King Donovan: Coca Was His Queen

A brief nod now to King Donovan (1918-1987). From 1960 until his death, Donovan was the husband of Imogene Coca. He was, if you will, the Brad Hall to her Julia-Louis-Dreyfus. Like Coca, Donovan was the child of vaudeville performers. Born in New York City in 1918 I find it inconceivable that he wasn’t named after King Baggot, a popular movie star at the time.

During the ’30s, Donovan got some of his first experience acting with the Butler Davenport Theatre in NYC, a socialist experiment that offered free tickets to the audience. After this came stock companies and the U.S.O. His first Broadway was The Vigil (1948). This was followed by bit parts in a slew of films. Some of his first “named” roles were in Singing in the Rain (1952), The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), The Seven Little Foys (1955) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). He had recurring roles on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and The Bob Cummings Show in the 50s. He guested on a large number of TV series, including The Beverly Hillbillies, in which he played Jake Clampett, a deadbeat relative, in two episodes.

Donovan’s most significant work may have been behind the camera. He directed the 1963 Tommy Noonan vehicle, Promises, Promises, the first mainstream American film to feature nudity on the part of a star (Jayne Mansfield). It was ahead of its time, but a risk worth taking! Cooper has a walk-on in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), too — too bad Coca wasn’t in that movie! He also had a recurring role on Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1967). His last role was in SNL alum Tom Schiller’s 1984 film Nothing Lasts Forever. And nothing does. Donovan died of cancer at age 69.

To find out about the history of vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,