The passing of Phyllis Diller recalled a moment that produced the biggest headache that I've ever suffered. Not that she cared when I told her about it later in a note. She doubtless responded with her shrieking guffaw, which was her patented version of how people should laugh.
As a movie and theater critic for a Columbus newspaper, I was invited to a mid-morning interview in the comedienne's hotel room. She greeted me at the door in a lumpy housecoat, floppy slippers and a batch of blonde hair in curlers. "Fang," she said of her husband, "is still in bed, so I'll have to do." (That laugh again.)
Once both of us had sat down, she reached for the telephone to call the front desk. It went something like this:
"Hi, this is Phyl...Right. Phyl....Fang's wife.... I'd like to order a pitcher of martinis....Right. A pitcher! Don't you have any pitchers in this place? " (That laugh again.)I'm thinking, what's this all about? Good Lord. It's 10:30 a.m. when sane people drink coffee. Besides I was nothing more than a social drinker. She turns to me and says, "Where were we?", as if I knew.
The martinis arrive. She pours a glass for each of us, and the disconnected interview begins. Sort of.
She fills up a glass again and we talk. I struggle through a third one, but who was counting? Mercifully, the pitcher is finally empty. I try to conclude the interview. She kills me with laughter and wild anecdotes, like the one about how the New York City police tried to arrest her because her dog defecated on a Manhattan sidewalk. "They finally let me go when I explained that my dog wouldn't do something like that. It was me!" (That horrific laugh again.)
The headache began when I returned to the office. It got worse that evening. The next day the pounding continued. Finally, on the following day, after heavy doses of aspirin, it calmed down.
I have never tasted gin again. But the memories of this extraordinarly funny woman remain. With a world so somber, people like her should never die.
P.S.Weeks later she sent me a card with a lot of happy faces and said how much she enjoyed the interview. Ha, ha.)