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Ernie Kovacs

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Ernie Kovacs (1919-1962)

Ernie Kovacs (January 23, 1919 - January 13, 1962) was a creative and innovative entertainer from the early days of television. His on-air antics would go on to inspire TV shows like Saturday Night Live and TV hosts like David Letterman.

Born in Trenton, New Jersey, Kovacs became a pioneer of television comedy as a distinct medium; earlier t.v. comedians mostly continued comedy styles of vaudeville, film, or radio.

His live shows were unique at the time because of their ad-libbed routines, experimentation with video effects (including superimpositions, reverse polarity, and reverse scanning which flipped images upside down), and a willingness to break the "fourth wall" by allowing viewers to see activity beyond the set - including crew members and, on occasion, outside the studio itself. He would also talk to the off-camera crew.

Contents

Visual humor

Kovacs invented many camera tricks that are still common today. One of his most popular gags was a bit where Kovacs sat down at a table to eat his lunch. He took items out of his lunch box and one by one, each item mysteriously rolled down the table into a gentleman reading the newspaper at the other end. Kovacs then started to pour a glass of milk. The milk appeared to pour from the thermos in an unusual direction. The visual trick, which had not been seen on TV before, was created with a crooked table and an equally crooked camera.

Kovacs was rarely seen without a cigar, which he often incorporated as a prop. In one memorable segment, he was seen sitting in an easy chair, calmly reading a newspaper. After a short interval, he took the cigar out of his mouth and exhaled smoke. The unique feature of this otherwise ordinary sequence was that it took place entirely under water.

Comedy

Other popular bits included; performing an all-gorilla version of Swan Lake; poet Percy Dovetonsils; The Nairobi Trio; the Silent show; and various musical segments with every day items moving in sync with classical music. Haydn's "String Quartet, Opus 3, Number 5" (the "Serenade," which was indeed written by Haydn, not Roman Hoffstetter[1] (http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/notes/55002.html)) was used in the Old West quick-draw bits in his memorable Dutch Masters commercials.

His musical choices were certainly unique. His main theme was called "Oriental Blues", a quirky piano number derived from a Gershwin tune. A German version of "Mack the Knife" frequently underscored mimed sketches. Robert Maxwell's "Solfeggio" became so associated with the infamous derby-hatted apes that it became better known simply as "The Song of the Nairobi Trio". The piece de resistance, if that's the term, were tunes by Leona Anderson such as "Rats in My Room". Leona was reportedly a kind and gentle soul, whose singing voice, in contrast, could be unfavorably compared to fingernails on a blackboard. Naturally, Kovacs incorporated her songs at every opportunity.

Kovacs may have said, "Television: A medium - so called because it is neither rare nor well done." (This quip has also been attributed to radio star Fred Allen.)

First marriage

Kovacs married his first wife, Bette Wilcox on August 13, 1945. He fought with her for custody of their children, Bette and Kip. The courts awarded Kovacs full custody of them, which was extremely unusual at the time, because they decided that his former wife was mentally unstable. Wilcox then kidnapped the children. After a long search Kovacs was eventually reunited with his children, with the help of the police.

Second marriage

Kovacs married actress and singer Edie Adams on September 12, 1954 in Mexico City. The ceremony was presided over by former New York City mayor William O'Dwyer, and performed in Spanish, which neither Kovacs or Adams understood; O'Dwyer had to prompt each to say "Si" at the "I do" portion of the vows. They remained happily married until his death. The couple had one daughter. Kovacs frequently incorporated his wife into sketches on his TV shows, always referring to her in a businesslike way, as "Edie Adams".

Writing credits

Kovacs wrote a novel entitled, ZOOMAR (Sophisticated Novel About Love and TV) in 1956. His Television programs include "Time for Ernie" in 1951, "Ernie in Kovacsland" in 1951, "The Ernie Kovacs Show" in 1952 and "The Tonight Show" from 1956 to 1957.

Death

Kovacs died in a car accident in Los Angeles. It has been reported that the posture of his body indicated that he was in process of trying to light one of his omnipresent cigars when he lost control of the car.

At the time of his death, he owed the IRS several hundred thousand dollars in back taxes. Kovacs felt the tax system was unfair, and simply refused to pay. Adams eventually paid off the taxes herself, refusing help from their celebrity friends. She owns the rights to all of Kovacs's surviving television work. He is buried in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. Kovacs' epitaph reads "Nothing in moderation."

Retrospective

In 1984, a TV movie was made about Kovacs's life called "Ernie Kovacs: Between the Laughter", which starred Jeff Goldblum as Kovacs. It focused on his private life, especially his attempts to retrieve his kidnapped children.

External links


Preceded by:
Steve Allen
Host of The Tonight Show
(with Steve Allen)

1956 – 1957
Succeeded by:
Jack Paar

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