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Remembering Phyllis Diller

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin August 22, 2012 at 7:17PM

By now you’ve probably seen obituaries and tributes to comedienne Phyllis Diller. I want to share a personal memory that speaks to one facet of her personality you may not have read about: her kindness. Many years ago I appeared on a handful of TV game shows, just for a lark. When I taped a week’s worth of 'Password Plus', Phyllis was the other celebrity guest.
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Phyllis in 'Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!' (1966)
Phyllis in 'Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!' (1966)

By now you’ve probably seen obituaries and tributes to comedienne Phyllis Diller. I want to share a personal memory that speaks to one facet of her personality you may not have read about: her kindness. Many years ago I appeared on a handful of TV game shows, just for a lark. When I taped a week’s worth of Password Plus, Phyllis was the other celebrity guest.

Naturally, we changed wardrobe for each day’s show, and by the second or third episode she noticed that I had a different lapel pin on each jacket I wore. She asked me about it and I explained that I collected them. For the next ten to fifteen years, every month or so I would receive an envelope in the mail with a pin from a city she had visited or an event in which she’d participated. She would always attach a card wishing me love. I still can’t get over this extraordinary gesture of thoughtfulness for someone she barely knew.

If you’ve never seen Gregg Barson’s 2004 documentary, Good Night, We Love You, I recommend it. It’s a love letter to Phyllis built around the filming of her final nightclub gig (in Laughlin, Nevada) before her retirement. It ought to be required viewing for anyone hoping to launch a career in show business, as it chronicles the performer’s professionalism, attention to detail, and upbeat outlook on life.

Goodnight, we love you

Here’s the kicker: she was still funny, right to the end. Not too many years ago, I saw her at a benefit where she received an award. She wasn’t supposed to perform, but she came prepared with material just the same—and every line she uttered got a laugh. A big laugh.

Phyllis Diller had a great run and quit when she wanted to. We should all be so lucky.

This article is related to: Journal, Phyllis Diller, Gregg Barson