I haven’t been upstairs in my own house since August, and there is probably an inch of dust on everything. (No one else has been there either, so who cares?)
The reason for not going up there is I’m not allowed yet to climb steps, and it would be stupid to try, just as it was stupid lifting a heavy concrete block that got me in trouble in the first place with a leg full of torn ligaments.
Maybe it’s a good thing being grounded down here at the dining room table because there is a framed photo in my office upstairs that would be such fun to run with this column today, but it might get me in trouble if that picture was published without official permission.
Here is a description of the photo, which shows Phyllis Diller, the well-known comedienne, on stage at the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel ballroom. She is holding a microphone and staring with open mouth at a pair of identical Russian Wolfhounds. They are standing like statues (no leashes) waiting for me to give them a hand signal so we can trot down the runway together. I am wearing a pantsuit with a fur-lined jacket that matches the dogs, and the audience is going nuts.
Phyllis Diller was told, “The next model will appear with two dogs.” She told me later she expected little yappers, not tall, elegant wolfhounds. This was a charity fashion show raising money for breast cancer, and I was often asked to participate in these things and bring whatever trained dogs I had at the time. Phyllis Diller was also recruited to emcee various events like this, and whoever snapped that photo got a rare shot of Ms. Diller looking speechless.
That day was especially epic because she came backstage after the show — not to meet me, but to meet the dogs and go all ga-ga over them. In person, this mother of five was a totally gracious and normal lady, not at all like the raucous comedienne she portrayed on stage, film and television during her long career.
I have fond memories of seeing her back when she got her start in a basement bistro in San Francisco called “The Purple Onion.” I remember being shocked when she hit that small stage, wearing an outrageous wig, ugly housedress and using a long cigarette holder as a prop. It was on that stage Phyllis Diller tried out her jokes, which she wrote herself. When she referred to her husband as “Fang” and told deprecating jokes about him, the audience in that smoky basement laughed so hard she continued to refer to “Fang” in her stand-up act.
I still remember a joke she told that night in San Francisco, and here it is, word for word: “So I called Fang, who was in our hotel room, and told him I had wrecked the car at the corner of Post and Geary. Fang said, “Those two streets don’t intersect!” So I said to Fang, “They do now!” It broke me up then, and obviously I’ve never forgotten it.
I will be curious to hear from readers who may have memories of being at “The Purple Onion” or another San Francisco dive called “The Hungry i” where so many show biz people got their start – people like Bob Newhart, The Limelighters, The Smothers Brothers and many more. I went as often as possible during my Salad Days and treasure the memories of an era that is long gone.
I need to add here that the humor back then was never smutty or even suggestive. Oh, how far we have come! If it wasn’t for a recent email from my old school chum, Teresa, I wouldn’t be writing about Phyllis Diller who died in 2012. But my friend sent a list of Diller-isms that made me laugh and brought back the memories that inspired today’s column. Here are a few Diller originals:
“You know you’re old if they have discontinued your blood type.”
“Whatever you may look like, marry a man your own age. As your beauty fades, so will his eyesight.”
“I asked the waiter, is this milk fresh?” He said, ‘Lady, three hours ago it was grass.’”
“The reason women don’t play football is because 11 of them would never wear the same outfit in public.”
“Best way to get rid of kitchen odors: Eat out.”
“I want my children to have all the things I couldn’t afford. Then I want to move in with them.”
“Most children threaten at times to run away from home. This is the only thing that keeps some parents going.”
“Any time three New Yorkers get into a cab without an argument, a bank has just been robbed.”
“Tranquilizers work only if you follow the advice on the bottle — Keep away from children.”
Thanks Teresa for kicking my brain into action for today’s subject, and thanks to Phyllis Diller who kept us laughing for decades.
Bobbie Lippman is a professional writer who lives in Seal Rock. She is the author of “Good Grief: A Collection of Stories As One Woman Journeys From Heartbreak To Healing Through Honesty and Humor” (Dancing Moon Press). The book (with all proceeds going to Rotary International) is available at JC Market in Newport and directly from Bobbie, who can be contacted at [email protected]