Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 25, No. 40, Ed. 1 Friday, February 20, 2009 Page: 20 of 52
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The gilded Lily
Comedy legend (and elephant-rights activist) Lily Tomlin returns to
Bass Performance Hall with her distinctive brand of humor
By Arnold Wayne Jones Staff Writer
When a 25-year-old friend heard this
week that I had just "interviewed
Lily/' he innocently asked, "Which
For comedy fans of a certain age,
this surely smacked of sacrilege.
"Tomlin, of course/' came the
He knew it was either Tomlin or
Allen, he said — "both are a big .
deal right now."
It must be music to the senior
Lily's ears to hear that someone born
in the 1980s still considered
Tomlin — whose career has
spanned more than 40 years
— is still a big deal.
For the rest of us, we
always knew it was the
Certainly she has been in
the public eye lately, espe-
cially in North Texas,
where she has actively
campaigned on behalf of
Jenny, an elephant at the
Dallas Zoo whom Tomlin
strongly feels is being
abused by the size of her
habitat. And she'll be
back in the area this week
with a performance at
"I play Texas a lot — I have a lot of friends
in Texas, especially in Fort Worth, Dallas and
Austin," Tomlin says. She used to own proper-
ty in Austin, where she befriended a
then-county commissioner named
"She was just so great and so
darn funny," Tomlin says
Her Bass appearance will be
more informal than one of her
scripted shows, with Tomlin "chat-
ting with the audience about Fort Worth
and fooling around. But I still do monologues
because it's the form that's most organic to
And it's what audiences have come to
expect of her. Ever since she burst on the
national stage in 1969 with her appearances on
the sketch show "Laugh-In," Tomlin has stood
out from her contemporaries in the comedy
universe. When others were doing bits, she
was doing monologues; where others played
parts, she created characters.
Until Tracey Ullman, there probably had
not been another performer who invented an
entire galaxy of personalities as memorable as
Tomlin's, inhabiting each one. And it's
because Tomlin never considered herself just a
"As an actor it's the range of people you
delight in — kids and old people and men and
women," she says. "It's part of the pleasure of
PHOTO BY B. PATTERSON
BACK IN THE HEART OF TEXAS: Lily Tomlin, a longtime friend of Ann Richards and who
used to own property in Austin, returns to Bass Hall Thursday for a live performance.
Tomlin began her path at a young age,
observing an odd assortment of characters liv-
ing in a Detroit apartment house.
"Even as a kid, I loved characters,"
Tomlin says by phone, while tool-
Bass Performance Hall,
525 Commerce St., Fort
Worth. Feb. 26 at 8 p.m.
ing around in a golf cart on a Key
Largo resort. "I grew up on
radio where they created whole
scenarios with words. I was
mad for that form."
She honed her skills in the
clubs of New York City in the mid
1960s, creating characters that she per-
forms to this day, including her most-endur-
ing creation: Ernestine the Telephone
"So many people imitated her, she was like
Bette Davis — I was just one of the people who
did her," Tomlin chuckles.
Still, it's Tomlin — alongside her
writing/producing and life partner, Jane
Wagner — who knows her characters inside
"When you live with these characters long
enough, they begin to take on their own per-
sonalities — they become real," she says. "I
feel like I know some of them."
Many have a lot of back-story. We know, for
instance, that Ernestine's boyfriend is Vito, a
lineman and telephone repairman, and her
best friend is Felicia.
"I've done her at home and in her house —
I've got some pictures reading the telephone
book, like she's doing it for pleasure. During a
20 I dallasvoice.com I 02.20.09
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Nash, Tammye. Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 25, No. 40, Ed. 1 Friday, February 20, 2009, newspaper, February 20, 2009; Dallas, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth239052/m1/20/: accessed June 21, 2021), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.