Vintage Toronto Ads: Phyllis Diller on Ice

Originally published on Torontoist on August 28, 2012.


Toronto Star, August 16, 1962 (left); Globe and Mail, August 21, 1962 (right).

When Phyllis Diller, who died last week at the age of 95, began her career in the late 1950s, female stand-up comics were a rarity. Figuring out how to book them could be a challenge, which led to some odd bills. Take one of Diller’s earliest appearances in Toronto, where she shared the spotlight for two weeks in August 1962 with an ice revue presented by Broadway producer Alexander H. Cohen.

The mix didn’t work for Globe and Mail reviewer John Kraglund, who was unimpressed by the first hour-and-a-half of the evening. He didn’t feel any sparks until Joe Jackson Jr., “a ragged tramp of a clown with an almost guileless smile and a bicycle” performed a quiet but funny routine about his disintegrating bike.

Jackson was followed by Diller, who Kraglund considered one of the night’s highlights. He wrote:

A few minutes later Phyllis Diller slithered sexily on to the stage, then became herself and proceeded to convulse the audience with skillfully timed, loud, earthy humour. At 10:45 p.m., I left the theatre, firmly convinced there is nothing like a couple of topnotch professionals to pep up an amateurish production.

It was back at her early days at San Francisco’s Purple Onion that I first met Miss Diller. In those intimate quarters she was funny, for one could not ignore her wickedly lusty laugh, broad gestures and constantly changing facial contortions. She is one of those rare performers who can project most of this through the vast expanse of the O’Keefe Centre.

Perhaps last night there was too much of her own laughter and too much bobbing and weaving; although she may feel this necessary if she is to reach the most distant observers. But I do not suppose the humour would have been lost if she had stood still to describe her badly dressed hostess: “If her neckline had been any lower she would have been barefoot.”

Even with these reservations, Miss Diller was rather like a breath of fresh air after a rather lengthy period in the doldrums, which had only been relieved by Mr. Jackson.

Additional material from the August 21, 1962 edition of the Globe and Mail.



Good time: Comedienne Phyllis Diller checks out budget-priced watches at a Kensington Avenue stall. She’s a self-confessed shopaholic. Photo by Bernard Weil, 1991. Toronto Public Library from the Toronto Star Archives, tspa_0043919f.

When updating this piece, I dove into the Toronto Public Library’s Toronto Star photo archive to see if there were any contemporary pictures of Diller. There weren’t (the oldest were from 1972), but this image stood out, showing the comedian having what might appear to be an ordinary day for anyone wandering Kensington Market. According to a November 28, 1991 Star article, besides browsing watches, Diller stopped at Courage My Love (“this is my kind of place,” she said as she bought a lilac velvet lounging jacket and a black cotton top hat), a sock stall, and Tom’s Place.

Summer’s Here And The Time Is Right For Golfing In The Streets

Originally published on Torontoist on June 5, 2008.

Home-grown small-screen productions have also made ample use of our city’s streets since CBLT debuted in 1952. During the summer of 1971, comedians Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster used downtown as a backdrop for an exciting new sport, city golf. Over the course of 18 holes, cameramen preserved pieces of the city that development has changed significantly in the ensuing years, from landmarks in their infancy to retail icons that have moved along.

Besides, wouldn’t shooting a golf ball down Queen Street over lunch hour be a great stress reliever, as long as you don’t brain any onlookers?

Among the sites to watch out for while viewing this clip (or to skip ahead to if Wayne and Shuster are not your taste):

1:54: City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square, only open for six years at this point. Note the waving spectators on the top ramp.

2:10: Eaton’s Queen Street store. Initially located south of Queen when Timothy Eaton set up shop in 1869, the store moved to 190 Yonge Street in 1883 and gradually expanded to take up the entire block bounded by James to the west and Albert to the north. Company warehouses stretched along neighbouring blocks while a second retail store, the Eaton’s Annex, opened at Albert and Yonge. During the mid-20th century, the Queen store was Eaton’s mid-range store, with the Annex (destroyed by fire in 1977) catering to bargain hunters and their Yonge-College store (now College Park) attracting upscale shoppers. The sale advertised on the Queen entrance places filming around August, when the following ad appeared in local papers.


Globe and Mail, August 2, 1971.

Across the street Simpsons also had a month-long sale running, though they appear to have taken less care in design and material with the “Great Toronto Days” banner.

The two stores would draw shoppers on either side of Queen until 1977, when Eaton’s consolidated their downtown retail operations into their new store at Yonge and Dundas during the first phase of Eaton Centre construction.

3:10: The first hole is near the King Edward Hotel, then on a downhill slide (note the less than elegant front sign). Before the decade was out, the hotel was threatened with demolition before being rescued by new investors…though its Crystal Ballroom might be a decent locale to practice short putts.

5:44: The original configuration of the 401/Don Valley Parkway interchange. The DVP had been built as far north as Sheppard by 1966, with Woodbine Avenue continuing northwards until the first phase of Highway 404 to Steeles Avenue was completed in 1977. More bridge hazards after recent construction would create a greater challenge in a modern game.

6:00: Long-gone parking lots on the south side of Carlton Street opposite Maple Leaf Gardens, later occupied by condos, fast food joints, Mick E. Fynn’s, Peach Garden, and Golden Griddle.

6:37: The Odd Fellows Hall at Yonge and College can be seen behind Wayne. Then a branch of CIBC, now home to Starbucks.


7:40: The drawing of the 10th hole refers to several vanished buildings along Jarvis Street. The Four Seasons Motor Hotel at 415 Jarvis was the launchpad for the luxury hotel chain, which it maintained through the late 1970s. Opened in 1961, it won a Massey Medal for Architecture. Toronto Life’s Toronto Guidebook described the Four Seasons as:

…a great place: small and slightly chic (because of all the visiting celebrities who stay there, because of the proximity of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation across the street); not too expensive; only three storeys, so you don’t have top cope overmuch with elevators; and hassle-free parking. There’s a swimming pool in the central courtyard…a bar-cum-discotheque downstairs called The Studio from which, at lunch time, the timeless Elwood Glover conducts his CBC-TV interview show.

This was a boom time for the chain, with Inn on the Park humming along, its first overseas hotel welcoming guests in 1970, and the development of a new location on Queen that became the Sheraton Centre. The Motor Inn was closed in the late 1970s and eventually demolished, with The Central condos currently staying for the night at its address.

CBC was headquartered at 354 Jarvis until the opening of the broadcast centre on Front Street. Its land is now occupied by Radio City and the National Ballet School. We suspect “the beverage room” was a watering hole for employees of the Corp.


“City Golf” originally aired on the September 19, 1971 edition of The Wayne and Shuster Comedy Special. According to a capsule preview in the previous day’s edition of Starweek, the show also featured a spoof of Citizen Kane, and a sketch going behind-the-scenes of a minimum security prison. Musical guests were Salome Bey and Gilles Vigneault.

gm 1971-09-20 review of w&s city golf

Blaik Kirby’s review of the show, from the September 20, 1971 edition of the Globe and Mail. The comedic merits of the city golf sketch are still debatable.