Archive for the Ernie Kovacs Category

Edie Adams: Kovacs’ Partner Onscreen and Off

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Comediennes, Comedy, Ernie Kovacs, Hollywood (History), Movies, Stars of Slapstick, Television, TV variety, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2013 by travsd

Hubba hubba! Snarl, snarl!

Today is the birthday of of Edie Adams (1927-2008). With her birthday falling on the same day as Christine McIntyre’s, today we are essentially a porn site for geek boy comedy fans.

Early publicity still, late 1940s

With a singing degree from Juilliard and a drama degree from Columbia University, Adams (real name Edith Enke) broke into show business with an uncommon amount of training. In 1950, she won the “Miss U.S. Television” beauty pageant, then went on to do tv variety shows  with Milton Berle, Arthur Godfrey, and finally, in 1951, Ernie Kovacs. She was to become Kovacs’ co-star, comedy partner and wife, remaining with him until his untimely death in 1962.

Not just beautiful, Adams brought a welcome infusion of all-American normal to the mix, helping to bridge the gap between the tv audience and the gonzo, urbane and sophisticated Kovacs. Their mutual love for music was a major part of their collaboration, as was their chemistry and the obvious fact that they were crazy about each other. When Kovacs passed away, Adams made a Herculean effort to see that what remained of his recorded legacy was preserved, overcoming privation and debt in order to do so.

In her Tony Award winning turn as Daisy Mae in “Li’l Abner”

In addition to her work with Kovacs, she was also a a star of Broadway musicals: Wonderful Town (1953), Li’l Abner (1956), and the original tv production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1957).

She was also pitchwoman for Muriel Cigars (taking over where Kovacs left off) and appeared in numerous films, including The Apartment (1960), Call me Bwana (with Bob Hope, 1963), Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963), It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and The Best Man (1964), and, yes, Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke (1978).

Paired with another great comedian Sid Caesar, in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”

For more comedy  history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc. To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Ernie Kovacs: Nothing in Moderation

Posted in Comedy, Ernie Kovacs, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick, Television, TV variety with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2013 by travsd


What a day for comedy birthdays! Today is also the birthday of Ernie Kovacs (1919-1962). Kovacs was a television mainstay from 1949 through his death in 1962, and has always had a near fanatical cult of followers. Kovacs archivist Ben Model has called him “the Buster Keaton of television.” This is because Kovacs was less a character comedian than a gag man. And like Keaton he had a surreal sensibility and mastered the technology of the medium in order to realize his playful innovations. It was Kovacs who arranged for a parade of people to climb out of a woman’s bubble bath—while she was bathing in it. Kovacs who had a used car salesman slap the hood of his auto, sending it crashing into a sink hole beneath the parking lot. And Kovacs who dreamt up the Nairobi Trio, a musical threesome of people in gorilla suits, pretending to play along with a scratchy record called “Solfeggio.” But he also contrived to peek through a hole in a woman’s head (thanks to green screen effects) and once taped a kaleidoscope to the front of the camera lens, gags that had more to do with the possibilities of the medium itself. No one before or since has dared to dream this big or weird in television comedy.

His background was as an actor and a radio broadcaster. Having trained at the New York School of the Theatre, he went on to a couple of years of summer stock in the late ‘30s. The entire decade of the forties was spent as a local radio broadcaster in Trenton, where he was already beginning to pull crazy stunts. From here he worked his way to local television in Philadelphia, then New York, and then national at all four networks (ABC, CBS, Dumont, and NBC). He worked his way through a succession of talk shows, games shows, and variety programs.

In 1956 while guest-hosting for several weeks on The Tonight Show, he developed his silent character “Eugene”, who became a vehicle for Kovacs to express chains of bizarre visual gags. In these segments, Kovacs (sporting an old-school straw boater hat) would walk around a world that proves to be as strange as Wonderland. His reactions to the spectacles he encounters are underplayed, at most mildly quizzical. The comedian completely trusted the television audience to get what he was doing. In 1957, that faith in his audience was rewarded when Kovacs was given the opportunity to do his first half-hour special starring Eugene on NBC. Aside from some opening remarks, the entire show was without dialogue, although there it features much judicious use of comical sound effects. These are most prominently showcased in a library sequence, where Eugene takes various classics off the shelves and opens them to find some palpable real world manifestation of the book’s title jumping out at him. He opens War and Peace and sounds of loud cannons come out. He opens The Old Man and the Sea and gets hit in the face with a splash of water. The show’s most famous sequence takes place in a lunch room. Kovacs had the entire set built on a fifteen-degree grade and then had the camera tilted to match it, so that onscreen the room appears normal. This simple effect allows Kovacs to defy gravity. When Eugene tries to eat his lunch, he finds the normal law of physics don’t apply. His apple rolls away from him across the perfectly flat table. When he tries to pour his coffee out of a thermos it shoots away from the cup as though he were in the interior of a space capsule.

The so-called “Silent Show” was so successful that Kovacs began to get movie roles (although, typically, none of the ten or so films he made in Hollywood remotely tapped into his gifts). But on television he would continue to do silent sight gags until his final critically acclaimed series on ABC, right before his tragic death in a car accident in 1962. The world will always be left to wonder what feats of magic he would have achieved had he lived to his natural age.

Here, now, part one of “Eugene”

For more on silent and slapstick comedy don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from etc etc etc


To find out more about the variety arts past and present (including tv variety), consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


The Ernie Kovacs Collection

Posted in Comedy, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Ernie Kovacs, Television, TV variety with tags , , on May 25, 2011 by travsd

My review of the new DVD boxed set The Ernie Kovacs Collection for The Villager/ Downtown Express conglomeration of pennysavers is here. The collection is most exhaustive, but one wonderful artifact that wasn’t included in the collection deserved mention here. Shortly before he died in 1962, television’s most innovative comedian co-starred with the cinema’s most innovative comedian Buster Keaton in a pilot for a show called Medicine Man.  The show cast Ernie as a fast-talking, cigar smoking snake oil salesman, and Buster as his Indian companion. (Keaton had done the Indian before, in his short The Paleface as well as a movie version of Li’l Abner. He’d also gotten his start as a child in medicine shows). I’ve seen the pilot at the Paley Center. It is surpisingly lame given the talent involved, but then Kovacs and Keaton were just two hired guns on this thing, not the creators. As the collection’s curator Ben Model points out, the two geniuses would have inevitably worked out brilliant physical bits as the series went on if it had ever been picked up. Anyway, both the collection and Medicine Show are both worth watching if you’re as morbidly curious as I am. By the way, that’s not Buster Keaton in the picture above — it’s Kovacs’ beautiful wife and co-star Edie Adams.

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