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Phyllis Diller and the house of her dreams

August 20, 2012
  • A 1978 photo of Phyllis Diller in her Brentwood house came with a caption that said: "Phyllis Diller in her 18-by-30-foot closet surveying her extensive wardrobe. Diller still claims she has nothing to wear out in the evening."
A 1978 photo of Phyllis Diller in her Brentwood house came with a caption… (Los Angeles Times )

The death of Phyllis Diller on Monday revived a lifetime of stories about the comedian. For L.A. at Home, that included tales of her eccentric art parties, where she would turn her Brentwood house into a gallery to sell her paintings.

The Times' photo archive yielded no photos of those events, but it did contain some nice pictures of the house, including one showing Diller in a bedroom-turned-art studio, standing in front of an enormous painting of a cheery bookcase. Drop that oversize artwork into an Apartment Therapy photo gallery today, and we're guessing you'd probably see a dozen readers chime in with "So cute!" 

That picture, it turns out, went with a 2002 column by Ruth Ryon about Diller and her house. The piece (ahem) is nowhere to be found on The Times' site, so we've reposted the full text below. It has some lovely moments, not the least of which is the closing, so do be sure to read to the end:

Published Feb. 3, 2002

Inside Hot Property

It's Still Her Dream House

In the 37 years Phyllis Diller has lived in her Brentwood home, she has filled it with what matters most: art, humor and memories.

By Ruth Ryon, Times Staff Writer

Phyllis Diller likes to stay put when it comes to where she lives.

Other celebrities may move as frequently as they change wardrobes. Not Diller. She's in her 37th year in her 10,000-square-foot Brentwood home.

"It was the house I always dreamed of," she said of the 1914 residence, "and here it was, already built."

Diller bought the Country English-style house in the fall of 1965, and she's still having sweet dreams in it.

An energetic 84, she is still acting and already appeared this year in the recurring role of Titus' grandmother on the Fox sitcom "Titus."

She's doing stand-up comedy and just finished a week-plus run on stage at the Mohegan Sun Casino near New London, Conn.

She's playing the piano. Classically trained in the '30s at the Sherwood Music Conservatory in Chicago, Diller played with 100 symphony orchestras in the U.S. when she was in her 70s.

And she's painting. That's a love she has had since 1963, when she did an oil painting of a nightclub stage with a spotlight and titled it "And Now ... ." The still-life hangs in the 18-foot-long hallway entry of her home with dozens of her other acrylics, watercolors and oils.

"And now a comic comes and stands in front of the spotlight," she said, jumping in front of the picture to demonstrate how it works.

So prolific is Diller as an artist that the upstairs gallery and many of the other walls in her house are also filled with her work, much of it created in the last year.

Many of her earlier paintings were sold to collectors. When one canvas sold at auction in the '80s for $5,000, she turned one of her upstairs rooms into an art studio.

That's where her works-in-progress can be found, including one that she has been working on for 15 years. "I like the face on the woman now," she said. "At one point, she had too many wrinkles."

Diller doesn't think of the painting as a self-portrait despite her well-publicized penchant for cosmetic surgery. "I was called the Queen of Plastic Surgery," she has been reported as saying. "I did bring it out of the closet." She even wrote about it in her 1981 book, "The Joys of Aging and How to Avoid Them."

Diller never had formal art instruction. "I just do what I do, sometimes without even testing the water," she said. "I don't let fear or criticism stop me."

It's a philosophy she started practicing after reading the book "The Magic of Believing" by Claude Bristol. It prompted her to become a comic when she was nearly 40 and a mother of five.

Since her stand-up debut at the Purple Onion in San Francisco, she appeared in the movie "Splendor in the Grass" (1961), the sitcom "The Pruitts of Southampton" (1966-67) and the variety show "The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show" (1968).

In 1970 she starred in "Hello, Dolly!" on Broadway after Carol Channing, Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye and Betty Grable. Diller was then in more than a dozen movies -- often with Bob Hope -- and she was in countless TV specials, including every Bob Hope Christmas Special from 1965 through 1994.

She calls Hope her mentor and named her living room the Bob Hope Salon, where she keeps a large oil painting of the comedian on an artist's easel. "Sitting at the knees of the master," she said, taking a seat beside the portrait.

Diller has names for many of the 22 rooms in her house.

There is the Edith Head, a powder room named after the famous costume designer; and the John Wilkes Booth, a telephone room named for the actor who shot Abe Lincoln.

There was the Lincoln bedroom, complete with furniture from Lincoln's time, but the bedroom became an office after Diller's children grew up and left home.

The Sarah Siddons Room, named for a wildly popular 18th century English actress whose portrayals of victims epitomized suffering, is the dining room. Diller is known as a fine cook, but she laughingly calls one of her own recipes "Garbage Soup."

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