Lily Tomlin at the 2014 Kennedy Center Honors Ceremony in Washington, D.C., December 7, 2014. U.S. State Department Photo.
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Lily Tomlin
Forecourt Ceremony held on Friday, April 22, 2022
Born: Mary Jean Tomlin, September 1, 1939, in Detroit, Michigan
Age at the time of the ceremony: 82
Lily Tomlin is a performer of long standing. Can any of us remember a time when she was not around to amuse us with her comic characters, or move us with her humanity?

Born to working class Baptist parents who had migrated to Detroit from their native Kentucky, Mary Jean graduated from high school, then attended Wayne State University as a biology major. Appearing in a school play changed all that. She became a theatre major, and after graduating, began doing stand-up in Detroit and New York.

Tomlin got herself on The Merv Griffin Show in 1965 (no one seems to know which episode); she then was included as one of the rotation of hosts on what ABC was hoping would be a Laugh-In killer, Music Scene in September 1969. The show was trying to find its way, and Tomlin was out after only six episodes.

But producer George Schlatter knew a good thing when he saw one. Having co-produced Laugh-In for NBC from January 1968, he was always on the lookout for new talent to bring to his mega-hit show. Tomlin joined the cast of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, during the middle of its third season, but she quickly became one of its best-known performers, due to her hilarious characterizations. Tomlin lasted with the show for 84 episodes, from December 1969 to March 1973. In the middle of her stint, she played her character Ernestine the Operator on episode 173 of The Electric Company, airing over PBS on December 20, 1972.

Tomlin wrote and performed new material for her Ernestine the Operator character on an album released in March 1971 called This Is a Recording. The album won the Best Comedy Album award at the Grammys in 1972. That year, she released an album voiced by her Edith Ann character, And That's the Truth both albums were huge hits.

Tomlin starred in a number of television specials. One of them, Lily aired over CBS in 1973, won Emmys for Outstanding Comedy-Variety, Variety or Music Special and Best Writing in Comedy-Variety, Variety or Music.

With all that going, Tomlin made her film debut in the ensemble cast of director Robert Altman's Nashville (released in June 1975). Her performance earned her an Oscar nomination, but she lost out to Lee Grant in Shampoo.

Right after Nashville was released, Tomlin was back on the air The Lily Tomlin Special aired over ABC in July 1975. She won another Emmy for co-writing the show.

For his second directing effort, Robert Benton had Altman read his script of this detective thing. Altman decided to produce it and Tomlin got the second lead with Art Carney in The Late Show (released in February 1977), which became a critical and audience success.

Tomlin won another Emmy for co-writing The Paul Simon Special aired over NBC in December 1977.

In a moment of madness, Tomlin's partner Jane Wagner wrote and directed her in the ill-fated Moment by Moment (released in December 1978), where she played a depressed Malibu housewife courted by a studly drifter, played by John Travolta. Released at Christmastime, America said, "Uhh, thanks, but no thanks."

She bounded right back starring with Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton in the comedy 9 to 5 (released in December 1980). On the way to the bank, The Incredible Shrinking Woman (which played the Chinese in January 1981) came out — it is an aquired taste. Only a month later, another television special came out: Lily: Sold Out, aired over CBS in February 1981, and which bagged Tomlin and Jane Wagner Emmys for producing the Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program.

All of Me (released in September 1984) with Steve Martin became a hit, and some consider it her best "movie," but she lit out for New York to star in her one-woman show, The Search of Intelligent Life in the Universe, which ran at the Plymouth Theatre for 391 perfs, from September 1985 to October 1986. Tomlin and Wagner made a film of the play, The Search of Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (released in September 1991).

Back in Hollywood, Tomlin did a walk-on as herself in Altman's The Player (released in April 1992), then got a role in his ensemble film Short Cuts (released in September 1993).

In straight drama mode, she played Dr. Selma Dritz in And the Band Played On with Matthew Modine (aired over HBO in September 1993). Back on the big screen, Tomlin played banker's assistant Jane Hathaway in the film of The Beverly Hillbillies with Jim Varney playing Jed Clampett (released in October 1993).

Over the years, Tomlin has done a ton of children's television, appearing as either Ernestine or Edith Ann on 14 episodes of Seasame Street, aired over PBS from May 1976 to February 1997, and has provided the voice for Ms. Valerie Frizzle (and won another Emmy for Outstanding Performance in an Animated Program) for 52 episodes of The Magic School Bus, aired over PBS from September 1994 to December 1997.

Tomlin played game show producer Kay Carter-Shepley for 46 episodes of Murphy Brown with Candice Bergen, aired over CBS from September 1996 to May 1998. She went back to New York for a revival of The Seach for Intelligent Life in the Universe, which ran at the Booth Theatre for 184 perfs, from November 2000 to May 2001.

Back playing a detective with Dustin Hoffman, she helps audiences understand the meaning of I Heart Huckabees (released in September 2004), then played the US president's executive secretary Deborah Fiderer for 34 episodes of The West Wing with Martin Sheen aired over NBC from May 2002 to May 2006.

Tomlin played Marilyn Tobin, a shady lady with something to hide for 10 episodes of Damages with Glenn Close aired over FX Network from January to April 2010, then she got to play Reba McEntire's mother Lillie Mae MacKenzie for 18 episodes of Malibu Country aired over ABC from the pilot in November 2012 to March 2013. Tomlin won the Outstanding Voice-Over Performance Emmy for doing the narration for a documentary Jane Wagner wrote, An Appology to Elephants, airing over HBO in April 2013.

Tomlin's production company Intelligent Life Productions bankrolled 144 episodes and she played supporting character Putsy Hodge on 22 episodes of Web Therapy with Lisa Kudrow, aired over Showtime from February 2012 to January 2015.

An interesting small-scaled film with Tomlin headlining is Grandma with Julia Gardner (released in January 2015). Arriving in streamingland, Tomlin did 26 episodes as Professor Frizzle of The Magic School Bus Rides Again, aired over Netflix from September, 2017 to April 2018.

A huge paydirt moment for Tomlin comes with her co-starring with Jane Fonda for all 94 episodes of Grace and Frankie aired over Netflix from May 2015 to April 2022. The show's legion of fans hope Tomlin and Fonda (or is it Fonda and Tomlin?) make some more episodes — who knows? Tomlin co-starred with Fonda along with Rita Moreno and Sally Field in 80 for Brady (released in February 2023). They also starred together in the revenge comedy Moving On with Malcolm McDowell (released in March 2023).
TCL Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Lily Tomlin Forecourt block. Executed by Santos Resendiz, Friday, April 22, 2022.. 30 x 20 inches.
Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California. Lily TomlinForecourt ceremony, Friday, April 22, 2022. Lily Tomlin shows er cementy hands to photographers. Photo by Emma McIntyre.
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