Detroit Comedy Royalty Lily Tomlin is Homeward Bound

The actress makes a stop at the Fox Theatre with Jane Fonda on Oct. 30
Lily Tomlin
True Friends: Lily Tomlin (right) and her co-star Jane Fonda on the set of Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie.” // Photograph courtesy of Netflix

“I have so many great memories of Detroit!” Lily Tomlin bursts with the pride and passion of a Detroiter asked about her birthplace. It seems fitting, since all of Detroit — and the world, for that matter — holds so many great memories of her.

Where you connect with Tomlin, who returns to the city Oct. 30 for a “fun conversation” with her longtime friend and Grace and Frankie co-star Jane Fonda at the Fox Theatre, depends largely upon your generation. With a comedic career spanning six decades, she’s remembered in many ways — as telephone operator Ernestine and the precocious Edith Ann on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In; star of such landmark films as Nashville and 9 to 5; a Tony-winner for one-woman play The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the
the voice of Ms. Frizzle on the children’s series The Magic School Bus, and, more recently
, as a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award and as Frances “Frankie” Mengela opposite Fonda in the hit Netflix comedy.

Still, mention the Motor City to Tomlin and talk of her achievements rapidly gives way to her adoration for the city. “Whenever I hear a Motown song, I get a lump in my throat,” says the Cass Tech alum, who was last here two years ago to receive the key to the city and a lifetime achievement award from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan during Detroit Homecoming  IV.

“I lived in an old apartment on Hazelwood and Byron, across from Cobb Field,” she remembers. “I took ballet and tap from Mrs. Fitzgerald from age 5 to 15. She was our recreation leader year-round. In the winter, we would meet in Hutchins School, which became my junior high school. We learned to embroider, and we put on shows. That’s how I learned to produce a show on my back porch. Other kids would never rehearse, or they’d walk off during a show, so I ended up doing it myself. All summer we were on the playfield. I pitched on the Police Athletic League Team, and I was jacks champion one year!”

Tomlin and her brother Richard, who now lives in Nashville, were “full of mischief” in those days, she recalls. “When he was 13, my brother sawed our mother’s couch into three pieces so we would have sectional furniture.  “When we were at Crosman Elementary School we’d run home, drop the hose from our mom’s vacuum cleaner out the second-floor window of our apartment, and wait for the tough kids to pass by. They’d never notice the hose hanging from above them, and we’d yell threats through it. ‘You’re gonna get your ass beat,’ and stuff like that. They would stop, look around, look up the alley ready to fight, while we would just roll on the floor in hilarity.”

Much hilarity is to be expected at Tomlin’s Fox appearance this month, moderated by notable local journalist Mitch Albom, which may help lift Fonda’s spirits after her brother Peter’s death in August.

“She’s such a good person,” Tomlin, who turned 80 last month, says of her co-star. “We really do love each other. We have so much fun together on the show that when we were approached about doing talks like this, we said, ‘Let’s do it!’

“Before 9 to 5, she came to see my stage show in L.A., and that’s how I ended up starring in that movie,” Tomlin continues. “And now, I swear Frankie is just as popular as Ernestine was when I started out. At our age, it’s really a blessing to have a hit series. I don’t think either of us ever wants to stop working.”

A Fun Conversation with Jane Fonda & Lily Tomlin takes place Oct. 30. $84+. Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., 313-471-3200;