To call Lily Tomlin a national treasure seems a very conservative compliment. The out entertainer, who turns 78 today, is loved the world over for an incredible array of characters she’s brought to life (many written by her talented wife, Jane Wagner) both in film, as well as on television and the live stage.
Tomlin first came to national prominence in 1969 by playing a series of characters on the hit sketch comedy series Laugh-In. Here she plays one of her most enduring creations, Ernestine, the condescending phone operator. All together now, “One ringy dingy…”
After gaining a reputation as one of the most clever comics in show business, Tomlin stunned audiences with an about-face by giving a very subtle dramatic performance (she was Oscar-nominated as best supporting actress) in Robert Altman’s 1975 epic Nashville.
In 1978, she costarred opposite John Travolta in the romantic drama Moment by Moment, one of the genuinely great camp films of its time. Note the physical resemblance between the two leads.
In 1980 Tomlin had the biggest hit of her movie career when she teamed with fellow superstars Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton in the feminist comedy Nine to Five. Watch a gag reel from the film below.
Shrinkage can affect women, too. In 1981 Tomlin starred in one of her most under-appreciated comedies, The Incredible Shrinking Woman. Watch the trailer below.
One of her (and Wagner’s) finest achievements was in the 1985 smash one-woman show The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, in which Tomlin effortlessly played a number of very different characters. She repeated her performance in the 1991 film adaptation.
Tomlin costarred with another scene stealer Bette Midler in the 1988 comedy Big Business about two sets of very different twins who were accidentally switched at birth.
Watch Lily whisper something hilarious to former President Barack Obama when she received a Kennedy Center Honors award in 2014.
Here’s the incredible 1973 segment with Richard Pryor from her CBS special Lily to which Obama referred in the above clip.
In 2015, Tomlin gave one of her most acclaimed performances in the comedy Grandma.
At 78, Tomlin shows little sign of slowing down. Her series Grace and Frankie is a hit with critics and audiences alike and Tomlin recently scored her 23rd Emmy nomination as one of the title characters. Here she and Jane promote the series on Watch What Happens Live and reenact a scene from Nine to Five with Andy Cohen filling in for Dolly.