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Lily Tomlin on why she lashed out at Chita Rivera for what she thought was anti-gay slur

Lily Tomlin on why she lashed out at Chita Rivera for what she thought was anti-gay slur

Before she became a household name on TV’s Laugh-In, Lily Tomlin was on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles and had a memorable meeting with Broadway legend Chita Rivera.

Rivera, who had starred on Broadway in West Side Story and Bye Bye Birdie by then, was brought over to Tomlin by a publicist they both knew.

‘Chita talked with a Bronx accent, and she’s talking really fast and you don’t know what she’s saying. I kind of zoned out for a minute because I could hardly understand her at that point,’ Tomlin tells PrideSource.

Then, fireworks.

‘I suddenly heard her say, "purse nelly." First she had said my "boy dancers" and the skin on the back of my neck bristled up, and that’s when she said "purse nelly" and then I just went ballistic. I said, " What did you say?!"

‘I lashed out. She said, "I dunno! WHADISAY?" I said, "You said, ‘purse nelly.’ I wanna know what that means. What you meant by that!" "I don’t know. Whadisay? Pursenelly? Personally." She was saying "personally"!’

Tomlin would’ve apologized if she had been able to speak at that point.

‘I was so embarrassed,’ she remembers. ‘I just doubled over laughing and fell on the floor.’