Three ways to celebrate Phyllis Diller on her 100th birthday

Phyllis Diller, the groundbreaking stand-up comic, would have been celebrating her 100th birthday on July 17, 2017. The Smithsonian honored her career earlier this year as we worked with hundreds of volunteers to digitize and transcribe Diller's gag file, a large cabinet where she kept her jokes categorized by theme. Now that all of her jokes are available to the public, here are some ways you can celebrate her birthday!

A color photograph of a blond woman in a shift with buttons down the front, a cigarette, and blue gloves. She is laughing on what appears to be some sort of television set with 70s decorations behind her. The picture is bordered by cream lace with illustrated flowers stuck on each corner. This is set on a bright red background.

1. Dress for the Occasion

Phyllis Diller knew how to dress to make a statement. She was known for her wild hair and her even more eccentric performance outfits. A fun, birthday-worthy example of her style in our collection are the white fringed cowboy-style boots she wore to Bob Hope's 93rd birthday party in 1996. Diller paired these boots with a knee-length fur coat and a pink scarf around her neck as she danced with Hope to celebrate his birthday.

A pair of white leather cowboy boots with fringe

A black and white photograph of a seated man and woman. The man wears a hat and military-esque clothes. The woman wears a white top and leans into the man, laughing

2. Tell A Joke

A white card with black typewriter text on it

Whether you think a joke about birthdays (Drawer 7), old age (Drawer 12), gift ideas, or greeting cards (both Drawer 37) would be most appropriate for Phyllis Diller's 100th birthday, look no further than her own gag file! Thanks to the help of over 1,200 volunteers, the Smithsonian celebrated Women's History Month this past March by digitizing and transcribing all 52,569 joke cards in Phyllis Diller's gag file. All of these jokes are now available for your enjoyment through the Smithsonian's Collections Search Center and the Smithsonian Transcription Center.

A white card with black typewriter text on it

3. Learn More or Reminisce

When I started working on this project, I didn't know much about Phyllis Diller or her career. If you are in the same boat that I was one year ago, you can learn seven fascinating things about her on the blog. After this project went live, many people shared personal stories about Diller on Twitter and Facebook. A few even reached out to the museum to share their stories, including a couple of women who worked for Diller during the height of her career. It was exciting to hear their stories about traveling with Diller or simply spending time with Diller around her home. I learned from Ingrid Chapman, the woman hired by Diller to create the organizational system, that the jokes were not always as meticulously organized. Chapman explained that the jokes were originally recorded in a book, which made it harder to find specific gags in a hurry.

Take some time today on her birthday to learn more about Phyllis Diller, or perhaps refresh your memory, and explore the many objects in the museum's collection that represent her career.

Hanna BredenbeckCorp is a project assistant in the Division of Culture and the Arts.

The digitization of Phyllis Diller's index card collection was generously supported by Mike Wilkins and Sheila Duignan.