging of his mother (“Have you ever thought of becoming an actor? You always like to make a darn fool of yourself in front of people. Why don’t you give it a try?”) that he entered the field. We’re so grateful that he did!

After graduating high school, Borgnine joined the Navy in 1935, ended his service in 1941, and went right back in again when World War II broke out. Once he set his sights upon acting, he first attended Yale University, but then moved on to the Randall School of Drama in Hartford, CT to concentrate solely on the dramatic arts. After significant stage work at the Barter Theater in Virginia and time on Broadway in “Harvey”, Borgnine appeared as the evil “Nargola” on the popular 1951 children’s television show, Captain Video and his Video Rangers. In 1953 he played “Sgt. ‘Fatso’ Judson” in From Here to Eternity, but the role with which Borgnine would forever be associated came in 1955. Based on Paddy Chayefsky’s television play of the same name, Borgnine auditioned for, and won the part – and the Best Actor Oscar that year – for playing the title role in Marty:

A big screen star, Borgnine soon conquered the small screen as well. In 1963 he made his first of many appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and was asked to play the lead in a dramatic show called Seven Men Against the Sea, which as Borgnine explains in the following clip, eventually became the 1964 comedy McHale’s Navy:

Borgnine began his run occupying center square on the popular game show Hollywood Squares in 1966, starred in the film The Poseidon Adventure in 1972, and appeared in the short-lived series Future Cop in 1976-77. In ‘77 he played “The Centurion” in Franco Zeffirelli’s TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, and from 1984-86 he was back starring in a TV series again, this time as “Dominic Santini” in the action-adventure show Airwolf:

After playing “Manny the Doorman” on the mid-’90s show The Single Guy and voicing “Carface” on the animated TV series All Dogs Go To Heaven, in 1999 Borgnine began lending his voice to SpongeBob SquarePants‘ “Mermaid Man”, thrilling girl scouts and adults alike with his maniacal catch phrase, “EVIIIIIIL”:

Continuing to stay active in both film and television, Ernest Borgnine shows no signs of slowing down. You can next see him as “Rex Page” in the film The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez, due out later this year. 

Happy birthday, Ernest!!  Here’s to many, many more!

- by Adrienne Faillace