“What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.” That’s just one of the many funny lines made famous by trailblazing comedian Phyllis Diller, who would have turned 98 today. Did this keen observation of corporate life qualify the flamboyant Phyllis to perform for managers in training? It’s debatable. But every year on her birthday I recall the time in 1969 when Westinghouse Electric Corporation sent a group of newly promoted supervisors, including my father, to watch her nightclub act.
My dad, Fred Spiardi, started working at the Westinghouse Specialty Metals factory in Blairsville, PA, in 1956. For 14 years he performed a variety of jobs on the shop floor, never missing an opportunity to work overtime – including the “hoot owl” shift, which is what he called the midnight to 8 a.m. slot. In April of 1969, Westinghouse promoted him and several of his co-workers to supervisory positions, and sent the newly minted managers to division headquarters near Pittsburgh for 5 days of training.
At the end of the week, the company treated the class to dinner and a show at The Holiday House, a 1,000 seat Vegas-style nightclub that attracted some of the country’s top national acts back in its heyday. The headliner on that particular Friday night was the queen of comedy, Phyllis Diller, a performer whose live act was a bit racier than her TV appearances.
Like Phyllis, my dad had a reputation as a cutup. He was a fearless extrovert who loved to command the room and generate laughs (and blushes) with his funny stories and off-color language. No one was spared a little ribbing when Daddy was around. So, before the show, his fellow supervisors decided to have a little fun at his expense. Someone managed to pass a note to Phyllis, asking her to harass a member of the audience named Freddie Baby.
Imagine my dad’s surprise when Phyllis, with her bird legs, electrostatic hair, garish outfit and jeweled cigarette holder, walked to the edge of the stage and asked, “Where’s Freddie Baby?”
Everyone in Daddy’s entourage pointed at him. And now it was his turn to blush, as Phyllis spent the next 30 seconds inviting him to engage in some type of lewd activity. The crowd loved it. And Daddy loved it, too. Because for that brief moment he was the center of attention. And that’s always where my proud Leo the Lion father felt most comfortable – in the spotlight.
R.I.P. Fabulous Phyllis! July 17, 1917 – August 20, 2012
R.I.P. Fabulous Daddy! August 4, 1928 – October 7, 2003
© Dana Spiardi, July 17, 2015