Lily Tomlin is, in every sense of the word, a character.
For more than 40 years, Tomlin has brought her comedic mix of characters to the stage, television and movie screen.
Among her staple of classic characters are wisecracking telephone operator Ernestine and 5½-year-old rocking-chair philosopher Edith Ann. Her split-personality hilarity has earned her six Emmy awards, two Tony Awards, two Peabody Awards, a Grammy Award and a CableAce Award.
All of her imaginary friends will come out to play May 16 at Turlock Community Theatre. The show is described as a trip through her cast of more than a dozen characters.
Tomlin told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that her act varies from night to night. "Whoever I can summon up that night. All of them together are probably a reflection of the neighborhood I grew up in, in Detroit," she told the paper this week. And you never know what situations her old friends will find themselves in, especially the bossy Ernestine.
"Some monologues are timeless, but Ernestine is one of the easiest to get into new things, she's so domineering. She goes where the power is," she told the Star-Tribune. "Most recently, she's been
working at a big HMO, denying health care to everyone. She has also modeled in a fashion show, ankling around in a coat that gets caught on her big bracelet when she tries to flamboyantly fling it off. Then she has a tantrum on stage. That's one of the secrets of her popularity -- everyone's id lives through her because she's not intimidated by anyone or anything. We can all misbehave vicariously."
While her characters may misbehave, Tomlin has steadily broken ground as a female comic.
Born in Detroit, the 68-year-old Tomlin began her career in 1965 when she moved to New York. A year later, she made her TV debut on "The Garry Moore Show," which led to several appearances on "The Merv Griffin Show." Shortly after, she moved to Los Angeles and in 1968 joined the cast of the top-rated "Laugh-In."
It was there that many of Tomlin's signature characters, from Ernestine to Edith Ann, were born. Her small-screen success led to her own TV specials, which led to the big screen.
In the 1970s and '80s, Tomlin became a box-office star in a string of hit films, from Robert Altman's "Nashville" (which earned her an Academy Award nomination) to comedies like "9 to 5," "The Incredible Shrinking Woman" and "All of Me."
Bouncing effortlessly between big and small screen recently, Tomlin had stints on
"Murphy Brown" in the '90s and "The West Wing" in the '00s.
On film, she has appeared in an eclectic mix, from Woody Allen's "Shadows and Fog" to David O. Russell's "I Heart Huckabees" and Altman's final film, "A Prairie Home Companion."
On Broadway, the tireless performer debuted in 1977 with the play "Appearing Nitely," which was written and directed by her longtime personal and professional partner, Jane Wagner. She returned to the Great White Way in 1985 for an acclaimed run of Wagner's play "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe." Earlier this year, Tomlin began contributing to www.wowowow.com, a new Web site aimed at women 40 and older. Founded by gossip columnist Liz Smith, TV newswoman Lesley Stahl, advertising executive Mary Wells and publisher Joni Evans, the site launched in March. Other writers include Candice Bergen, Whoopi Goldberg and Marlo Thomas.
The site, which calls itself "The Women on the Web," is a mix of politics, culture and, yes, gossip. Tomlin has posted about women in the work force and posted a Mother's Day greeting in character as Ernestine.
Political awareness is nothing new for Tomlin. Underneath all her characters is a common thread, she told the Vancouver Sun recently.
"It was always intended to be really funny and human," she told the paper, "but it would always rail against abuse of power or inequity and other things that went on in the culture."
A character with character, how refreshing.