August 22, 2012

Phyllis Diller 1917-2012

Comedian Phyllis Diller performs during the Bob Hope show for American troops at Can Ranh Bay, South Vietnam, on Jan. 6, 1967. (Associated Press)
Today we honor Phyllis Diller, 1917-2012, outrageous comedienne who pioneered a signature style of comedy, and entertained the U.S. troops with Bob Hope in Vietnam, 1966. The Los Angeles Times offers an excellent tribute to her life and contributions to comedy:,0,4800295.story

Poking fun and laughing not at--but with—herself, Diller employed a self-deprecating style that endeared her to generations of fans and colleagues.

From the Stars and Stripes, , the official military publication of the Vietnam War, we get a glimpse into Diller’s generous holiday spirit. Reporting on Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller’s 1966 Christmas comedy appearance in Cam Ran Bay, South Vietnam, S&S writes:
Hope, always well received on his annual Christmas tours to entertain troops overseas, said he found soldiers in Vietnam even "warmer and more affectionate," than usual.
"Of course," he quipped, "I have Phyllis Diller, who is scaring both sides."
Comedienne Diller told reporters that part of her charm is due "to the fact that I know absolutely nothing."

Perhaps not coincidentally, Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller’s comedic visit to Vietnam was followed in 1968 by the release of an anti-war comedy film just two years later.   The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell gives us Hope as the Navy General engaged in a WWII fight over a cargo shipment of beer. Hoping to boost morale of his troops, he fights also to secure a group of nurses for his soldiers – all of whom are men, except the zany Phyllis Diller. Though the film was not enthusiastically received by critics of the time, the anti-war message is undeniable. Taken in context, the movie underscores the talent that Ms. Diller employed to both support our troops, and parody the pointlessness of war.

“Think of me as a sex symbol for the men who don’t give a damn.” Phyllis once joked.

Oh Phyllis. You are laughter medicine for those of us who do.   

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