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Finding Aid for the Phyllis Diller papers, 1934-2011
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
  • Indexing Terms
  • Items Removed from the Collection

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Phyllis Diller papers
    Date (inclusive): 1934-2011
    Collection number: 1893
    Creator: Diller, Phyllis
    Extent: 75 boxes (51.5 linear ft.)
    Abstract: This collection includes business papers, correspondence, sheet music, media, and memorabilia from the private collection of comedian and actress Phyllis Diller. Diller broke ground as one of the first and most prominent woman comedians through her stand-up act, films, television appearances, books, and records. Post-retirement in 2002, Diller wrote an autobiography titled Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy (2005), turned her hobby of drawing and painting into another career, and has continued to make appearances on television and in film.
    Language: Finding aid is written in English.
    Repository: University of California, Los Angeles. Library Special Collections.
    Los Angeles, California 90095-1575
    Physical location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact UCLA Library Special Collections for paging information.

    Administrative Information

    Restrictions on Access

    Open for research. STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact UCLA Library Special Collections for paging information.

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    Property rights to the physical object belong to the UC Regents. Literary rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC Regents do not hold the copyright.

    Provenance/Source of Acquisition

    Gift of Phyllis Diller, November 2007.

    Processing Note

    Processed by Ben Sher in the Center for Primary Research and Training (CFPRT), with assistance from Megan Hahn Fraser, August 2011.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Phyllis Diller papers (Collection 1893). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 6776724 


    Phyllis Ada Driver was born on July 17, 1917 in Lima, OH. She studied at the Sherwood Music Conservatory in Chicago, IL for three years, beginning in fall 1934. She married Sherwood Anderson Diller, and the couple and their children moved from Ypsilanti, MI to Alameda, CA in 1945. Diller began her career as writer and women's editor for the San Leandro News-Observer. From June 1951 to 1954, Diller's jobs included: head of newspaper and radio ad copy in the advertising office of Kahn's, a department store in Oakland, CA; copywriter, publicist, and continuity girl at the radio station KROW in Oakland, CA; and, finally, director of promotion and merchandising at KSFO radio in San Francisco, CA. Her copywriting was distinguished by its comedic flair.
    Diller performed in several small and semi-professional venues before getting a lengthy gig at The Purple Onion, a nightclub in San Francisco, CA in March 1955. Following this successful run, she gave opening performances at The Purple Onion in Los Angeles, CA in summer 1956. In Los Angeles, Diller made her first national television appearance as a contestant on the NBC game show You Bet Your Life, hosted by Groucho Marx. Thereafter, she toured the country, performing in major nightclubs such as Mister Kelley's in Chicago, IL, The Blue Angel and The Bon Soir in New York, NY (where she worked with a young Barbra Streisand), The Crescendo in Los Angeles, CA, and The Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, FL. Diller's stand-up act pushed the envelope by lampooning women's roles in the 1950s and 1960s. In particular, she broke from the tradition set by male comedians who complained about their wives by creating a fictional husband, the ne'er-do-well Fang.
    Around 1958, Diller made the first of many appearances on The Tonight Show and The Jack Paar Show, the latter for which she eventually became a writer. These appearances brought her heightened success, and led to her discovery by Bob Hope. Diller worked with Hope for decades, performing with him on 23 television specials, in the feature films Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (1960), Eight on the Lam (1967), and The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell (1968), and as part of his USO troupe in Vietnam in 1966. Diller's film work from this period also includes Splendor in the Grass (1962) and voice work in the Rankin/Bass animated film Mad Monster Party (1967). Beginning in the 1960s, Diller became a household name through many TV appearances featuring her stand-up act. She also starred in two short-lived TV series, the half-hour sitcom The Pruitts of Southhampton (later titled The Phyllis Diller Show, 1966-67) and the musical variety show The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show (1968). From 1961-1970, Diller recorded five albums and published four books. She concluded the 1960s with her Broadway debut in Hello Dolly!
    Recent film roles include voice work in Disney's A Bug's Life (1998) and the documentary The Aristocrats (2005). Recent television work includes recurring roles on the series Titus (2001-02), 7th Heaven (1999-2003), The Bold and the Beautiful (1999-2004), and The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2002-2004).
    In May 1971, Diller drew upon her training as a pianist and made her debut in a concert with Pittsburgh Pops, initiating 10 years of work as a concert pianist. In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Diller continued frequent appearances on the stage and screen, and became known as one of the first celebrities to proudly admit to having had plastic surgery.
    In 2002, Diller retired from stand-up comedy work. Her final performance, at the Suncoast Hotel in Las Vegas, NV, is captured in the documentary Good Night, We Love You (2006). Post-retirement, Diller wrote an autobiography titled Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy (2005), turned her hobby of drawing and painting into another career, and has continued to make appearances on television and in film.

    Scope and Content

    The collection includes correspondence (1969-2010, bulk 2005-2010); contracts and itineraries related to various stand-up, film, and television appearances; books of jokes and gags by Diller and other writers (dated 1964-1988); sheet music from Diller's time at Sherwood Music Conservatory, from her TV series The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show (1968), and from other performances; extensive clippings from magazines and periodicals (dated 1957-2011, bulk 1992-2007); a representative wig and costume; filmed performances and television appearances (mostly on 16mm and 35mm); Diller's published books and record albums; playbills, programs and pamphlets for shows that Diller starred in or attended; and ephemera and souvenirs from Diller's career.

    Organization and Arrangement

    Arranged in the following series:
    1. Correspondence
    2. Job Folders and Other Activities
    3. Jokes and Gags
    4. Photographs
    5. Sheet Music
    6. Clippings
    7. Publications
    8. Playbills and programs
    9. Ephemera and souvenirs
    10. Media
    11. Costumes

    Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

    COLLECTION CONTAINS DIGITAL MATERIALS: Special equipment or further processing may be required for viewing. To access digital materials you must notify the reference desk in advance of your visit.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Diller, Phyllis --Archives.
    Women comedians --Archival resources.

    Items Removed from the Collection

    The following films have been transferred to the UCLA Film and Television Archive:
    • Phyllis Diller on "The Jack Paar Show," November 12, 1969. 16mm.
    • Outtakes of local news feature story filmed when Diller appeared at The Century Room, 1960. 16mm.
    • "The Charlotte Peters Show" episode, March 7, 1963.
    • "The Tonight Show" segment, November 11, 1963. 16mm.
    • "Something to Say," September 12, 1964. 35mm.
    • "Girl Talk" episode, September 13, 1964. 35mm. 2 copies.
    • Phyllis Diller in "Showtime," July 1968. 16mm.
    • Unlabeled film reel, possibly copy of or content related to "Showtime."
    • "Work print: Dallas, Texas, Various Performances," March 1974. 16mm.
    • "Sound-Mag Trans. Dallas, Texas," July 18, 1974 (1 of 2). 16mm.
    • "Sound-Mag Trans. Dallas, Texas," July 18, 1974 (2 of 2). 16mm.
    • "Marriage Counselor," August 20, 1974. 35mm.
    • "Marriage Counselor" trims and cuts, August 20, 1974. 16mm.
    • "Phyllis Diller 'Kitchen Kween,'" undated. 16mm.
    • "The Hollywood Palace" episode, undated. 16mm.
    • "From Soup to Nuts," undated. 16mm.
    • "Teddy at the Throttle," undated. 16mm.
    • "The Adventurer," undated. 16mm.
    • "Celebration for Julie," undated. 16mm.
    • "Dubs of Phyllis Diller," undated. 35mm.
    • Unlabeled, undated film reel. 16mm.