"When humor goes, there goes civilization." -- Erma Bombeck
Erma Louise Bombeck (born Erma Fiste; February 21, 1927 — April 22, 1996) was an American humorist who achieved great popularity for her newspaper column that described suburban home life humorously from the mid-1960s until the late 1990s. Bombeck also published 15 books, most of which became best-sellers.
From 1965 to 1996, Erma Bombeck wrote over 4,000 newspaper columns chronicling the ordinary life of a midwestern suburban housewife with broad, and sometimes eloquent, humor. By the 1970s, her columns were read, twice weekly, by thirty million readers of 900 newspapers of the U.S. and Canada.
"A friend doesn't go on a diet because you are fat.""A friend never defends a husband who gets his wife an electric skillet for her birthday.""A friend will tell you she saw your old boyfriend - and he's a priest.""All of us have moments in out lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with a white carpet is one of them.""Anybody who watches three games of football in a row should be declared brain dead.""Before you try to keep up with the Joneses, be sure they're not trying to keep up with you.""Being a child at home alone in the summer is a high-risk occupation. If you call your mother at work thirteen times an hour, she can hurt you.""Car designers are just going to have to come up with an automobile that outlasts the payments.""Children make your life important.""Did you ever notice that the first piece of luggage on the carousel never belongs to anyone?""Do you know what you call those who use towels and never wash them, eat meals and never do the dishes, sit in rooms they never clean, and are entertained till they drop? If you have just answered, "A house guest," you're wrong because I have just described my kids.""Don't confuse fame with success. Madonna is one; Helen Keller is the other.""Dreams have only one owner at a time. That's why dreamers are lonely.""For some of us, watching a miniseries that lasts longer than most marriages is not easy.""For years my wedding ring has done its job. It has led me not into temptation. It has reminded my husband numerous times at parties that it's time to go home. It has been a source of relief to a dinner companion. It has been a status symbol in the maternity ward.""Getting out of the hospital is a lot like resigning from a book club. You're not out of it until the computer says you're out of it.""God created man, but I could do better.""Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving.""House guests should be regarded as perishables: Leave them out too long and they go bad.""Housework, if you do it right, will kill you.""How come anything you buy will go on sale next week?""Humorists can never start to take themselves seriously. It's literary suicide.""I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.""I have a hat. It is graceful and feminine and give me a certain dignity, as if I were attending a state funeral or something. Someday I may get up enough courage to wear it, instead of carrying it.""I have a theory about the human mind. A brain is a lot like a computer. It will only take so many facts, and then it will go on overload and blow up.""I haven't trusted polls since I read that 62% of women had affairs during their lunch hour. I've never met a woman in my life who would give up lunch for sex.""I never leaf through a copy of National Geographic without realizing how lucky we are to live in a society where it is traditional to wear clothes.""I take a very practical view of raising children. I put a sign in each of their rooms: "Checkout Time is 18 years."""I was terrible at straight items. When I wrote obituaries, my mother said the only thing I ever got them to do was die in alphabetical order.""I was too old for a paper route, too young for Social Security and too tired for an affair.""I will buy any creme, cosmetic, or elixir from a woman with a European accent.""I've exercised with women so thin that buzzards followed them to their cars.""If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead.""If you can't make it better, you can laugh at it.""In general my children refuse to eat anything that hasn't danced in television.""In two decades I've lost a total of 789 pounds. I should be hanging from a charm bracelet.""It goes without saying that you should never have more children than you have car windows.""It is not until you become a mother that your judgment slowly turns to compassion and understanding.""It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.""Like religion, politics, and family planning, cereal is not a topic to be brought up in public. It's too controversial.""Marriage has no guarantees. If that's what you're looking for, go live with a car battery.""Most women put off entertaining until the kids are grown.""My kids always perceived the bathroom as a place where you wait it out until all the groceries are unloaded from the car.""My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.""My theory on housework is, if the item doesn't multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?""Never accept a drink from a urologist.""Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.""Never go to your high school reunion pregnant or they will think that is all you have done since you graduated.""Never have more children than you have car windows.""Never lend your car to anyone to whom you have given birth.""Never order food in excess of your body weight.""No one ever died from sleeping in an unmade bed. I have known mothers who remake the bed after their children do it because there is wrinkle in the spread or the blanket is on crooked. This is sick.""On vacations: We hit the sunny beaches where we occupy ourselves keeping the sun off our skin, the saltwater off our bodies, and the sand out of our belongings.""Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I'm taking with me when I go.""One thing they never tell you about child raising is that for the rest of your life, at the drop of a hat, you are expected to know your child's name and how old he or she is.""Onion rings in the car cushions do not improve with time.""People shop for a bathing suit with more care than they do a husband or wife. The rules are the same. Look for something you'll feel comfortable wearing. Allow for room to grow.""Some say our national pastime is baseball. Not me. It's gossip.""Someone once threw me a small, brown, hairy kiwi fruit, and I threw a wastebasket over it until it was dead.""Sometimes I can't figure designers out. It's as if they flunked human anatomy.""Somewhere it is written that parents who are critical of other people's children and publicly admit they can do better are asking for it.""Thanks to my mother, not a single cardboard box has found its way back into society. We receive gifts in boxes from stores that went out of business twenty years ago.""Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not coincidence.""The only reason I would take up jogging is so that I could hear heavy breathing again.""There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.""There is nothing more miserable in the world than to arrive in paradise and look like your passport photo.""There is one thing I have never taught my body how to do and that is to figure out at 6 A.M. what it wants to eat at 6 P.M.""There's nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.""There's something wrong with a mother who washes out a measuring cup with soap and water after she's only measured water in it.""What's with you men? Would hair stop growing on your chest if you asked directions somewhere?""When a child is locked in the bathroom with water running and he says he's doing nothing but the dog is barking, call 911.""When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me'.""When your mother asks, "Do you want a piece of advice?" it is a mere formality. It doesn't matter if you answer yes or no. You're going to get it anyway.""Who in their infinite wisdom decreed that Little League uniforms be white? Certainly not a mother.""Why would anyone steal a shopping cart? It's like stealing a two-year-old.""Youngsters of the age of two and three are endowed with extraordinary strength. They can lift a dog twice their own weight and dump him into the bathtub."
Erma Fiste was born in Bellbrook, Ohio. She grew up in a working-class family in Dayton, Ohio. Her father, Cassius Fiste, was the city crane operator; her mother's name was also Erma. Erma lived with her elder paternal half-sister, Thelma.
Erma began elementary school one year earlier than usual for her age, in 1932, and became an excellent student and an avid reader. She particularly enjoyed the popular humor writers of the time. After Erma's father died in 1936, she moved, with her mother, into her grandmother's home. In 1938 her mother remarried, to Albert Harris (a moving van owner). Erma practiced tap dance and singing, and was hired by a local radio for a children's revue for eight years.
In 1940, Erma entered Emerson Junior High School, and began writing a humorous column for its newspaper, The Owl. In 1942, Bombeck entered Parker (now Patterson) Vocational High School, where she wrote a serious column, mixing in bits of humor.
In 1942, Erma began to work at the Dayton Herald as a copygirl, sharing her full-time assignment with a girlfriend. In 1943, for her first journalistic work, Erma interviewed Shirley Temple, who visited Dayton, and the interview became a newspaper feature.
Erma completed high school in 1944. Then, to earn a college scholarship fund, she worked for a year as a typist and stenographer, for the Dayton Herald and several other companies, and did minor journalistic assignments (obituaries, etc.) for the Dayton Herald as well.
Using the money she earned, Erma enrolled in Ohio University at Athens in 1946. However, she failed most of her literary assignments and was rejected for the university newspaper. She left after one semester, when her funds ran out.
Erma later enrolled in the Roman Catholic University of Dayton. She lived in her family home and worked at Rike's Store, a department store, where she wrote humorous material for the company newsletter. In addition, she worked two part-time jobs - a termite control accountant at an advertising agency and as a public relations person at the local YMCA. While in college, her English professor, Fr. Tom Price, commented to Erma about her great prospects as a writer, and she began to write for the university publication, The Exponent. Erma graduated in 1949, with a degree in English. She became a life-long active contact for the University ... helping financially and participating personally ... and became a lifetime trustee of the institution in 1987.
In 1949, Erma also converted to Catholicism, from the United Brethren church, and married Bill Bombeck, a former fellow student of the University of Dayton, who was a veteran of the World War II Korean front. His subsequent profession would be that of educator and school supervisor. Bombeck remained active in the Church the rest of her life.
Erma Bombeck stayed on as a Dayton Journal Herald reporter, in the women's section, writing both its feature stories and a humorous housekeeping column, "Operation Dustrag." Bombeck also interviewed Eleanor Roosevelt and Mamie Eisenhower.
The Bombecks were told by doctors that having a child was improbable, so they adopted a girl, Betsy, in 1953. Erma decided to become a full-time housewife, and relinquished her career as a journalist. During 1954, Erma nevertheless wrote a series of humorous columns in the Dayton Shopping News.
Despite the former difficult diagnoses, Erma Bombeck gave birth to a son, Andrew, in 1955. The Bombeck family moved to Centerville, Ohio, into a tract housing development, and were neighbors to the young Phil Donahue. Away from her previous journalistic career, Bombeck initiated an intense period of homemaking, which lasted 10 years, and had her second son, Matthew, in 1958.
"At Wit's End" (1965)
In 1964, Erma Bombeck resumed her writing career for the local Kettering-Oakwood Times, with weekly columns which yielded $3 each. She wrote in her small bedroom, over a rustic table of a plank top with two supports of cinder block.
In 1965, the Dayton Journal Herald requested new humorous columns as well, and Bombeck agreed to write two weekly 450-word columns for $50. After three weeks, the articles went into national syndication through the Newsday Newspaper Syndicate, into 36 major U.S. newspapers, with three weekly columns under the title "At Wit's End".
Bombeck quickly became a popular humorist nationwide. Beginning in 1966, she began doing lectures in the various cities where her columns appeared for a $15,000 fee. In 1967, her newspaper columns were compiled and published by Doubleday, under the title of At Wit's End. And after a humorous appearance on Arthur Godfrey's radio, she became a regular radio guest on his show.
Aaron Priest, a Doubleday representative, became Bombeck's loyal agent. By 1969, 500 U.S. newspapers featured her "At Wit's End" columns, and she was also writing for Good Housekeeping Magazine, Reader's Digest, Family Circle, Redbook, McCall's, and even Teen magazine. Bombeck and her family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, to a lavish hacienda on a hilltop in Paradise Valley.
By 1978, 900 U.S. newspapers were publishing Bombeck's column.
In 1976, McGraw-Hill published Bombeck's The Grass Is Always Greener Over The Septic Tank, which became a best-seller. In 1978, Bombeck arranged both a million-dollar contract for her fifth book, If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? (1978) and a 700-thousand-copy advance for her subsequent book, Aunt Erma's Cope Book (1979).
At the invitation of television producer Bob Shanks, Bombeck participated in ABC's Good Morning America from 1975 until 1986. She began doing brief commentaries which were recorded at Phoenix, and eventually did both gag segments and important interviews.
For several years, Bombeck became a multimedia workhorse. Then in 1978, she failed with the television pilot of The Grass is Always Greener on CBS. In 1980, then Bombeck wrote and produced her own show, the also unsuccessful Maggie, for ABC. It aired for just four months (eight episodes) to poor reviews; nevertheless the show meant that Bombeck was overwhelmed with obligations, returning from Los Angeles to Phoenix only during weekends. Bombeck was offered a second sitcom attempt but she declined.
The Equal Rights Amendment (1978)
In 1978, Bombeck was involved in the Presidential Advisory Committee for Women, particularly for the final implementation of the Equal Rights Amendment, with the ERA America organization's support. Bombeck was strongly criticized for this by conservative figures, and some U.S. stores reacted by removing her books. In 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment was proposed by the United States Congress to the states. Congress specified a seven-year period for ratification. Under Article V of the United States Constitution, ratification by at least three-fourths of the states is necessary, but at the end of the seven-year period, only 35 states had ratified, or three less than the required three-fourths. Bombeck expressed dismay over this development.
Great popularity (1980s)
By 1985, Erma Bombeck's three weekly columns were being published by 900 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada, and were also being anthologized into a series of best-selling books. She was also making twice-weekly Good Morning America appearances. Bombeck belonged to the American Academy of Humor Columnists, along with other famous personalities. During the 1980s, Bombeck's annual earnings ranged from $500,000 to $1 million a year.
Erma Bombeck was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease. In 1996, she was brought to a San Francisco hospital for a kidney transplant, which was performed on April 3. However, she suffered complications following the procedure, and died on April 22.
Her remains are interred in the Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio, under a large rock from the Phoenix desert.
Just Wait Until You Have Children of Your Own, Doubleday, 1971. Written with Bil Keane.
I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression, Doubleday, 1974.
The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, McGraw-Hill, 1976.
If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?, McGraw-Hill, 1978.
Aunt Erma's Cope Book, McGraw-Hill, 1979.
Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession, 1983.
Family ... The Ties that Bind ... and Gag!, 1987.
I Want to Grow Hair, I Want to Grow Up, I Want to Go to Boise: Children Surviving Cancer, 1989. American Cancer Society's Medal of Honor in 1990. (Profits from the publication of this book were donated to a group of health-related organizations.)
When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It's Time to Go Home, 1991.
A Marriage Made in Heaven ... or Too Tired For an Affair, 1993
All I Know About Animal Behavior I learned in Loehmann's Dressing Room, ISBN 0060177888 HarperCollins 1995
Forever, Erma: Best-Loved Writing From America's Favorite Humorist