09/20/2013 10:50 am ET Updated Nov 20, 2013

The Not-So-Wacky Private World of Phyllis Diller, Up For Auction in L.A.

"Housework can't kill you. But why take a chance?"

That was one of the hundreds--no, thousands--of jokes told by the late great Phyllis Diller. She was the comedienne with the wild hair, wilder clothes and a no-account husband she referred to as "Fang." Diller paved the way for today's crop of female comics, including Joan Rivers.

Although Diller's routines remained self-deprecatory. She rarely, if ever, went for the funny bone through the jugular.

Diller, who began her career late, remained extremely popular for decades, in stand-up, movies and countless TV appearances. She even had a go at "Hello Dolly!" on Broadway. But behind the gaudy image was a woman of some refinement and taste--an accomplished concert pianist.

Aspects of the private Phyllis Diller are up for auction at Julien's in Beverly Hills on Sept 22nd.

Diller lived large, and luxuriously, as the items in her estate sale attest. From antique Jacobean walnut settees to Edwardian music stands, to an elaborate Victorian easel to a 17th century cassone and on and on. Crystal, gorgeous dinner plates, rugs, decorative eggs, delicate figurines, goblets, Art Deco wall masks, a Matisse sketch. There is a lot of impressive art, including Diller's own paintings. Also, various dining room and kitchen sets, all of Diller's awards and then--the clothes!

In the early years of her career, Phyllis performed in a housecoat. Later, although her act remained the same, she had some plastic surgery. Her onstage wardrobe became increasingly modern, if no less eye-catching. Some of the pieces are wild--mini-skirts and fringed pantsuits; masses of sequins, glitter, embroidery and bold prints. (It all reminds me amusingly of a lot of Elizabeth Taylor's clothes! In fact, one of the items up for sale is an Edith Head sketch of Elizabeth in costume for "The Bluebird.") Other outfits are more quiet and chic, more what the private woman actually was. There are endless hats, lots of colorful--and no doubt expensive--costume jewelry.

Really, there is no way to list Miss Diller's impressive collection of a lifetime. Obviously, she rarely threw anything out, and kept her clothes and furnishings in beautiful condition.

This is a fascinating glimpse behind the curtain of Phyllis Diller's wacky public persona. If you can't get to L.A., get the catalogue. It's really something! Call 310-836-1818 or email

• Careers are a funny thing in Hollywood. You're up, you're down, you're sideways, you're making a "comeback." And nobody knows who you are when you're down and out. (Which is about the only adage worth remembering in show biz. That and, "Save your money!")

Take Jon Voight, the 1978 Oscar-winner for "Coming Home." He has three other Oscar nominations and three Golden Globes. He has continued to work, some of it prestigious, some not so much.

Right now he is winning raves on Showtime's drama "Ray Donovan," playing Liev Schreiber's monstrous ex-con snake of a father, with ratty, childlike charm. But as we speak, a straight-to-DVD movie starring Voight is being released. Titled "Dracula: The Dark Prince."

It sounds like your typical Dracula fare--the Big Undead Guy kidnaps a woman he believes is the reincarnation of his late wife. Voight plays vampire-slayer Dr. Van Helsing. (A role essayed by everyone from Peter Cushing to Lawrence Olivier to Anthony Hopkins to Hugh Jackman.) The rest of the cast includes Luke Roberts, Kelly Wenham and Stephen Hogan. No, I haven't heard of any of them either. But we'll assume they are young and taking what they can get. (Let's not forget Renee Zellweger got her start in one of the "Friday the 13th" slash-fests.)

So there you have it, the see-saw, yin and yang, yo-yo effect of show biz. On one hand, Voight is doing his career-best work in "Ray Donovan." In the other hand, there is a wooden stake.

Up next for Voight are "Baby Geniuses and the Treasures of Egypt" and "Baby Geniuses and the Space Baby."

Family stuff, not a zombie or a vampire in sight.

• Celebrities often complain--and with some justification--that they are never allowed a private life. But you can be young and famous and live your life privately if you really want to. I do mean like the adorable Zac Efron, who slipped quietly in and out of rehab several months ago. Not a whisper of this got out until Mr. Efron himself allowed his press people to make it public.

Good for him! He got help before he fell down on Sunset Boulevard or had a car accident or was found unconscious by his staff and rushed to a hospital.

I wish him the best of health, and though he's not setting himself up as a role model, I'll do that for him! Take a good look, you whiney celebs who cry about the intrusions in your life. You can keep it real and still have a career.

• P.S. To our tale of MM and her Flying Skirt. Producer Jay Weston writes: "When I produced Billy Wilder's last film, 'Buddy, Buddy' he told me that Marilyn was always late But she was worth it. When she finally appeared, magic happened."

Jay went on to say that Billy Wilder had always wanted to film "Catcher In The Rye," but his (and Weston's) overtures were always rejected. Jay also observed: "Wilder was the most sophisticated man in Hollywood. Just before he died, he told me that the city of Berlin had asked him to come over to receive a Golden Bear award. He replied that instead they should send him a Volkswagen!"