Phyllis Diller

On this date in 1917, actress and comedian Phyllis Diller, née Phyllis Ada Driver, was born in Lima, Ohio. She studied piano at Chicago’s Columbia College and transferred to Bluffton College, a Mennonite school, but never graduated. She met Sherwood Diller at Bluffton and they married in 1939.

She began her entertainment career doing radio shows in California in 1952. She started doing stand-up at the Purple Onion, a well-known club in San Francisco, in 1955. In her well-known comedy routine she caricatured a housewife, made self-deprecating jokes and performed with wild hair and a cigarette holder.

She appeared in many movies and TV shows with Bob Hope, and even accompanied him to Vietnam to entertain the military during the Vietnam War. She famously acted in the movie “Boy, Did I get a Wrong Number” (1966) and the television show “The Pruitts of Southampton” from the 1960s. Diller appeared in many movies, television shows and stand-up routines.

In 2000 she was honored with the Lucy Award, given in honor of Lucille Ball to women who have enhanced the perception of women through television. She wrote five books, including her autobiography, Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse, published in 2005.

Kindness was her religion, she once said. In his 2021 book “A Carnival of Snackery,” David Sedaris recalled visiting Diller at home in 2010 when the topic turned to religion: ” ‘A bunch of garbage,’ Phyllis called it.” “So you’re an atheist?” Sedaris asked. “Hell yes,” she replied. On another visit two years later, the subject was prayer. “Isn’t that the worst,” Diller said. “I hate it even more when they want you to hold their [expletive] hand. Blech!”

Diller married and divorced twice and had six children: Peter, Sally, Suzanne, Stephanie, Perry, and a son who died shortly after being born. She died at home in Los Angeles at age 95 and her ashes were scattered at sea. D. 2012.

Freedom From Religion Foundation