That funny woman who makes you think as well as laugh
She's everywhere! It's a time of rejoicing for Lily Tomlin fans as their heroine -- and her many alter egos -- prepares for new appearances on the silver screen and the TV tube.
The hard-working Miss T. is still fresh from "Nine to Five," one of the bigger hits of the winter season. Now she's coming up in The Incredible Shrinking Woman, a science-fiction comedy with Charles Grodin, Ned Beatty, and Henry Gibson.
And next Monday night she's due on CBS in a new special called "Lily: Sold Out" (CBS, check local listings). The characters include various Tomlin creations -- not omitting the redoubtable Ernestine, the most famous telephone operator in the world.
I talked with Miss Tomlin the other day, and found her as busy as you might expect, considering her many accomplishments. She won't even see her TV special on the air, since "Nine to Five" opens in England that day, and she's flying there for the festivities.
Besides starring in these projects, she often has a hand in their development , too. "Lily: Sold Out" features several characters who have long been identified with her, from operator Ernestine to organist Bobbi Jeanine. As for the film about a "shrinking woman," it began as a wisp of an idea in the corporate brain of Universal Pictures. From there, it was fleshed out entirely by Miss Tomlin and screenwriter Jane Wagner, who turned it into a comical commentary on such subjects as consumerism and feminism.
The starting point was "The Incredible Shrinking Man," an unusually thoughtful '50s fantasy movie written by Richard Matheson. But the new version will be a lot more whimsical, according to Miss Tomlin, who says with a smile, "It's not so cosmic. It's more -- suburban. . . ."
"Lily: Sold Out" is a sort of commentary, too, about the Las Vegas entertainment scene. This prompts very mixed feelings (note the "sold out" of the title) in Miss Tomlin, who has played just about every show-biz venue exceptm Las Vegas -- so far. She began her career as an actress, and developed her repertoire of monologues as a way of getting noticed when no regular acting jobs were available. The repertoire still serves her well, though her fame has branched out furiously, and she has won notice and prizes in one field after another -- a Tony, a Grammy, an Oscar nomination, and three Emmy awards, at last count.
Does she take it in stride? As if there were nothing to it. And it's no accident that her latest films want to make us think as well as laugh. "I never just takem a part," says she. "What it's aboutm is just as important as who's inm it. . . ."