Phyllis Diller & The Magic Of Believing

Legendary comedienne Phyllis Diller always credited reading The Magic of Believing by Claude M. Bristol as a seminal point in her life.

The fourth chapter of her autobiography, Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy, recounts that event and the start of her comedy career after working in print advertising for department stores and radio advertising.

After the break, two excerpts from that chapter.


First excerpt:

You are the product of your own thought. What you believe yourself to be, you are.

— CLAUDE M. BRISTOL, The Magic of Believing

In June 1951, after leaving the San Leandro News-Observer and then failing to get a job as a music librarian at the Oakland Tribune, I found employment in the advertising office of a large Oakland department store named Kahn’s. A downtown landmark consisting of a grand rotunda covered by a glass dome, the building was four stories high, with the ad office and furniture on the top floor; housewares and bedding on the floor below that; ladies’ fashion apparel on the second level; menswear, books, and jewelry on the main floor; and sale items in the basement. A hotshot guy ran the ad office, while the assistant advertising manager was a handsome gay man named Bill Shang. Then there was a cute little girl artist, Jenny Day, and a young, pudgy, old-maid type who handled all of the basement goods and always had her nose stuck in the Reader’s Digest.

Finally, there was the fashion editor who was totally full of herself — a snooty, bigheaded bitch who thought that her stool didn’t smell. You see, my dear, she was in fashion and therefore above it all … at least, to her way of thinking. In truth, the only thing she was above was that bedding on the third floor.

For $75 a week I was put in charge of the newspaper and radio ad copy pertaining to the rest of the store. It was a heavy load, but I soon made a name for myself with my writing and my layouts. I worked closely with the printers concerning typeface and I made it an art. I’d use a lot of white space, which in those days many people thought was wasted space, but it was eye-catching and the buyers would call me to praise my work. I’ve always done things in my own special way. If you do that, you’re going to get noticed. When the other girls in that office finished their work, they’d do their nails and read a novel. I, on the other hand, would go to the front desk, look at the figures, and study the loss leaders to see what items did best. That meant I was learning something, and I could also apply it to my job because I was turning out an awful lot of copy.

“Prices on our damaged refrigerators have been slashed. If demand is heavy, we can damage a few more.”

I could out-think anybody when it came to ads and layouts. I was hot for advertising, and I got a great deal of pleasure out of knowing that. Of course, I lacked confidence because of my looks and because of the way that [her then-husband] Sherwood treated me, but the work was slowly restoring my sense of self, and then something else came along to change my life completely.

On one occasion, just a couple of months after joining Kahn’s, I had to deal with a buyer who was taking a full-page ad featuring prices listed from top to bottom for things like mattresses, pillows, and linens. She had to check this in minute detail because if, for example, a mattress was accidentally listed for 25¢, the deal would have to be honored. I therefore knew that I was going to be in her little cubbyhole-office for a long time while she went over all the details, and as she had a number of books in there I just reached up to the shelf and took one called The Magic of Believing. In those days I never wasted a minute. I was gung-ho, and as soon as I started reading that book I thought, “Jesus, this is talking to me.”

I asked the woman if I could borrow the book and I took it up to my office, but as I continued to read it I wanted to underline things. Well, I wouldn’t underline somebody else’s book, so I called down to the bookstore, bought my own copy, and for the next two years The Magic of Believing became a system of thought for me as well as a way of life. Written by a lawyer, lecturer, investment banker, and foreign correspondent named Claude M. Bristol, this incredible tome described motivational techniques that make use of the subconscious mind, powers of suggestion, imagination, and self-belief to overcome everyday obstacles and achieve personal happiness along with professional success.

Thought is the original source of all wealth, all success, all material gain, all great discoveries and inventions, and of all achievement. … By using the dynamic force of believing, you can set all your inner forces in motion, and they in turn will help you to reach your goal.
— Claude M. Bristol

These were the kinds of words that transported me out of the fire into which I’d thrown my scrapbook of dreams and aspirations. Almost like a mantra, I’d keep re-reading the parts that I underlined — I didn’t bother with the filler — and from here on it was straight up, all the way. I had a whole different slant. I believed that everything was going to work out, so even the setbacks that I’d experience wouldn’t matter. Everything I’d touch would turn to gold.

Beforehand, I would run and hide and pull the covers over my head whenever anybody gave me a dirty look. If people said and did nasty things to me, I would accept them. I was so easily destroyed. However, after immersing myself in The Magic of Believing I accepted nothing negative. In fact, I imagined a protective device for myself: it was a white feather cape that wrapped around me, ensuring that, like water off a duck’s back, nothing could ever get through. My hatred of confrontation meant that I didn’t answer anybody back, but I developed a shield against all of the negative vibes that some people kept putting out.

Second excerpt:

Traveling to and from work on a bus, a tram, and a cable car, I would read The Magic of Believing and absorb what it was telling me. And eventually, armed with the courage as well as the belief, I also started writing down everything I wanted. As the book basically states, you wouldn’t go to a grocery store without a grocery list, so why go throughout life without a list? By writing everything down you’ll clear your head and clarify your goals. After all, what do you want out of life? Everyone will say, “I just want to be happy,” but sometimes that isn’t true. They want things like money and power that they might equate with happiness but that don’t necessarily lead to it. It’s terribly difficult to be honest with yourself. It means trying to be objective, whereas many, many people are so subjective … and boring, too.

So I had my notebook, and at a time when I was earning $5,000 a year, I drew a money bag with “$200,000” on it. I also wrote that I wanted to achieve this by way of music, writing, and humor, even though neither music nor humor applied to the job that I had. As Claude Bristol explained, you don’t have to know how you’re going to achieve your goals. Stop questioning, start believing. Once you do that, some truly unreal things start to happen. Now you’ve got the whole universe on your side. That’s the magic. Believe in yourself and give yourself the power.

Just believe that there is genuine creative magic in believing — and magic there will be, for belief will supply the power which will enable you to succeed in everything you undertake. Back your belief with a resolute will and you become unconquerable — a master of men among men — yourself.

— Claude M. Bristol

You get to that point by throwing out all of your worry- and fear-related thoughts. What was in my mind all those years? Nothing but worry and fear. Now I started controlling my own mind and I had a system of thought that was positive. What’s more, I treated people in that way. When I was very young I used to waste an awful lot of time letting others tell me their problems. But then I realized that it didn’t do them any good, and it certainly depressed me. It was counterproductive, so from now on I had no time for people who’d use me as a sounding board. You know, “Spend a hundred bucks an hour and go see a psychiatrist. I don’t work for free.”

That’s how I divested myself of these people who walk under a cloud. It’s their own cloud which they’ve created, and it’s always going to be there until they let the sun come out. You can’t do it for them. I now don’t have anyone in my life whom I don’t want. I got rid of them. These included borrowers and users whom I really didn’t have to put up with. In some cases, I’d become codependent. However, if you really want to get rid of some people, loan them money. You’ll never see them again. I got rid of quite a few that way. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, that’s what happened. They just disappeared.

Happiness, sought by many and found by few … is a matter entirely within ourselves; our environment and the everyday happenings of life have absolutely no effect on our happiness except as we permit mental images of the outside to enter our consciousness. Happiness is wholly independent of position, wealth, or material possessions. It is a state of mind which we ourselves have the power to control — and that control lies within our thinking.

— Claude M. Bristol

All our lives we’re encumbered with stuff that’s inflicted on us. People think they’re helping, and in many cases they are, but a lot of what they have to offer is also a burden. For instance, my mother would never talk to anyone in her own voice. It was always a saying or a quote from Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, William Shakespeare, or the Bible. “A stitch in time saves nine,” “A penny saved is a penny earned” — I grew up on these quotes, but I learned to strip everything away while also trying to confront the subconscious thoughts that might be completely hamstringing me. Certain ideas that you’ve been given by your parents or teachers can paralyze you.

The Magic of Believing really made me think about my own life, because that’s all any of us has. I became totally focused on my hopes and my objectives, and at the same time Sherwood kept saying, “You’ve got to become a comic, you’ve got to become a comic.” Remember, he was always looking to come up with a product that could make money. Now I became the product. Still, despite my thinking he was out of his mind — which he was — the more he persisted, the more I began considering his advice.

End excerpts.

Liberace also read the book on his own. He and Diller became friends and would discuss the book at length. Unfortunately, while that’s mentioned in a book about Liberace, Diller makes no mention of it at all in her book. Liberace is only mentioned by name once, in passing.

Previously here:

Two More Photos Of Writer Claude M. Bristol

Previously, at Mike Cane’s xBlog:

Claude M. Bristol: The Magic Of Believing
Phyllis Diller
Photos Of Writer Claude M. Bristol
R.I.P. Phyllis Diller, Comedienne And Inspiration

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