Monday, August 20, 2012

Remembering Phyllis Diller

When I heard that Phyllis Diller passed away I felt sad, but I also smiled. I'll tell you why.

I lived in Los Angeles for a number of years working as a photo editor for movie studios and later as a elementary school teacher. During that time I also worked as a free lance photographer on weekends and picked up the occasional catering gig for a company to earn a little extra money. As you know teachers don't make a lot of money and neither do photo editors.

Anyway, one of these catering jobs was at Bea Arthur's house in Hollywood. When most people think of a star's house, they think of a big fancy place full of splash and glamour. Well Bea's house was pretty modest, simply furnished, and looked a little like the "Golden Girls" set. What was remarkable about her house was the backyard. Real estate is at a premium in Los Angeles, especially in Hollywood. This backyard was HUGE. It stretched very far back.

I don't remember what the purpose of the party was. Sadly, Bea seemed a bit confused and befuddled. Her companion/assistant basically ran the show, so to speak. There were a bunch of actors and industry types there, and it was our job to serve drinks, pass appetizers and work the buffet line. One of the people invited to this party was Phyllis Diller. This was exciting! She was not only somebody I watched as a kid (in reruns), but she was a Legend. She was a pioneer. I was thrilled! Phyllis was a ground breaking female comedian. The first of her kind. This was why I was so excited, not necessarily because she was a star, but for what she accomplished.

Now what makes me smile every time I think of her? Her laugh. At this party I discovered that Phyllis has one of the most distinctive laughs I have ever heard. This laugh was no dainty giggle. It was an all out startling, filled with mirth, long, reverberating, goose honk of a laugh. To hear it, made you giggle. At one point I was serving from the buffet line, when Phyllis laughed. It so happened that I was serving Alicia Silverstone right when this laugh ripped through the backyard (Phyllis was at the very back of the yard). Alicia jumped, looked utterly startled and said, "What was that?!"

"Oh, that's Phyllis Diller laughing," I replied.

Alicia looked at me confused and said, "Who's Phyllis Diller?"

It was my turn to look confused. How could she be in the industry and not know who Phyllis Diller was? I quickly gave her an explanation, she didn't seem all that impressed, and walked away. To say I was surprised is an understatement. However, other people seemed to know Phyllis and given the amount of laughing, she was having a great time.

So whenever I think of Phyllis, I think of that laugh. It makes me smile and sometimes giggle with the memory. She lived a long life that was full of achievement. I can only hope that right before Phyllis passed, she was able to have one last remarkable laugh.


  1. How fortunate you were to have been in the company of the remarkable Phyllis Diller! As a child, I often watched movies starring that zany woman with the wild hair, she was a hoot! Definitely one of a kind in her day!

  2. What a great story! Thanks for sharing.