Gone but certainly not forgotten by those of us who remember her raspy guffaw and hilarious one-liners. Phyllis Diller deservedly lived a long life and died at ninety-five. She was the first mainstream female comic to make it big on TV and in movies, often co-starring with Bob Hope, and headlining in nightclubs for decades. A sample of her work from the 1970s:
Phyllis focused a lot of her comedy on her fictional husband, Fang, and so did I when writing gags for her back in the early 1970s. She bought a lot of gags from a lot of writers. She paid $100 for a page of ten gags, whether she used them all or not. I only wrote a few pages for her before moving on to writing books.
I met her again when she was a panelist on a Chuck Barris-produced precursor to The View called, Leave It To The Women, hosted by Stephanie Edwards, and with one of the other panelists being actress Bess Armstrong. I was there to promote my 1981 book, Psychological Immortality, and Phyllis was fascinated by my assertion that our attitude about aging can impact our lifespan. I autographed a copy to her, and would like to think she read it and it contributed to her own long and vital life. I had interviewed my friend and mentor Norman Cousins for that book, and Phyllis told me she was also a friend of Norman's, often meeting him for lunch. She was brilliant and very well-read, and far from a silly woman despite her raucous material.
If you watch Phyllis perform and then watch Joan Rivers, you can see why she was so proud of Joan as "my protégé."
The only joke I remember writing for Phyllis, and I'm not even sure she ever used it, though she paid me $100 for it and nine others on a single page, was:
"You know old age is creeping up on you when you miss a lunch date because you're 'out to lunch.'"
Alas, I can't recall any of my "Fang" gags. But I remember Phyllis Diller herself very well indeed--smart, sassy, funny, and a genuine class act.
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