Her Other Forte: Comedian Phyllis Diller Was Also a Concert Pianist

Allan Warren, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1971, a promising concert pianist made her symphonic debut, her fingers flying over Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1. But the concert included a few surprising notes: The pianist was a woman. She was 53 years old. She just happened to be one of America's most famous comedians. And her concert was like nothing the classical music world had ever seen.

Even then, the thought of Phyllis Diller embarking on a career as a classical pianist was laughable. Since the 1950s, Diller—born 100 years ago, as Phyllis Driver, on July 17, 1917—had been breaking ground for women in comedy, morphing from a prop comedian to a TV and musical theater icon. But even though a spoof of a classical concert was one of the acts that propelled her to fame, Diller had long since given up on her dream of playing piano professionally.

As a child growing up in Ohio, Diller trained as a pianist. In her comic memoir Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy, she recalls her mother pushing her toward piano, and though she was "no Mozart," she took intensive lessons and imagined herself "sitting before a fabulous concert grand" instead of giving performances for a piano teacher and her sleepy dog. She even studied piano in college. But eventually, Diller told a reporter, "I decided it was too stodgy for me. So I gave it up."

Music filtered into her comedy repertoire, though, and when the Pittsburgh Pops came calling in the 1970s in the hopes of having her perform a stand-up routine with the orchestra, she stunned the representative by telling him she would perform on the piano, as well. It's safe to assume nobody from the Pops had seen her on TV with Liberace two years earlier, her fingers flying over a piece she'd written herself called "Phyllis's Fugue." Diller signed on for a show called The Symphonic Phyllis Diller, never suspecting that her concert career was about to begin in earnest.

The show was half-gag, half-serious piano performance. The orchestra would perform without Diller, but eventually she'd make a grand entrance as Dame Illya Dillya, a diva who took forever to begin playing. Dame Dillya wore an 8-foot-long train and opera gloves and performed a 12-minute silent pantomime aping the pretensions of classical musicians.

"During the musical prologue, I'd dust the piano, check the score, and look at the audience through my binoculars—it was a long preamble," Diller later recalled. Then she launched into Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1. "Once I was into the music, I was serious," she wrote, "and many in the audience were more than a little surprised."

During her concerts, Diller played selections from Bach, Chopin, and other classical musicians. Over time, she earned a reputation as a solid performer, with one reviewer calling her "a fine concert pianist with a firm touch." Eventually, though, Diller tired of the brutal regimen and retired from the concert circuit. "It became drudgery, it was taxing," Diller told The New York Times. "I needed at least three hours a day of practice and I didn't have the time."

Though her concert career was over, her comedy career certainly wasn't. After retiring from symphonic work in 1982, Diller did stand-up for another 20 years. She died in 2012 at the age of 95—and while her comedy is rightfully her biggest legacy, her surprising skill on the piano is worth a standing ovation as well.

Why Fans Are Certain Tessa Thompson is Headed to the Avengers 4 Set

Disney/Marvel
Disney/Marvel

by Kwadar Ray

Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie did not appear in Avengers: Infinity War despite surviving Thor: Ragnarok. It was unclear if she was one of the few to endure Thanos's snap, or if she was one of the many casualties.

However, the Russo brothers and Infinity War screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, later confirmed that she was still alive in the movie's DVD audio commentary.

And now, the actress is teasing that she may appear in the untitled Avengers 4 movie. She posted a video to her Instagram story featuring her, Avengers star Chris Hemsworth, and his stunt double Bobby Holland Hanton leaving London after a day of shooting the Men in Black spinoff.

🎥| @tessamaethompson Via IG Stories. #ChrisHemsworth #TessaThompson

A post shared by Chris Hemsworth (@hemsworthphotos) on

Not only that, but Hemsworth previously said he would be heading from London to Atlanta to continue filming Avengers 4. Hanton's IG story showed Thompson stepping off the plane with them in Atlanta, and fans are unsurprisingly thinking this means Valkyrie will appear in the upcoming movie.

Fans are loving the idea of Valkyrie obliterating Thanos.

Avengers 4 is set for a May 3, 2019 release, and hopefully Thompson will be a key part in the fight against evil.

Zack Snyder Confirms Justice League Was Supposed to Feature Another Superhero

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

by Kwadar Ray

​​Zack Snyder talks an awful lot about the universe building he did for Justice League. The director began working on the DC film from the start, but unfortunately had to step down after a family tragedy occurred, and Joss Whedon was hired to finish the job. Whedon apparently changed a decent amount of the film, leaving fans desperate for a "Snyder cut."

The director had plenty of plans to introduce characters to the DC Extended Universe with Justice League, which he successfully did with the likes of Deathstroke and Mera. However, ​Snyder revealed there was another hero he was going to include. Ryan Choi, a.k.a. The Atom, was also supposed to featured in the movie.

Earlier this year, attentive fans noticed when rewatching Justice League that Choi's name was displayed on the side of a computer screen, revealing that in the DCEU, the superhero is an employee at S.T.A.R. Labs.

A fan also found a Justice League promotional picture featuring Silas next to another scientist, who Snyder has confirmed was indeed Choi. The scene, however, was ultimately cut during post-production/reshoots.

Outside of the comics, The Atom has most prominently appeared in Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Choi's appearance in Justice League would have likely been minor, which is understandable. Still, including him as a S.T.A.R. Labs employee was a wise choice by Snyder, because he would have retained his scientific background.

DC's next movie to hit theaters will be Aquaman directed by James Wan, set to premiere on December 21, 2018.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER