I was a young housewife and mother of two small children, with a desperate need to earn a living due to my then-husband's occupation - professional hypochondriac.
But what can an aging ingenue do on the North Shore of Boston to earn money? Of course, write comedy. With comedy it doesn't matter where you live, how old you are, or what you look like.
It took one hour to write the jokes and two weeks to compose the cover letter. Should I address her as Mrs., Ms., or Miss?
Finally, I wrote "Dear Phyllis" and mailed it off.
Another two weeks and I got a thick envelope back in the mail. "Oh no," I thought, "she sent it all back. It's not funny. I don't have any talent."
Heart pounding, I opened the envelope and a check fluttered to the floor in slow motion, just like in the movies.
Hands shaking, I read her response: "Charlotte, you have talent."
Phyllis Diller had taken each of my one-liners and re-written them, tightened them, and punched them up. Her tutorial was a Master Class in writing. She taught me how to structure a joke, write a twist ending, keep it brief, and make it visual.
After that, each time she appeared in Boston she mentioned me to the press. The resulting publicity started a chain reaction that had me receiving calls to write for Shari Lewis, to do "Women's News" for WNAC-TV in Boston, to create a new dance for the opening of a Disco club. (The dance was called "The Temper Tantrum", inspired by my children.) Decca recorded it. The Mike Douglas Show booked me to perform it, and Phyllis flew in to surprise me.
I had the thrill of hearing her do my jokes on stage: "My neighbor came over to chew the fat - she bit my mother-in-law!", "My neighbor, Mrs. Clean, you can eat off her floor! Well, you can eat off my floor, too. There's food all over it!", and Phylliss's favorite: "I was taking a bath when the wall collapsed. Now I'm the only woman with a tiled chest!"
At WNAC-TV I also wrote wrap-arounds of old films including "That Midnight Kiss" with Kathryn Grayson and Mario Lanza; the station booked Mrs. Miller, the comedic opera singer, to host the movie. Arthur Fiedler did a walk-on and presented her with roses.
Her agent and manager, who had accompanied her to Boston from California, liked my work and hired me to write her L.A. opening at the Coconut Grove in the famous Ambassador Hotel.
Phyllis was in Los Angeles doing her first TV series, "The Pruitts of South Hampton". I visited her on set. She was gracious as ever and encouraged me to move to L.A.
That led to my job as Talent Coordinator of "The Joey Bishop Show" where I was responsible for "New Talent", which led to my discovery of Glen Campbell, which led to "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour" and my working for him.
Subsequently, I worked on "The Andy Williams Show" and "The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour" while writing my first novel on my kitchen table nights and weekends and raising my children.
That novel was published by Dell; a second novel followed as did TV and screenwriting assignments.
Through it all, Phyllis was a constant in my life.
When I applied for a Fellowship at The Hambidge Center, an Artist's colony in the mountains of Georgia, it was she who wrote a letter of recommendation.
My children were growing up, my son worked for a production company, my daughter was an actress, and her first movie role, coincidentally, was in "Pink Motel" starring Phyllis Diller!
Later she played Stacey, the second lead in "Valley Girl" but her first "break" came from appearing with Phyllis.
Phyllis Diller was and will always be the most inspiring, courageous, brilliant and funny woman I've ever known. She never let adversity bring her down and she certainly experienced adversity in her life. She was strong and tough and true to herself and others, generous in spirit and eager to give credit.
No matter who wrote them, she made the jokes her own. They were always clean and always funny, and think about it - always based on truth.
I'm glad I had the opportunity to tell her how much I loved and appreciated her. Now I'm telling you.