Over the years the great organization known as the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters has put the spotlight on the folks who have made an indelible mark on the airwaves. And this season of awards luncheons have seen two of the most wonderful women in the business get honored for their outstanding contributions to entertainment. Lily Tomlin and Florence Henderson were feted at the last two PPB events, and the echoes of laughter from the fun-filled afternoons must still be ringing throughout the Empire Room at the Sportsmen’s Lodge.
Lily Tomlin was toasted and gently roasted by her friends and colleagues, but she got the last laugh when she ended the tribute by launching into her rendition of Lucille the Rubber Freak, the character and comedy routine she used when she got her job on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.
One of America’s foremost comediennes, Lily received the Art Gilmore Career Achievement Award with PPB’s President Sam Lovullo presiding over the festivities, with entertainment chair Jeanne DeVivier Brown putting together an impressive dais. Lily has supported the Actors and Others for Animals cause that is dear to Jo Anne Worley’s heart, so naturally Jo Anne was on hand to entertain her Laugh-In castmate with her wacky humor, which is always a highlight. Another PPB dais regular, Gary Owens humorously recalled their great days together doing Laugh-In.
George Schlatter, creator and producer of the landmark show, says his first meeting with Lily lasted three hours and included introductions to some of Lily’s many characters. Laugh-In put Tomlin in the national spotlight thanks to her signature routines doing the “one-ringy-dingy” telephone operator Ernestine, and the sassy little girl Edith Ann. But Lily has done much more than that during her long career. She has received six Emmys, two Tony Awards, a Grammy, two Peabody Awards, and numerous other honors for her acting, producing, and narrating achievements. PBS honored her in 2003 with the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
It’s important to note that singer Kat Kramer was outstanding when she opened the tribute program with a special musical salute to Lily. Other pals of Lily’s on the dais included Sally Kellerman (MASH), character actor Leslie Jordan (from The Help), Allee Willis (wrote the Friends theme), and Bruce Vilanche, the Oscars’ celebrated gag writer. Many of her friends highlighted Lily’s charity work for HIV/AIDS and women’s causes. Before her acceptance speech, Lily was genuinely moved when she received a standing ovation from the appreciative crowd. It was well deserved.
Another great lady at an earlier luncheon, Florence Henderson got her Art Gilmore Career Achievement Award for conquering just about every aspect of entertainment. Her long career began in 1952 on Broadway in major musicals. In 1962, she became the first woman to guest host The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. She was called “the Today Girl” and made a splash on The Today Show, delivering the light news and weather.
All of that was before she took on her iconic role as Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch, which ran on ABC from 1969 to ‘74, and continues to air around the world.
On hand to honor Florence was another memorable TV mom, Happy Days’ Marion Ross, who called her friend “a treasure who can sing, dance, act, host, and even write a book. She’s the whole package.” Also on the dais were Lee Meriwether, Lloyd Schwartz, Bill Harris, Bill Hayes, A.C. Lyles, and Jo Anne Worley. Most recalled how dazzled they were by her energy “hoofing it up” on Dancing with the Stars. Florence also tours the U.S. with her one-woman show All the Lives of Me: A Musical Journey. And Henderson’s autobiography, Life Is Not a Stage: From Broadway Baby to a Lovely Lady and Beyond, was recently published, and it proves even further that the “story about a lovely lady” is fascinating and fabulous. That’s Florence Henderson.