From The Atlantic:
After Phyllis Diller died this week at the age of 95, many an obituary fondly remembered the comedienne for her big laugh, her outrageous hair, her cartoonishly hideous outfits, and the refreshing, unceremonious manner in which she brushed aside the expectations of what was previously off-limits for women to joke about.
But there’s one superlative Diller earned that’s only been hinted at in the days since she passed: She may be the only woman ever deemed too sexy for Playboy.
Yes, that’s right. The comedienne posed for the lad mag–as a gag, she would later explain–in the late 1960s. Playboy’s editors thought it would be funny, she said, and what better way to get a laugh than by sending out seductive centerfold photos of a hilariously tacky, impressively unsexy woman? It seemed like a foolproof plan.
There was, however, one problem: Diller, who had long obscured her figure with the trademark ill-fitting lamé dresses she often wore onstage, turned out to have a shapely, sexy physique–and a pretty face, too, under all her clownish makeup. To everyone’s bewilderment (except maybe Phyllis Diller’s), Phyllis Diller was a bombshell.
So, as the legend goes, the startled Playboy execs scrapped the photos, deeming them too sexy for their comical purposes, and the pictures were never published.
Diller was a performer who built a career out of making fun of her supposed unattractiveness. “A peeping Tom threw up on my window sill,” she once told an audience. She also targeted her own social and sexual ineptitude; her decrepit, aging body; and her failures at traditional femininity. “My cooking is so bad my kids thought Thanksgiving was to commemorate Pearl Harbor,” she famously quipped.
But obituaries have brought to light this week that the real Diller–the offstage, offscreen Diller–was not only an attractive woman, but also a gourmet chef, a painter, a pianist, and a shrewd humorist who crafted almost all of her own material.
Diller’s reign as the frumpish, clumsy queen of the underbrag was groundbreaking on many levels. She did, after all, prove that women with bad hair, bad cooking, and loud mouths could be America’s sweethearts, too. She was an iconoclast, a refreshing antidote to the June Cleavers and Harriet Nelsons that had been dominating pop culture in the years prior. But Diller’s trademark brand of hapless, self-deprecating, ugly-girl humor was based an invented set of shortcomings she didn’t actually have. Which highlights a weird glitch in the system that still plagues women in comedy today: Why can’t funny women be hot? Or accomplished? Or smart? Why do so many women with these otherwise highly valued traits have to downplay them to get laughs?
Continue reading the rest of the story on The Atlantic