Posts Tagged ‘TV comedy’

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

The one where “Friends” creators tell their story: Marta Kauffman & David Crane’s interview now online

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

The writers and co-creators of Friends and Dream On shared their story with the Archive in 2010. The longtime writing partners were interviewed together, and individually about their past and current projects. David Crane was recently nominated for and Emmy for Outstanding Writing for Episodes, which he briefly discusses. Their complete interview is now online at emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/david-crane-and-marta-kauffman

On the effect Friends had on American pop culture:

“At a certain point the show tells you what it wants, and you know you’re going in a certain direction and you had no idea that this arc would be so powerful and you have to go with it… When you do a show, your intention is not to affect American culture or to have people start wanting to wear their hair like this or dress like that.”

On what Friends means to them:

David Crane on advice to aspiring TV writers, from his solo interview:

On why their writing partnership was successful:

ABOUT THIS INTERVIEW
David Crane and  Marta Kauffman were interviewed for three hours in Burbank, CA. They spoke of how they began writing together, their partnership with Kevin Bright, and the creation of the popular series Friends as well as Dream On and other series and pilots they worked on together. They spoke in great detail about Friends; its development, cast, and writing process. Crane and Kauffman were also interviewed separately, speaking about their early influences as well as more current solo projects. The interview was conducted by Beth Cochran on October 7, 2010.

“I Love Lucy” Writer Madelyn Pugh Davis is 90

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Happy Birthday to Archive Interviewee Madelyn Pugh Davis! Born March 15, 921, Madelyn became known in the 1950s for her work writing on the I Love Lucy television series, alongside partner Bob Carroll. Watch the complete interview with Bob and Madelyn here.

About This Interview

Bob Carroll, Jr. (1918-2007) and writing partner Madelyn Pugh Davis, were interviewed for three hours in Los Angeles, CA. Davis and Carroll speak of their 50-year writing relationship that included writing for Steve Allen, as well as the decades of working with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and the classic I Love Lucy show.

When asked about working together, Madelyn said “We never had to argue about what was funny.  We just argued about the temperature of the room.”

The interview was conducted by Tom Gilbert on November 24, 1997.