Phyllis Diller: Boy Did I Get a Wrong Number


Today is the birthday of the late, lamented Phyllis Diller (1917-2012). Having started in nightclubs, radio and television in the 1950s, she was still making public appearances in the months before she died at the age of 95. in a career that lasted 60 years.

Diller was primarily a stand-up comedian, and her act was hilarious. In essence, her routine that she was a nightmarish housewife, a caricature taken to downright clown-like, grotesque levels. As a kid I associated her with Witchie-poo from H.R. Pufnstuf. She was that scary. But she was also a hilarious joke-writer, and her act, from soup to nuts was impeccable. She would have been perfect for vaudeville.

Not really an actress, she did appear in a few films. She played Texas Guinan in Splendor in the Grass. She plays “Camille Salamander” in one of my favorite movies The Fat Spy, which I wrote about here on the occasion of her death. And she is in several Bob Hope movies — providing the comic relief (ha!).

In fact, Diller provides the one saving grace in the otherwise tedious (and implausible) Bob Hope comedy Boy, Did I get a Wrong Number (1966). Anyone who remembers the film at all knows the scene I’m talking about, when Diller, playing Hope’s housemaid, saves the day — on motorcycle! That image of Diller, in a pink housecoat and black sunglasses, her frizzy hair flying behind her in the wind, as she comes to the rescue on her hog (slightly sped up) is indelible, surreal — the stuff dreams are made of. Here it is!

To find out more about  the history of show businessconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc



  1. She trotted her standup around the Package Stock circuit in the late 1970s, and I ran followspot from the balcony of the Ivoryton Playhouse for her one-week booking there (1978??). She was a delight, and changed it up a bit every night except for her staging: so tight to the mic for the entire set (an hour? there was an opener, I think) that I could lock off the Supertrouper and read a magazine. She tipped me $100 when she closed — a personal CHECK, which it broke my heart to cash (but I HAD to because I was 19 and my SALARY was $75 a week… )


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