November 1975: Lily Tomlin plays the PAC

Photo by Shirley Borchardt for AMAZON

Photo by Shirley Borchardt for AMAZON

“You don’t have to be one to play one,” said Lily Tomlin, when asked about playing a heterosexual character. “I did a lot of research.”

On Tuesday, November 4, 1975, Lily Tomlin brought her one-woman show to Milwaukee’s Performing Arts Center (now the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts) for one night only.

And what a night it was! Amazon, the leading Milwaukee feminist publication from 1972-1984, covered Lily’s show with great enthusiasm.

“SISTERS! Have you got boogie in your hearts?’ that’s what Lily Tomlin, in her alter ego as Sister Boogie Woman, asked nearly 3,000 afficionados….if you didn’t bring any boogie with you that night, you certainly left with some.”

Tomlin, already established as a popular comedienne, was beginning a crossover into feature films that would later bring The Incredible Shrinking Woman,  9 to 5, and other hits.

The show included favorite characters including Edith Ann, Dr. Eileen Dacey and Ernestine, but the best insights came from the real Lily herself.  “You don’t need to get high to expand your consciousness,” said Tomlin.  “The best mind-altering drug is the truth.”

1101770328_400Earlier in 1975, Lily Tomlin had been offered a cover story on Time magazine if she agreed to come out publicly as a lesbian.  Tomlin declined the offer, stating “I wanted to be acknowledged for my work…I didn’t want to just be that gay person who does comedy.”  Two years later, Tomlin appeared on the cover of the March 28, 1977 issue as the “Queen of Comedy.”

“Everybody in the business knew I was gay, and certainly everybody I worked with and everything like that. I just never had a press conference to announce it,” she said in an April 20, 2015 Huffington Post interview. “[1975] would have been an inopportune time to make such a grand statement.”

Lily Tomlin has returned to Wisconsin several times over her successful four decade career, including a June 2015 appearance at Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts.  After 42 years of sharing life, love and creative collaboration, Lily Tomlin married her partner Jane Wagner on New Year’s Eve, 2013.

The Wisconsin GLBT History Project is a self-funded, community-driven project devoted to documenting the evolving face of local gay and lesbian life. We are honored to be affiliated with this important and irreplaceable historical initiative.