ALAMEDA -- Comedy icon Phyllis Diller got her start on TV and in radio while living in Alameda in the 1950s. Now a group of fans has organized an official Diller Day in town and a special celebration in her honor in cooperation with the Alameda Museum.
From noon to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, the public can see the museum's permanent collection of the star's memorabilia, her "Key to the City of Alameda" and some of her trademark hats and original artwork. Visitors also can shop for vintage clothing, join a raffle and use a photo booth set up for the event.
Alameda Museum curator Ron Ucovich will share personal stories about the comedian, who died at age 95 on Aug. 20, 2012, in Los Angeles. The city of Alameda just declared her birthday, July 17, as Phyllis Diller Day.
"We felt there should be really be a dedicated day to her, and we really wanted to do that, along with something special at the museum," said Dorinda von Stroheim, an Alameda resident and member of the women's social group that initiated Diller Day and Saturday's event.
"We talked about honoring this important woman, who was able to be a true feminist and left a mark on so many women," said von Stroheim of Dames aux Gateaux (Ladies of Dessert), who enjoy dressing up in vintage outfits and dining together at restaurants that opened before the 1970s. "Diller was a working mom who followed her dreams and was one of the first women to break into the male world of comedy."
Diller, a former Alameda resident, got her start in comedy in the 1940s and 1950s, when she performed for fellow PTA moms at Edison Elementary School and also did stand-up routines at the Purple Onion in San Francisco.
Known for her eccentric stage persona, wild hair and wardrobe, Diller went on to make a name for herself in the era of other stand-up performers like Bob Newhart and Mort Sahl. The Ohio native went on to open doors for other female comedians, such as Joan Rivers and Lily Tomlin.
"A few years ago, some of us met Diller at her home in Brentwood, (California), when she was hosting parties to showcase her art," von Stroheim said. "It was hard to get on the list to go, but we did it."
The ladies scraped up enough funds to buy a painting or two from Diller. Even better, "We got to meet her for a short time, and she was so very charismatic -- and this was only a few months before she passed away," von Stroheim explained.
"She was lively and quick-witted," the Alameda resident added. "We walked away and said, 'Wow! We just met one of our idols.'"
This meeting with Diller inspired Dames aux Gateaux to find out more about the Alameda Museum's permanent exhibit dedicated to the comedian. Members of the women's social club also read the comedian's autobiography, "Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse."
Her time in Alameda as a parent "really stood out in the book," von Stroheim said. "It's just a dream that we've been able to get a day dedicated to her in Alameda. We really felt there should be one."
Along with some of Diller's costumes, hats and records, Saturday's Alameda Museum event will feature a daisy-shaped watch from the 1960s given to the pioneering comedian by the Osmond Brothers. "She was so excited about this piece, which I own and wore when I met her," von Stroheim said. "She remembered how meaningful it was to her.
"It's so inspiring that Diller became an artist later in life," von Stroheim said. "We just love how she really embraced life and the joy she had all the way through it."
What: Phyllis Diller celebration
When: 12 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Alameda Museum, 2324 Alameda Ave.
Cost: Free; $3 donation suggested