July 17: Phyllis Diller

Phyllis Diller (1917)

Phyllis Diller

It was on this date, July 17, 1917, that the comedienne and actress with the distinctive laugh, Phyllis Diller, was born Phyllis Ada Driver in Lima, Ohio. She was a San Francisco housewife with five children when her under-employed husband suggested she try to make a career of the comedic skits she exploited at PTA functions.

Diller got her first national exposure as a contestant on the Groucho Marx gameshow “You Bet Your Life” around 1950. Diller’s break was being discovered by comedian Bob Hope while performing in a Washington DC nightclub. She subsequently appeared with Hope in three of his films and almost two dozen of Hope’s TV specials — not to mention her own TV series, “The Pruitts of Southampton” (1966), and a Queen in A Bug’s Life (1998). In her career, she played herself almost as much as she played a character. Part of Diller’s stand-up trademark was mentioning her fictional husband “Fang.”

As a sideline, Diller was a concert pianist, having appeared as a soloist across the United States: in Dallas, Denver, Annapolis, Houston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Cincinnati. Diller announced her retirement from nightclub/stage tours at age 84 in May 2002.

An article by Graydon Royce in the 1 January 1999 edition of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune highlights celebrity predictions. Diller offered one for the year 3000:

In the year 3000 the universe will be expanding as it will forever, infinitely. We will probe outer space but never find life as evolutionized as ours. We were not created by a deity. We created the deity on our image. … Life began on this planet when the first amoeba split. Mankind will still be seeking God, not accepting that God is a spirit; can’t see it, touch it, only feel it. It’s called Love.*

Diller was interviewed for the November 2001 AIDS magazine A&U, which appeared just months before her retirement announcement. Asked how she visualizes the hereafter, Diller replied, “There isn’t any, you dingbat!” After her famous hacking laugh, Diller continued,

This is it, baby! Enjoy, carefully! Religion is such a medieval idea. Don’t get me started. I have thought about every facet of religion and I can’t buy any of it. … So God made man in His own image? It’s just the other way around. Man made God in his own image. … [I]t’s all about money.

* This quote is dated July 17, 1997 on the Celebrity Atheist List, where Diller’s religion is listed as “ambiguous.”

Originally published July 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.

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Posted in Entertainer, Famous Freethinkers, Film

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John Mill

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