American comedienne, actress, writer and producer Lily Tomlin rose to national fame as a regular performer in the successful kaleidoscopic TV comedy show “Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In” (1969-1973), from which she netted an Emmy and Golden Globe nomination. Through the series, she introduced her classic characters Ernestine and Edith Ann. A noted stand-up comic in the NYC club circuits prior to her TV success, Tomlin won Emmy Awards for co-writing the TV specials “Lily” (1973), “The Lily Tomlin Special” (1975) and “The Paul Simon Special” (1977) and an additional Emmy award for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program for “Lily: Sold Out” (1981), which she also starred and executive produced. She won her first Tony Award in 1977 for a one-woman show directed and written by Jane Wagner called “Appearing Nitely” and her next Tony Award nine years later for the critically praised one woman Broadway show “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” (1985). When the show was brought to the wide screen in 1991, in which she played a number of characters such as Truby the Bag Lady, Tomlin was handed a Seattle International Film Festival Award and an American Comedy Award for her work. However, as an actress, Tomlin is perhaps best recalled as Linnea Reese in Robert Altman's “Nashville” (1975), a role that established her as a first time movie actress and won her an Oscar nomination as well as a New York Film Critics Circle Award, a National Society of Film Critics Award and a Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award. She has acted in such movies as “The Late Show” (1977), “9 to 5” (1980), “The Incredible Shrinking Woman” (1981, won a Fantafestival Award), “All of Me” (1984), the ensemble drama “Short Cuts” (1993, earned an American Comedy Award, a Golden Globe Award and a Venice Film Festival Award), “Flirting with Disaster” (1996), “Tea with Mussolini” (1999), “Orange Country” (2002), “I Heart Huckabees” (2004), “A Prairie Home Companion” (2006) and “The Walker” (2007), and in the TV series “Homicide: Life on the Street” (1996), “The X-Files” (1998) and “The West Wing” (2002-2006). The multi-faceted performer picked up a Grammy Award for her debut album, “This is a Recording” (1971) and a Daytime Emmy Award for her voice-over gig in the animated series “The Magic School Bus” (1994-1997).
Prior to publicly disclosing her sexual orientation on the New York City access TV Program “Gay USA” in the mid 1990s, she tied herself to feminist and gay-friendly movie productions. She has been romantically involved with writer/producer Jane Wagner (born in 1935) since the early 1970s. They have collaborated on many projects, including the critically-acclaimed “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.”
Childhood and Family:
Born Mary Jean Tomlin, on September 1, 1939, in Detroit, Michigan, Lily Tomlin emerged as a funny provoker and collected friends and neighborhood children to be part of her improvised shows, which she performed around the complex in which her family lived. The daughter of Guy Tomlin, a factory worker, and Lillie Mae Tomlin, a homemaker, she became deeply interested in science, especially botany, when she grew older and attended Cass Technical High School in Detroit, where the high-spirited girl was a science champ and a cheerleader. Upon graduating in1957, she studied pre-med at Wayne State University, but dropped out after two years. In 1965, she left her hometown and family for New York City to pursue her stand-up comedy career.
Lily has a younger brother named Richard Tomlin, who is four years her junior.
Discovering her passion for theater and performing arts while a pre-med student at Detroit's Wayne State University, Lily Tomlin subsequently left her education and began performing stand-up comedy in local coffeehouses before trying her luck in New York City where she soon found a solid fan base in such clubs as Cafe Au Go Go, The Improvisation and the Upstairs at the Downstairs. Arriving in NYC in 1965, Tomlin supported herself by working as a secretary to a casting director and a waitress at Howard Johnson's while doing stand-up in the aforementioned coffeehouses.
First stepping in front of the TV camera in “The Merv Griffin Show” (1965), Tomlin became a regular performer for the first time in “The Garry Moore Show” and played various roles during the 1966-1967 seasons. Tomlin later moved to Los Angeles when she landed a hosting gig in the short-lived “Music Scene” (1969).
One unforgettable moment came when Tomlin was invited by producer George Schlatter to join his popular comedy sketch show, “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” and after a second invitation, she accepted and made her debut appearance in late 1969. In the top-rated series, Tomlin impressed audiences and critics alike with her famed classic characterizations of Ernestine, the impudent telephone operator, and the diabolical six-year-old Edith Ann, and in 1972, she was nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe in the categories of Outstanding Achievement by a Performer in Music or Variety and Best Supporting Actress- Television, respectively. She bolstered her popularity by nabbing a Grammy award for her work in “This is a Recording,” her first comedy album which was released in 1971.
After the demise of “Laugh-In,” Tomlin collaborated with Jane Wagner, among other staff members, to write her first TV special, “The Lily Tomlin Show,” which aired on CBS in March 1973. She was next seen in “Lily,” which was broadcasted eight months and won the star even more recognition and an Emmy for Best Writing in Comedy-Variety, Variety or Music (1974). It was followed by two more specials, “Lily” in 1974 and “The Lily Tomlin Special” in 1975, the latter of which earned her a second Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Special (1976).
It was also in 1975 that Tomlin captured the attention of moviegoers with her role as Linnea Reese in her big screen debut, the Robert Altman-directed “Nashville.” As an annoyed gospel singer and mother of two deaf kids, she delivered a memorable scene-stealing performance and took home a New York Film Critics Circle Award, a National Society of Film Critics Award and a Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award, in addition to an Oscar nomination and two Golden Globe nominations. The success proved Tomlin was also a capable dramatic performer and served as a spring board for her career as an actress.
Tomlin resurfaced two years later when director Robert Benton cast her in the starring role of Margo Sperling in the crime/comedy movie “The Late Show,” opposite Art Carney. The role brought the actress a Berlin International Film Festival for Best Actress and both a Golden Globe and BAFTA nomination. 1977 also found Tomlin reuniting with Jane Wagner in a Broadway play called “Appearing Nitely,” with Wagner directing and writing the play. For her performance in the one-woman show, Tomlin was honored with a Special Award at the 1977 Tonys. She again worked with Wagner in the film, “Moment by Moment” (1978), which cast Tomlin opposite John Travolta. Also in 1978, Tomlin jointly netted an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Special for her writing contribution to the 1977 “The Paul Simon Special.”
Despite the failure of “Moment by Moment,” the Detroit native continued to take on more film roles and in the early 1980s, she enjoyed some resurgence as Violet in the Colin Higgins-helmed comedy “9 to 5” (1980), alongside Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton, and for Pat Kramer/Judith Beasley in Joel Schumacher's “The Incredible Shrinking Woman” (1981), which was scripted by Jane Wagner. The latter film won Tomlin a Fantafestival for Best Actress. The rest of the decade saw her play the affluent, ailing Edwina Cutwater in the comedy film “All of Me” (1984), with Steve Martin, and costar with Bette Midler in Jim Abrahams' “Big Business” (1988).
Outside her film work, Tomlin made her debut as an executive producer in “Lily: Sold Out” (1981), which she also starred and co-wrote, and co-won an Emmy for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program for her work in the comedy special. Four years later, she revisited Broadway in a successful show called “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” (1985), which was written and directed by frequent partner Jane Wagner. In addition to a Drama Desk Award and an Outer Critics’ Circle Award, Tomlin picked up a Tony for Best Actress in a Play in 1986 thanks to her brilliant acting in the show.
In 1991, Tomlin executive produced and starred in the film version of “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life In the Universe,” from which she netted a Seattle International Film Festival for Best Actress and an American Comedy for Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture (Leading Role) as well as a CableAce Award for her producing effort. She then appeared as a prostitute in Woody Allen's “Shadows and Fog” (1992), made a cameo appearance as herself in Robert Altman's “The Player” (1992) and again worked with Altman in the favorite drama “Short Cuts” (1993), in which she was cast as a waitress named Doreen Piggott. In “And the Band Played On” (1993), a HBO special about the AIIDS epidemic, she portrayed San Francisco health official Selma Dritz.
Tomlin provided the voice of Edith Ann, her classic character, for the ABC animated specials “Edith Ann - A Few Pieces of the Puzzle” and “Edith Ann: Homeless Go Home” (both 1994), and “Frasier” fans could hear her voice as Rita in the episode “The Unkindest Cut of All” (also 1994). The Grammy winner scored a victory by nabbing a 1995 Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program for voicing Ms. Valerie Frizzle in the well-liked children’s cartoon series, “The Magic School Bus,” a gig she held from 1994 to 1997. While working on the show, Tomlin could be seen acting as Waffle Eater in the comedy movie “Blue in the Face” (1995), starring Michael J. Fox and Lou Reed, supported Alan Alda and Ben Stiller in David O. Russell’s “Flirting with Disaster” (1996), starred with Dan Aykroyd in the indie-comedy “Getting Away with Murder” (1996) and gave a remarkable guest turn as Rose Halligan in an episode of NBC's “Homicide: Life on the Street” (1996), for which she earned an Emmy nomination.
Back to series TV, Tomlin took on the regular role of Kay Carter-Shepley on the CBS sitcom “Murphy Brown” (1996-1998). She had the supporting role of Professor Ruth Allen in the family film “Krippendorf's Tribe” (1998), was memorable as ghost Lydia in an episode of “The X-Files” (1998) and teamed up with Cher, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith in Franco Zeffirelli's “Tea with Mussolini” (1999). In 1999, she was seen on stage in a solo performance show called “Lily Tomlin Live.”
Entering the new millennium, Tomlin again recreated her Tony winning role in a Broadway revival of “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” which enjoyed a successful ran across the United States. On the big screen, she had a supporting role in the Bruce Willis vehicle “The Kid” (2000) and two years later, was cast in the hit comedy/drama “Orange Country,” as Charlotte Cobb. Also in 2002, Tomlin was seen in the regular role of Deborah Fiderer in the critically acclaimed series “The West Wing,” a gig she held until the show came to an end in 2006. The following year, she earned a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series.
Tomlin was reunited with director/writer David O. Russell for “I Heart Huckabees” (2004), opposite Jude Law and Naomi Watts, and with Robert Altman in “A Prairie Home Companion” (2006), with Woody Harrelson, Meryl Streep, Tim Russell, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones and Lindsay Lohan. She voiced grandmother Mommo in the computer-animated film “The Ant Bully” (2006), helmed by John Davis, and played Abigail Delorean in the drama “The Walker” (2007), which also starred Harrelson, Kristin Scott Thomas and Lauren Bacall.
69-year-old Tomlin, who during the 2005-2006 season had a recurring role as Margot in the NBC comedy “Will & Grace” (2005, 2006), currently stars as Amelia Shakespeare in the new comedy series “12 Miles of Bad Road” (2008). Among her costars in the show are Mary Kay Place, Gary Cole, Eliza Coupe and Kim Dickens. She is set to have a leading role in the upcoming comedy film “Seniors” (2008), directed by David Wain and penned by Jon Zack. On stage, Tomlin and Wagner recently served as co-producers for the off-Broadway adaptation of Ann Bannon's books, “Beebo Brinker Chronicles,” which debuted in March 2008. The play stars Jenn Colella in the title role.
U.S. Comedy Arts Festival: Career Tribute, 2002
WinFemme Film Festival: WIN Lifetime Achievement Award, 2002
Provincetown International Film Festival: Lily Award, 2000
Daytime Emmy: Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program, “The Magic School Bus,” 1995
Golden Globe: Best Ensemble Cast, “Short Cuts,” 1994
American Comedy: Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, “Short Cuts,” 1994
Venice Film Festival: Best Ensemble Cast, “Short Cuts,” 1993
American Comedy: Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture (Leading Role), “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” 1992
Women in Film Crystal: Crystal Award, 1992
Seattle International Film Festival: Best Actress, “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” 1991
American Comedy: Funniest Female Stand-Up Comic, 1987, 1988
American Comedy: Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy, 1987
Tony: Best Actress (Play), “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” 1986
Emmy: Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program, “Lily: Sold Out,” 1981
Fantafestival: Best Actress, “The Incredible Shrinking Woman,” 1981
Emmy: Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Special, “The Paul Simon Special,” 1978
Berlin International Film Festival: Best Actress, “The Late Show,” 1977
Tony: Special Award, 1977
Emmy: Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Special, “The Lily Tomlin Special,” 1976
Kansas City Film Critics Circle: Best Supporting Actress, “Nashville,” 1976
National Society of Film Critics: Best Supporting Actress, “Nashville,”1975
New York Film Critics Circle: Best Supporting Actress, “Nashville,” 1975
Emmy: Best Writing in Comedy-Variety, Variety or Music, “Lily,” 1974
Grammy: Album “This is a Recording,” 1971