Phyllis Diller grew up in Ohio and probably never heard about a St. Louis hoosier before she lived here in the 1960s. But her monologues sounded like the latest gossip from a house on a Jefferson County back road with a rusted 1949 Ford pickups on blocks out front. The neighbor – “Mrs. Clean” – always bragged how she could eat off her kitchen floor, Diller told her audiences. “You can eat off my kitchen floor. Mustard, ketchup, baked beans.” Her mouth opened wide as she let loose with her eveready cackle. Wherever she went, and in all of her pictures, her blonde hair stood up up like she’d just been shocked, and her eyes and mouth stayed wide open. She’s one of eighty folks in my book, The Colorful Characters of St. Louis, which will be out in mid-September.
Diller wanted a central place in the United States where she could rest between gigs. Her kids already had spent time with relatives of her husband in a second floor apartment above the Eagle Drug on the southeast corner of Vandeventer Avenue and Shaw Boulevard, a short walk from the Missouri Botantical Garden. Now The Bug Store occupies the first floor. So she knew our town and was open to moving here. From 1962 to 1965, home was an eleven-room pink stucco colonial house on Mason Avenue in Webster Groves. In the family’s basement were sack dresses Diller wore on stage, wig trees, feather boas, two pipe organs, a piano, drums and horns. Diller left St. Louis and moved her family to Los Angeles in 1965, but always remembered St. Louis with fondness.