With the passing of Phyllis Diller earlier this week, the chances of clearing up a minor mystery may have faded.
I learned about the puzzle from my friends Carol Seymour and Dave Drazin (a noted jazz pianist and silent-film accompanist). Many years ago, Dave purchased a recording from a tiny antique store in Columbus, Ohio. Labeled “Contadina Connie” the acetate disc featured a female voice in what is apparently a radio spot (or a demo for such a spot) pitching Contadina tomato paste.
“There were a lot of records…” Dave recalls, “and I didn’t have much money, but the prices were low. The lady who owned the shop told me she thought the [voice on the] record was Phyllis Diller. But, I’ll never know now what knowledge or information she may have had about it. It didn’t occur to me to say: ‘How do you know that?’ or ‘What makes you think so?’ There were also some wonderful Brazilian 78s that I got that day from her.”
If you listen to the 1951 recording, you’ll likely agree that Connie sounds very much like Diller.
Circumstantial evidence for such a conclusion is fairly strong. In 1951, Diller was working for Kahn’s department store in Oakland, California, where she wrote ad copy for newspapers and radio. The Contadina headquarters are also in Northern California. Could the Contadina spot have been some kind of freelance opportunity for the budding performer?
In late 2010, Carol and Dave contacted Phyllis Diller’s agent, who responded that the comedian had no recollection of recording the spot.
Carol and Dave submitted a copy of the recording to the Internet Archive. You can listen to “America’s Number-One Tomato” HERE, and judge for yourself whether that’s a young-and-unknown Phyllis Diller in the role of Contadina Connie.
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