Most photos of Imogene Coca accentuate (usually with her help) her homeliness for comic effect. In the photo above, I was struck by how beautiful she was, and so I defy tradition by selecting it for this bio.
Coca (born November 18, 1908) was a second generation vaudevillian; her father conducted pit orchestras; her mother was a dancer who’d started out as an assistant to magician Howard Thurston. Coca was taught to sing, dance and play piano from an early age, and began performing professionally at age nine. She worked with a succession of partners in small time vaudeville and night clubs for years and years before she began to get cast in Broadway revues in the 1930s. (Many of these were produced by her first vaudeville partner, dancer Leonard Sillman).
Coca’s sketch comedy skills in these revues paved the way for what she is best known for, her work on television. She made her small screen debut as a regular on the short lived show Buzzy Wuzzy before her lucky casting on Sid Caesar’s Admiral Broadway Revue in 1949. This morphed into Your Show of Shows where she famously teamed with Caesar from 1950-1954. The show was ignominiously canceled in ’54. Thereafter Coca continued to be a familiar face in television guest spots and in summer stock and dinner theatre, and an occasional presence on Broadway. In the 1963–64 season she had her own sitcom, Grindl! Her husband King Donovan directed four of the episodes. From 1966–67 she co-starred in the Sherwood Schwartz astronaut-caveman sitcom It’s About Time with Joe E. Ross.
Coca was performing on stage as late as 1991. She passed away in 2001.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville and performers like Imogene Coca, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on classic comedy, see Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.