That homage has come in many forms over her career, now spanning 45 years since her TV debut on The Garry Moore Show. She has won two Tonys, two Peabodys, six Emmys, a Grammy, awards from the Drama Desk and Outer Critics’ Circle, the ultra-prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and an Oscar nomination. The latter was for her role as gospel singer Linnea Reese in Nashville, the first of five movies that she made with the great producer/director Robert Altman. Other highlights of Tomlin’s film career include teaming up with Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton to hold their obnoxious boss hostage in 9 to 5, starring with Dustin Hoffman as existential detectives in I (Heart) Huckabees, being hilariously reincarnated into Steve Martin’s body while he’s still using it in All of Me and playing a lesbian archaeologist in Tea with Mussolini.
Then there’s her dazzling stage career. With Appearing Nitely, which won her first Tony in 1977, she became the first woman to carry a Broadway show solo. The second Tony was for the one-woman tour de force The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, which ran twice, in 1985 and 2001 and is generally regarded as her masterpiece.
But it was television that brought Tomlin into most of our lives. She has been a regular on Murphy Brown, Will and Grace, The West Wing and Desperate Housewives. She delighted kids by voicing Ms. Frizzle in the animated TV adaptation of The Magic Schoolbus and by appearing on Sesame Street and The Electric Company. Most of all, we remember her for her panoply of quirky characters on Laugh-In, including Ernestine the rude, nosy telephone operator, Edith Ann the bratty, precocious little girl in the giant rocker, lounge lizard Tommy Velour, Trudy the Bag Lady, Susie the Sorority Girl, Judith Beasley and so many others. Through these inspired incarnations she has become thoroughly ensconced in our pop-culture lexicon. They have become, to use today’s hip terminology, memes.
Clearly, an opportunity to see Tomlin perform live is something that one would someday surely regret passing up. So grab your tickets while you still can for “An Evening of Classic Lily Tomlin” at the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) in Kingston this Sunday, March 27 at 7 p.m. Tickets go for $71 for Golden Circle seating, $51 for general admission and $46 for Bardavon members. They can be obtained at the UPAC box office, located at 602 Broadway in Kingston, (845) 339-6088; at the Bardavon box office at 35 Market Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072; or through TicketMaster at (800) 745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com. For further information, visit www.bardavon.org.