“Thank you for coming to speak to us.” After my most recent book talk a lady came up to chat. “I always loved Phyllis Diller. I saw her when she appeared here in Las Vegas back in the 70s.”
“Wow! I was with her then. You saw her at the Riviera?”
“Yes. Back when it was the classy hotel. That and the Desert Inn.”
“Oh yes, I remember them well — the DI was the place for high rollers. It was beautiful.”
We reminisced a bit, she bought a book and left, leafing through the first few pages as she headed for the door.
It made me happy to connect with one of Phyllis’s fans. One of the things I like best about giving talks about Phyllis is that everyone seems to have loved her. I’ve not had a single person say anything like, “well, she was okay …” No. 100% of the people I’ve ever talked to have said, “Oh, I loved Phyllis Diller!”
A question that has been asked several times is, “what would Phyllis think about today’s comedians?” I cannot give an answer. For one thing, I worked with Phyllis 40 years ago — hard to believe — before most of the new crop had even learned to talk. And Phyllis herself changed over the years and according to some of the later Dustbiters; she became more political and more outspoken. When I worked for her, her fame was still pretty new.
One of the things I appreciated about Phyllis was that she didn’t use foul langauge and she didn’t have a temper. Okay, that’s two things. Did she tell dirty jokes? Well, yes, offstage with friends sometimes. But that was not her stock-in-trade. She didn’t swear. She didn’t take the Lord’s name in vain, and she didn’t have tantrums.
When I was pushed to articulate something I learned about show business while I was working for Phyllis, I had to say that the big stars — the ones who were on top — treated other people with courtesy. George Gobel, Alan Alda and Candice Bergen immediately come to mind. They were never rude or demanding; they always said “thank you;” they asked politely when they wanted something. The younger ones, the starlets and wanna-bes were often petulant and arrogant, expecting everyone to cater to them. I couldn’t tell you their names if I tried — they never “made it.” No mystery there.
As I go around giving talks, I am surprised that more people never saw Phyllis in person, but as a fellow writer reminded me, her audience is getting old and dying off. Yeah, I’ve noticed.
I’m sorry for the “younger generation” (that would be anyone under 50) who never saw Phyllis Diller on stage — or even on TV. She was fun and funny and made people laugh and feel good. It was a worthy talent and she used it well. A life well-lived.