Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How to Have a Moneymaking Garage Sale Starring Phyllis Diller (RIP)

As a comedian who launched her career at "a certain age," Phyllis Diller never had a shot at the A-list. At least Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Jennifer Jones, Lana Turner, etc. had distinguished heights they could fall from into the horrorshows and drugsploitation to which they were relegated in their advanced years. Such Z-grade fare dominates Diller's IMDb entry. No Mildred Pierces or All About Eves here. Instead, The Fat Spy, Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!, Eight on the Lam, Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady?, films so uniquely awful they seemed designed solely to keep her employed. But when even those opportunities dwindled, there were yet lower depths to plumb. Hence the 1987 infotainment classic How to Have a Moneymaking Garage Sale Starring Phyllis Diller which you can see in its entirety here. If I had guilty pleasures, the fact that I've seen this thing about, oh, 30 times would top the list.
With nary of shot/reverse shot to distract your attention, this 23-minute extravaganza cedes nearly every second to Diller as she walks you through the dos and don'ts of turning your trash into cash. Naturally, it comes equipped with a plethora of corny jokes including a few gems ("When I write my [garage sale] ad, I think of the many scripts I've been offered. Then I write my ad anyway."). And in case you forget to laugh, many of the one-liners are signposted with even cornier whistles and wah-wahs. But Diller delights most in her sheer commitment to this project. With the help of cue cards, she attacks it as if it were, er, Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!
Most of what she lays down is common sense rendering the entire affair delightfully pointless. For instance, if you're selling a blouse spray painted by a top designer (say, Birgitta of Beverly Hills), then make sure you display the label prominently.
But I did learn some things about pricing. For clothing, Diller figures 1/10 of what she paid is fair. This dress cost $100 new so she's pricing it at $10.
Records she figures at 50 or 75 cents including this one, Pavarotti Salutes Madonna.
For appliances, she asks 1/5 of what it sells for in stores today such as this fine broken lamp.
Some of the advice is inane. Who but Ned Flanders would collect sales tax at a garage sale? But she handles the various garage sale types (The Dollar Guy, The Helpful Neighbor, The Hardliner, etc.) with verve and high humor. The Nitpicker is a flat-out jerk. He complains about how the finish on a TV for sale doesn't really go with his furniture. But instead of telling him "tough crunchies, dude," she reasons with him and gets the $100 she's asking. (For that thing? In dude's defense, that seems way too pricey even back then.)
My favorite customer is a meek fellow for whom line reading must have been a sweat-inducing endeavor. Dig if you will the boom mic at the center catching his 15 seconds.
More than any individual moment, though, what baffles most is that the thing even exists. Who commissioned this and why did Diller agree to become involved? It was produced by Dave Bell Associates, whose filmography is an odd mixture of short subjects and feature films, and copyrighted by J2 Communications. Anyone?

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