Tomlin in 2009
|Born||Mary Jean Tomlin
September 1, 1939
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|Occupation||Actress, comedian, producer, writer|
|Domestic partner(s)||Jane Wagner (1972-present)|
Mary Jean "Lily" Tomlin (born September 1, 1939) is an American actress, comedian, writer and producer. She has won multiple awards from many quarters, including Tony Awards, Emmy Awards, and a Grammy Award and has also been nominated for an Academy Award.
Tomlin was born in Detroit, Michigan, and raised in the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects, the daughter of Lillie Mae (née Ford), a housewife and nurse's aide, and Guy Tomlin, a factory worker. She was born the same day of the German invasion of Poland. Tomlin's parents were Southern Baptists who moved to Detroit from Paducah, Kentucky during the Great Depression. She is a 1957 graduate of Cass Technical High School. Tomlin attended Wayne State University, where her interest in the theater and performing arts began. After college, Tomlin began doing stand-up comedy in nightclubs in Detroit and later in New York City. Her first television appearance was on The Merv Griffin Show in 1965.
In 1969, after a brief stint as a hostess on the ABC network's Music Scene, Tomlin joined NBC's sketch comedy show Laugh-In. Some characters from this show have been associated with her throughout her career, including the wisecracking, snorting telephone operator, Ernestine; the bratty five-year-old Edith Ann, seated in an over-sized rocking chair making rude noises while telling stories about her baby brother and pet dog Buster; and the Tasteful Lady, who lives a gracious, naїve life of entitlement in the upper class and shades of whom show up in Tomlin's film role in All of Me (see below). Additional characters include Susie the Sorority Girl, who appeared on Tomlin's album Modern Scream and in her 1975 appearance on Saturday Night Live.
Tomlin was also one of the first female comedians to break out in male drag with her characters Tommy Velour and Rick. Though drag had been around in Hollywood for some time by men, Tomlin broke new ground by not only crossing gender stereotypes, but racial ones as well. In 1982, she premiered Pervis Hawkins, a black rhythm-and-blues soul singer (patterned after Luther Vandross), with a mustache, beard and close-cropped afro hairstyle, dressed in a three-piece suit. Tomlin used very little if any skin-darkening cosmetics (it usually depended on stage lighting) as part of the character.
AT&T offered Tomlin US$500,000 to play her character Ernestine in a commercial, but she declined saying it would compromise her artistic integrity. However, in 1976 she did appear as Ernestine in a parody of a commercial on Saturday Night Live, in which she proclaimed, "We don't care, we don't have to...we're the phone company." The character later made a guest appearance at The Superhighway Summit at UCLA, January 11, 1994, interrupting a speech being given on the information superhighway by then-Vice President Al Gore. In 2003, she made two commercials as Ernestine for WebEx.
Tomlin is noted for her versatility. In Robert Altman's Nashville, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, she played Linnea Reese, a straitlaced, gospel-singing, mother of two deaf children who has an affair with a country singer (played by Keith Carradine). The Oscar that year went to Lee Grant for her role in Shampoo. She was also a secretary named Violet Newstead in Nine to Five, performed several comedic roles in the 1981 film The Incredible Shrinking Woman, and was a sickly heiress in the Steve Martin comedy All of Me.
She and Bette Midler played two pairs of identical twins who were switched at birth in the 1989 comedy Big Business. Tomlin also played chain-smoking waitress Doreen Piggott in Altman's 1993 ensemble film Short Cuts, and, in two films by director David O. Russell; she appeared as a peacenik Raku artist in Flirting with Disaster and later, as an existential detective in I ♥ Huckabees. In 2007, a video recording surfaced showing Tomlin and Russell in a heated exchange over the shooting of a scene in Huckabees.
Tomlin voiced Ms. Frizzle on the animated television series The Magic School Bus from 1994 to 1997. Also, in the 1990s, Tomlin appeared on the popular sitcom Murphy Brown as the title character's boss. In 2005 and 2006, she had a recurring role as Will Truman's boss Margot on Will & Grace. She appeared on the dramatic series The West Wing for four years (2002-2006) in the recurring role of presidential secretary Deborah Fiderer.
Tomlin was the first woman to appear solo in a Broadway show with her premiere of "Appearing Nitely" at the Biltmore theatre in April, 1977. The same month, she made the cover of "Time" magazine with the headline "America's New Queen of Comedy." Her solo show then toured the country and was made into a record album titled "On Stage." In 1985, Tomlin starred in another one-woman Broadway show The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, written by her long-time life partner, writer/producer Jane Wagner. The show won her a Tony Award, and was made into a feature film in 1991. Tomlin revived the show for a run on Broadway in 2000 which then toured the country through mid-2002. In 1989, she won the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in Chicago theatre.
She collaborated again with director Robert Altman, starring in Altman's last film A Prairie Home Companion, playing Rhonda Johnson, one half of a middle-aged Midwestern singing duo with Meryl Streep.
In the 2008-2009 fifth season of Desperate Housewives she has a recurring role as Roberta, the sister of Mrs. McCluskey (played by Kathryn Joosten, who coincidentally had played Tomlin's secretarial predecessor on The West Wing). During the 2008 Emmy Awards, Tomlin appeared as part of a tribute to the influential 1960s television series Laugh-In. Tomlin voiced Tammy in the 2005 The Simpsons episode, "The Last of the Red Hat Mamas." Tomlin provided a voice for the film Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, which was released in August 2009.
Tomlin and Kathryn Joosten have been in talks to star in a Desperate Housewives spin-off, which was given the green light in May 2009. Tomlin premiered her one-woman show "Not Playing with a Full Deck" at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in November, 2009. It was her first appearance in that city, though she did tape an Emmy-winning TV special, a spoof of Las Vegas called "Lily: Sold Out" which premiered on CBS in January 1991. Tomlin will guest star in the third season of "Damages" on FX, premiering on January 25, 2010.
Throughout her career, there is rarely a time when Tomlin has not been performing her evolving show somewhere. In the words of her character Bobbie Jeanine, the lounge organ player, "...I've played every town and burg in this country."
Tomlin met her life partner Jane Wagner in 1971. After watching an after school special written by Wagner, Tomlin invited her to Los Angeles to collaborate on a comedy album. Although Tomlin officially came out as a lesbian woman to the press in 2001, her sexual orientation has not really been a secret; in interviews she would often refer to Jane Wagner as her partner. As Tomlin herself stated in 2008, in an interview for Just Out magazine: "Everybody in the industry was certainly aware of my sexuality and of Jane... In interviews I always reference Jane and talk about Jane, but they don't always write about it."
Tomlin has been involved in a number of feminist and gay friendly film productions, and on her 1975 album Modern Scream she poked-fun at straight actors who make a point of distancing themselves from their gay and lesbian characters — answering the pseudo-interview question, she replied: "How did it feel to play a heterosexual? I've seen these women all my life, I know how they walk, I know how they talk ..."
Tomlin has received numerous awards, including: four primetime Emmys; a special 1977 Tony when she was appearing in her one woman Broadway show, Appearing Nitely; a second Tony as Best Actress, two Drama Desk Awards and an Outer Critics Circle Award for her one woman performance in Jane Wagner’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe; a CableACE Award for Executive Producing the film adaptation of The Search; a Grammy Award for her comedy album, This is a Recording (a collection of Ernestine the Telephone Operator routines) as well as nominations for her subsequent albums Modern Scream, And That's the Truth, and On Stage; and two Peabody Awards — the first for the ABC television special, Edith Ann’s Christmas: Just Say Noël and the second for narrating and executive producing the HBO film, The Celluloid Closet.
In March 2009, Tomlin received Fenway Health's Dr. Susan M. Love Award for her contributions to women's health.
Additionally, Lily (1973; above), in which she starred but did not produce, won for Outstanding Comedy-Variety, Variety Or Music Special, 1974 (Jerry McPhie, Herb Sargent, producers; Irene Pinn, executive producer)
|1972||Scarecrow in a Garden of Cucumbers||Telephone Voice||(uncredited)|
|1975||Nashville||Linnea Reese||Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
BAFTA for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture - Female
|1977||The Late Show||Margo Sperling||Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Silver Bear for Best Actress
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
|1978||Moment by Moment||Trisha Rawlings|
|1980||9 to 5||Violet Newstead|
|1981||The Incredible Shrinking Woman||Pat Kramer/Judith Beasley||Fantafestival Award for Best Actress
Nominated — Saturn Award for Best Actress
|1984||All of Me||Edwina Cutwater||Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy|
|1988||Big Business||Rose Ratliff/Rose Shelton|
|1991||The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe||Trudy, et. all||American Comedy Award for Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture (Leading Role)
Golden Needle Award for Best Actress
Nominated — Emmy Award for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program
Nominated — Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special
Nominated — Independent Spirit Award for Best Lead Female
|1992||Shadows and Fog||Prostitute|
|1993||The Beverly Hillbillies||Miss Jane Hathaway|
|Short Cuts||Doreen Piggot||American Comedy Award for Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (Leading Role)
Golden Globe Special Award for Best Ensemble Cast
|1995||Blue in the Face||Waffle eater||Nominated — American Comedy Award for Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (Leading Role)|
|1996||Getting Away with Murder||Inga Mueller|
|Flirting with Disaster||Mary Schlichting||Nominated — Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female|
|1998||Krippendorf's Tribe||Prof. Ruth Allen|
|1999||Tea with Mussolini||Georgie Rockwell|
|2002||Orange County||Charlotte Cobb|
|2004||I Heart Huckabees||Vivian Jaffe|
|2006||A Prairie Home Companion||Rhonda Johnson||Nominated — Gotham Award for Best Ensemble Cast
Nominated — Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
|The Ant Bully||Mommo||Voice|
|Last Guy on Earth|
|2009||The Pink Panther 2||Mrs. Yvette Berenger|
|1966-1967||The Garry Moore Show||Regular||unknown episodes|
|1969||Letters to Laugh-In||Panelist||1 episode|
|1969||Music Scene||Hostess, also did skits such as the "Eraser Freak"|
|1969-1973||Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In||Ernestine, the telephone operator; five-year-old Edith Ann; tasteful lady; other characters||Nominated — Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement by a Performer in Music or Variety (1972)
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
|1973||Lily||Herself||Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program|
|The Electric Company||1 episode|
|1974||Lily||Herself||Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series
Nominated — Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program
|1975||The Lily Tomlin Special||Herself||Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program
Nominated — Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special
|1976-1977||Saturday Night Live||Host/Ernestine/Various||2 episodes|
|1977||The Paul Simon Special||Herself||Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program|
|1979||Sesame Street||Edith Ann||1 episode|
|1981||Lily: Sold Out||Herself||Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program|
|1984||Pryor's Place||1 episode|
|1993||And the Band Played On||Dr. Selma Dritz||Nominated — CableACE Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Movie or Miniseries
Emmy Award for Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program
|1994-97||The Magic School Bus||Ms. Frizzle||Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer In An Animated Program (1995)
Nominated — Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer In An Animated Program (1996, 1997, 1998)
|1996||Homicide: Life on the Streets||Rose Halligan||Nominated — Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress – Drama Series|
|1996-98||Murphy Brown||Kay Carter-Shepley|
|2002-06||The West Wing||Deborah Fiderer||Nominated — Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series (2003, 2005)
Nominated — Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series (2003)
|2005||The Simpsons||Tammy||Episode:The Last of the Red Hat Mamas|
|2005-06||Will & Grace||Margot||2 episodes|
|2008||12 Miles of Bad Road||Amelia Shakespeare||6 episodes|
|2008-09||Desperate Housewives||Roberta Simmons|
|2010||Damages||Marilyn Tobin||Main Cast Member|