That was a decade ago, when the actor-comedian-singer-chanteuse was 71. “I was scared of heckling,” Forest admits. “I was afraid no one would want to listen to an old Jewish woman. Before this experience, I’d spent decades singing on stage. In fact, I’ve been performing since I was a child, but when people laugh and applaud at a comedy club, well, I get naches, great pleasure, from it.”
Forest’s smile widens as she sits back in her chair to discuss her life’s trajectory. Born in 1934 in Newton, Massachusetts—one of the few Boston suburbs that welcomed Jewish residents—she describes her family as “conservative Republican.” Nonetheless, by the time Forest was eight or nine, her mom had become an adherent of Jewish Science, a spiritual movement that emphasizes the role of affirmative prayer, divine healing, and the importance of maintaining a positive attitude. At the same time her mother loved to throw large parties and tell off-color stories and jokes to her friends and neighbors. Unbeknownst to the adults, young D’yan would eavesdrop from the home’s second floor.
Forest found the narratives alluring—even when she did not fully understand them—and something inside her clicked.
Still, despite these occasional forays into impropriety, the era’s gender boundaries were rigid, and Forest—whose birth name was Diana Shulman—understood that she was expected to marry “a nice Jewish boy” when she came of age. So she did. After graduating from Middlebury College, where Forest was the only Jewish female, she accepted a proposal from an ambitious young attorney. The liaison lasted for four years. “He did not know how to pleasure a woman,” Forest laughs. “I was a stupid virgin when I met him. If I had fooled around before marriage I would have known not to marry him.”