Janesville's McBride wrote jokes for Diller

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Wednesday, August 22, 2012

— It's possible that at this very moment, God is laughing.

Here's why: Mary McBride, a Janesville homemaker and author who died of cancer in 2008, is once again writing jokes for comedian Phyllis Diller, who died Monday.

The pair probably skipped the harps and the wings for a couple of sharp pencils and a ream of paper.

Funny from Wisconsin

Ed Sullivan once asked Phyllis Diller how she came up with all her jokes.

"I get them from a housewife in Janesville, Wisconsin," she told Sullivan.

The McBride-Diller affiliation began in 1962 with this joke: "The reason I'm not an alcoholic is that I don't like to drink in front of the kids, and when I'm away from them, who needs it?"

That line was part of a skit Mary McBride sent to Diller.

"My mom read a great article by Alex Haley—the author of Roots—about Diller," said Mary McBride's son, Bill McBride.

His mother recognized Diller's material. As a homemaker, she recognized the comedy inherent in managing a house with a mob of kids underfoot. The instant you take your eyes off one little terror, he or she is stealing another one's Crayons or plotting to overthrow the government.

"She stayed up all night writing," Bill McBride said.

Almost a year later, she heard back from Diller.

Funny from home

A 1964 newspaper article shows Mary McBride neatly dressed in what looks like a sweater and pearls. She is sitting next to her husband and surrounded by four of her five children. The headline reads, "Fillers for Phyllis Diller come from housewife."

By that time, Mary McBride had provided classics for Diller such as

-- "People who ride with me aren't passengers—they're witnesses."

-- "My hair doesn't look like it needs washing. It looks like it needs ironing."

"Phyllis considered us her laboratory," Bill McBride said. "We were the source of her humor."

Even his dad, William McBride, was funny.

"He once told my mother, 'The only thing domestic about you is that you were born in the country,'" Bill McBride said.

That line instantly went to Diller.

Once, when Diller was on a talk show, she told the host, "My oven is so dirty, there's only room to bake one cupcake in it."

The next day, a co-worker asked William McBride if that was his wife's joke.

He replied, "No, but that's my wife's oven."

They joked with each other good-naturedly, cheerful partners in a domestic comedy.

Once she told the kids, "You can insult me, as long as it's for profit."

Mary McBride and her neighbor, Jean Bowen, were ghostwriters for "Phyllis Diller's Guide to Housekeeping" and "Phyllis Diller's Marriage Manual."

Funny in California

Bill McBride described Diller as a "great human being" and "very generous." Diller invited the whole family to visit her in California.

"She greeted us at the door and said, 'You've got the run of the house kids, I've checked your records,'" Bill McBride said.

In her entrance hall, she had an oil painting hung sideways. Across the hall was a couch you could lie down on and look at the painting as it was meant to be seen.

Diller once told him, "Of all the people I've worked with, your mother was the most grateful."

She was also a wonderful mom.

When Bill McBride was serving at St. William Parish in Janesville, his mother called to tell him she was bringing him some pecan rolls.

"I said, 'Well, I've got confession, so I'll leave the rectory door unlocked and you can just leave them there,'" the former priest said.

During that morning's confessions, Bill McBride heard a familiar voice from behind the screen say, "Bless me father, you have sinned."

He had forgotten to leave the rectory door unlocked.

Last updated: 5:06 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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