September 1, 1939– Lily Tomlin:
“Reality is a crutch for people who can’t cope with drugs.”
I was floating on air for months after my most excellent Seattle friend of 30 years, Laura, called me on a spring morning with this Lily Tomlin anecdote. Laura has done a great deal of volunteer work for the City Park Department in Seattle. In 2002 she was co-chairing a benefit starring Tomlin & she had the opportunity to chat with this comedy icon.
I have no idea how or why my name came up, but when my Seattle friend mentioned me, Tomlin told her how funny she & her partner (now wife) Jane Wagner found my performance in the film Singles (1992). It appeared that my small role really cracked-up this remarkable couple & that they had fun imitating me doing my lines from the film. Tomlin then proceeded to do her imitation of me for my friend. The Husband & I were over the moon that one of our most favorite performers of all time was doing an imitation of me, Stephen. As I type this, I still think how cool that moment was for me.
Tomlin is one of the most loved women in Show Biz. In a 45+ year career, Tomlin has won 2 Tony Awards, 2 Peabodys, 6 Emmys, a Grammy, the Drama Desk Award & Outer Critics Circle Award, plus the Mark Twain Prize For American Humor. Last year she was given The Kennedy Center Honor. That’s quite the award’s shelf. Tomlin may add to that collection. She is nominated for an Emmy Award at the ceremony on September 20th.
Tomlin was raised in Detroit & she claims she always wanted to be a performer. She began plays at school & moved to doing stand-up in Detroit before moving to NYC.
“When I was growing up I always wanted to be someone. Now I realize I should have been more specific.”
In 1969, I first discovered Tomlin when she joined NBC‘s crazy sketch comedy series Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In where she introduced many of her famous characters including: the irascible, prune-faced telephone operator Ernestine; the precocious sandbox philosopher, 6 year old Edith Ann in an oversize rocking chair; & The Tasteful Lady, imperious & upper class, who never fails to puncture her own pretense.
“Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.”
Tomlin was nominated for an Oscar for her amazing heartbreaking performance in Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975), one of my all-time favorite films. Other best Tomlin performances: The Late Show (1977) opposite Art Carney, 9 To 5 (1980) with 2 other women, I forget their names, All Of Me (1980) with Steve Martin, & Flirting With Disaster (1996).
It took me about 4 episodes to ease in to the divorce comedy Grace & Frankie, the Netflix series produced by & starring Tomlin & Jane Fonda, but once I got its tone & rhythm, I found it delightful, smart & sometimes cathartic. Sticking it out to episode 5 proved very rewarding
“No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up.”
This week, Tomlin’s new film, her first leading role in 27 years, Grandma, opened to rapturous reviews & Oscar buzz for Tomlin. She plays a famous lesbian feminist poet in the movie, written & directed by Paul Weitz, whose resume includes such diverse projects as About A Boy (2002), In Good Company (2004), American Pie (1999).
Tomlin met her talented wife, Wagner, in 1971. After catching the After-School Special J.T. written by Wagner, Tomlin invited her to collaborate on Tomlin’s comedy album And That’s The Truth. The couple have been together ever since. Tomlin:
“I certainly never called a press conference or anything like that. Back in the 1970s, people didn’t write about it. Even if they knew, they would refer to Jane as ‘Lily’s collaborator’, things like that. Some journalists are just motivated by their own sense of what they want to say or what they feel comfortable saying or writing about. In 1977, I was on the cover of Time. The same week I had a big story in Newsweek. In one of the magazines it says I live alone, & the other magazine said I live with Jane Wagner. Unless you were so really adamantly out, & had made some declaration at some press conference, people back then didn’t write about your relationship. In 1975 I was making the Modern Scream album, & Jane & I were in the studio. My publicist called me & said: ‘Time will give you the cover if you’ll come out.’ I was more offended than anything that they thought we’d make a deal. But that was 1975. It would have been a hard thing to do at that time. Everybody in the industry was certainly aware of my sexuality & of Jane. In interviews I always referenced Jane & talked about Jane, but they didn’t always write about it.”
The couple have been together 44 years, & they married on New Year’s Eve 2013. They live in LA in a big pink stucco house that was once owned by vaudevillian & early comic film star W.C. Fields.
“I wanted to be acknowledged for my work. I didn’t want to be that gay person who does comedy.”