Ernie Kovacs (1919-1962)

  Ernie Kovacs was the first great genius of television.  In his short career, he wrote, performed, hosted, directed and/or guested in at least 47 different television shows (thousands of individual shows).  He also acted in a dozen movies; had a newspaper column & radio show; created hundreds of show-business illustrations; wrote several books (including the novel, Zoomar); wrote for MAD magazine; and had several acting & writing projects in the works at the time of his death.

 

WTTM radio (1941-1950) - Trenton, New Jersey

 

Deadline for Dinner (March 20, 1950-April 18, 1952) - Philadelphia WPTZ (Local Cooking Show)

  Nothing in Moderation - "The host held the spatula while some local culinary celebrity prepared his piece.  Too straight not to tamper with, Ernie turned the show's format to his own devices, making the chefs the straightmen." - "... a famous Kovacs recipe concocted when no one showed up for the program ['Eggs Scavok'] - a masterpiece so vile that it stunk up the whole set after it boiled over during a commercial." 

Pick Your Ideal (August 22, 1950-Apil 16, 1952) - Philadelphia WPTZ

  Nothing in Moderation: "We have a new TV show ... and there are FOUR (4!) live all female models on the show ... all we have to do is sit in the middle and smell four different brands of perfume ..."

Three to Get Ready (November 27, 1950-March 28, 1952) - Philadelphia (Local Variety Show)

  Nothing in Moderation: "Ernie drew cartoons in time to the music though he was never sure what kind of music it would be ..." - "... Polish versions of 'Mona Lisa' or Yiddish interpretations of 'The Call of the Wild Goose' ..." - "Crazy things like ... conducting the 1812 Overture with progressively larger batons ... al ad-lib." - " [origin of] Ernie's famous theme music ... 'Oriental Blues' by Jack Newton." - "Once Andy [McKay] threw out a pair of funny glasses with bulbous nose and buggy eyes attached.  Ernie picked up a book of poetry and started reading with a lisp ... Percy Dovetonsils, was born in the heat of the moment ..." - "Ernie use to climb up on a ladder on the other side of the partition and drip water on Norman's [newsman Brooks] copy or on his head." - "Once Ernie as Herman Guggenflekker, senatorial candidate, came down the street pulled by a horse-drawn wagon ... he speiled (sic) his voters the works: a barrel of whiskey for each citizen ... (etc.)" - "... Ernie could be in the milkbottle [split-screen effect] (or trapped) in the toy ship in the bottle ... while water was being added."

It's Time for Ernie & Time for Ernie (March 7-June 29, 1951) - Philadelphia NBC (Network Variety Show)

  The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Disc #1 - May 14 to June 29, 1951 

  Nothing in Moderation: "It wasn't much of a show for Kovacs ... he barely had time to flex his nostrils." 

Now You're Cooking (May 15-October 16, 1951) - Philadelphia (Local Cooking Show)

  Nothing in Moderation: "We had as many as four shows running in a single day." [per Andy McKay]

Ernie in Kovacsland (July 2-August 24, 1951) - Philadelphia NBC (Network Variety Show)

   The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Disc #1 - July 2 to August 24, 1951 

  Nothing in Moderation: "Eddythe (Edie) Adams ... (hired)" - "There was never any script per se.  You talked until Ernie was ready, and then he'd go for the laugh ..." [per Edie Adams] - "{NBC decided) ... Kovacs needed writers, and so they hired a few."

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives) Box #1 - July 7 & 24, 1951 

Talent Search (September 2, 1951 & September 30, 1951) - panelist

Quick on the Draw (September 20, 1951 & October 11, 1951) - guest judge/panelist

Kovacs on the Corner (January 3-March 28, 1952) - Philadelphia NBC (Network Variety Show)

   The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Disc #1 - January 3 to March 28, 1952 

  Nothing in Moderation:  "... featured cute songs and patter danced by Pete the Cop, Alfred a dog, Tonelayo, Little Johnny, Ernie and Edie ... Kovacs on the Korner was more than unfortunate; it was dumb beyond belief ..." - "The last skit of the show called for a character played by Miss Greene to be put into a steamer trunk for a few minutes of hi-jinks, but Ernie ... nailed her in not withstanding her screams.  Afterward he proceeded to take a hammer and destroy the set, making sure that no one would dare to resurrect it again." - "An Ernie Kovacs coming along today wouldn't be allowed in front of a camera." [per Rolland Tooke, program manager]

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #1 - January, March 1952

Kovacs Unlimited (April 21, 1952-January 15, 1954) - New York WCBS (Local)

  The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Disc #1 - April 21, 1952 to January 15, 1954 

  Nothing in Moderation: "One CBS executive didn't go out to lunch so they spent some money on scenery." [note on script] - "Are you on the plump side; do bridge tables cringe when you deal?  Madame do you purchase your dresses in the stout males department?  Do you use liner hausers for shoulder straps?  Do your friends jam up in doorways with you?  ...  Then it's time, it's high time yoy latched onto Pancho Paganini's Pounds Off Pellets for that excess avoirdupois ..."  [fake sponsor] - "Where Do Ya Worka John?"  [fake game show] - his favorite word, SCAVORKOROONIE, appeared in almost as many places as 'It's Been Real', and it was almost as popular as his commercials for Lost Beer." - "El Softo contains only medium grade lard; pure-creosote; crushed imported mothballs; homogenized catfish oil; diced youghart and generous amounts of spiked kerosene."

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #1 - May 5, 1951 (?); April 21 to June 30, 1952 (50 shows) -- Box #2 - July 1 to September 9, 1952 (44 shows) -- Box #5 - April 21, 1952 to January 11, 1954 (57 shows); January 1-13, 1953 (9 shows) -- Box #33 - July 14, 1953

The Ernie Kovacs Show (December 30, 1952-April 14, 1953) - New York CBS (Network)

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives) Box #3 - September 10 to November 28, 1952 -- Box #4 - December 1-31, 1952 (24 shows) -- May 6 to July 2, 1952 (resumes) -- (nights) January 13 & 20, 1953 -- (daytime) January 27 & February 3, 1953 -- (nights) February 10 to April 14, 1953 (7 shows)

Silent Movies (1953)

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives) Box #6 - July 22 to December 30, 1953 (12 shows)

Newsreel (1953)

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives) Box #6 - November 23, 1953 

Take a Guess (June 11-September 10, 1953)

Gamble on Love (1954) - [not mentioned in Kovacsland]

Time Will Tell (August 20-October 15, 1954)

The Ernie Kovacs Show & The Ernie Kovacs Rehearsal (April 12, 1954-April 7, 1955) - New York WABD Dumont (Local)

  Nothing in Moderation: "Although the idea of using apes had been experimented with before in various Kovacs openings, the infamous Nairobi Trio and Peter Hanley were the apes at the time.  The mute ape aggregation premiered at Dumont ... one monkey at the piano, one monkey conducting, one monkey braining ... Frank Yasah, Larry Berthleson ... and Hanley, were the apes at the time ... the apes appeared in all guises thereafter at Dumont ..." - "Good night for sports roundup brought to you by that great All-round Wine, Weeno Win ... a werry, vonderful vine." 

  Nothing in Moderation: (late night) "Ernie was more popular than he knew; many of his bits mysteriously wound up on [Steve] Allen's show in truncated form ... The Question Man, was the most famous and still survives in spirit on Johnny Carson's 'Tonight' Show." - "Some months ago my husband attended the international sportsman show in New York.  He returned on a Friday night under the impression that he was a lobster ... At first I thought it was a kind of a joke, however, I noticed that when I passed too close to him he snaps his claws at me and has been growing a pair of long antennae ... What shall I do?  [answer] I would suggest that you slice him down the middle and put a sprig of parsley on his head."

"Let me tell you something about his writers: all the years I worked with him I must say that he probably employed twenty or thirty writers out of which the output of those writers could be stuffed in your left nostril ..."  [Barry Shear]

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives) Box #6 - April 12 to June 11, 1954 (36 shows) -- Box #7 - June 14 to August 30, 1954 (55 shows) -- Box #8 - August 31 to November 3, 1954 (47 shows) --Box #9 - November 4 to December 31, 1954 (42 shows) -- Box #10 - January to May 30, 1955 (31 shows)

One Minute Please (July 6, 1954-February 17, 1955)

Tonight (April 27, 1955, August 25, 1955, August 29- September 13, 1955 & December 9, 1955) - guest, performer, guest host

Person to Person (June 24, 1955) - guest

The Jack Paar Show (October 3-7, 1955) - guest host

Today (December 9, 1955 & September 28, 1956 & October 23, 1957 & June 18, 1958) - guest

Danl Vigilant (1955-1956)

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #20 - May 30, 1957 to January 1956 (154 character sketches) 

The Ernie Kovacs Show (December 12, 1955-July 27, 1956) New York NBC

  The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Disc #2 - December 12, 1955 to July 27, 1956; Disc #3 - July 2 to September 10, 1956; Disc #4 - January 19, 1957; Disc #6 - January 27 to September 10, 1956 

  Nothing in Moderation: "Howard, the World's Strongest Ant, was nothing more than a doll's set with Kovacs in the foreground talking, cigar poking slightly into Howard's bedroom.  Viewers fell in love with Howard and showered him with all manner of gifts, from mufflers to tiny electric cars that really worked ..." 'You Wanted to See It' was a series of misdirected failure stunts ...

"NBC ran a survey on Ernie.  He was like olives and martinis -- people either hated him or loved him or couldn't care less.  His comedy was awy over their heads so that they (NBC) really didn't know what the hell to do with him."  [Barry Shear]

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #11 - September-October 1955 & December 12-30, 1955 (18 shows) -- Box #12 - January 2 to February 17, 1956 (33 shows) -- Box #13 - February 20 to March 30, 1956 (30 shows) Box #14 - April 2 to May 4, 1956 (25 shows) plus 7 "Kine" scripts -- Box #15 - May 7 to June 15, 1956 (22 shows) -- Box #16 - June 18 to July 27, 1956 (32 shows) -- Box #17 - July to September 1956 (9 evening shows) -- Box #18 - October 1, 1956

The NBC Comedy Hour (January 15, 1956) - guest

The Steve Allen Show (July 1, 1956) - guest

The Ernie Kovacs Show (July 2-September 10, 1956)

It Could Be You (September 21, 1956) - guest

The Tonight Show (October 1, 1956-July 26, 1957) - guest

  Nothing in Moderation: " The most startling series of skits ... concerned the adventures of Eugene, a schlamozel dressed in a Norfolk jacket who wore squeaky shoes." - "On November 26, 1956, he even mobilized the Army reserves to kick off the show ... (28 men spelled out 'M*O*N*E*Y* in formation)" 

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #11 - August 25 to September 2, 1955  (5 shows) -- Box #18 - October 1956 to January 1957 (24 shows) -- Box #19 - December 1956 to January 1957 (8 shows)

Whip the Wristwatch (1955)

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #11 - August 29, 1955

Jack Paar Show (1955)

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): October 1955 (5 shows) 

Space Commuter (1955)

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #21 - May to November 1955 (112 skits)

Uncle Grusome (1955-1956)

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): 1955 to August 1, 1956 (170 character sketches) [Some written by Mike Marmer and Deke Hayward) 

MAD Magazine (1955-1958)

  Mad #24 - Tom Swiffft and his Electric Ping Pong Ball; Mad #25 - The Sleeping Beauty; Mad #26 - At Home with Lorelei Latour; Mad #29 - Directions for Playing Gringo; Mad #31 - Why I Write Poetry and Ode to Stanley's Pussycat by Percy Doveonsils; Mad #33 - (2) Strangely Believe It!; Mad #37 - (3) Strangely Believe It! and See Them Now; Mad #38 - (2) Strangely Believe It!; Mad #40 - Strangely Believe It!; Mad #41 - Strangely Believe It!; Mad #42 - Strangely Believe It!

Martin Krutch (1956)

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #20 (69 character sketches) 

The Juke Box Jury (September 21, 1956)

Showdown at Ulcer Gulch (1956) - Man in bar

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (November 22, 1956) - guest

Holiday on Ice (December 12, 1956) - guest

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #19

The Saturday Night Color Carnival (January 19, 1957) - [see also "Silent Show" or "Eugene"]

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #19 

Time (January 28, 1957) - "Utility Expert"

  "Ernie Kovacs, 38, is the one television comedian who finds most of his tee-hee in TV itself.  He is a big (6 ft. 2 in., 200 lbs.) messy, cigar-frazzling buffoon who uses cameras, sets, sound effects to make rowdy electronic fun.  He may duel and play poker with himself or shoot a hole through his head and blow smoke through it.  Once he appeared to viewers inside a huge bottle, holding an embrella to keep off the rain.  He was slowly submerged, then he tapped the bottle with a hammer; and glass, water and Kovacs spilled onstage.  Curling his lip over his mustache in a saucy moue, he may address himself to a golf ball and wham it squarely into the Cyclops eye of the camera.  After a splintering crash, viewers duck, the screen goes dark, a voice purrs: 'And let that teach all of you out there to pay attention.'  A onetime $18-a-week Trenton, NJ disk jockey and son of a Hungarian saloon-keeper, Kovacs has been a sort of utility infielder for all three networks [ABC, CBS, NBC].  He is not a refugee from other places, but that rare being, a home-grown product of TV -- and one of the few fresh and lasting performers in the business.  Yet his cultivated madness, often abetted by his wife, Singer Edie Adams, has been delighting and annoying audiences only irregularly and at odd hours since he first leered onscreen seven years ago.  Neither Kovacs nor his employer, NBC, seems able to explain why there is still no niche for his comparatively languid, low-pressure talent in a business that constantly turns lesser comics into living-room idols.  In a new effort to solve this puzzle, NBC last week handed Ernie his big challenge: a show [Silent Show] following the widely ballyhooed Jerry Lewis solo.  Kovacs won the comparison test, hands down.  He put together a half-hour quite different from his usual garrulous routines and his role as sometime host on NBC's Tonight.  Instead, Producer-Writer Kovacs buttoned his tight lip and proved himself TV's most inventive master of pantomime, sight gags and sound effects.  When he opened a copy of Camille, a female cough came out of it.  He educed a knowing chuckle from the inscrutable Mona Lisa, and screwed up his rubbery face with Chaplinesque glee as Baby Doll rolled out of her famed crib.  As Eugene the Clubman he was defied by gravity.  The Nairobi Trio, composed of three derbied apes, played a hilarious composition for xylophone, mallet and finger bone.  There was even a custard pie.  The show was, strangely enough, Kovacs' first chance at high season to show his stuff and his pulling power on NBC at a prime time.  Program Chief Tom McAvity called it Ernie's 'audition,' explained: 'If his rating is good, we hope to sell him as TV's big new comedy talent next fall.' "

Silent Show (aka Eugene) - (January 19, 1957) NBC

  Nothing in Moderation: " 'Eugene' used many of Ernie's video tricks with camera angles filters, and sight/sound dislocations.  Set in a staid men's club, Eugene went through all the tummult (sic) of the library before sitting down to eat his lunch.  Everything he took out of his pail and lay on the table rolled away at a 15 degree tilt ..." - "Immediately after the show's conclusion, the studio telephones lit up with greetings from the Coast, Hollywood on the line."

(Edie Adams, 1990, from Sing a Pretty Song): "Ernie had an idea for the show and agreed to fill the half hour on the condition that no one interfere with its content.  The grateful network [NBC] not only agreed but gave him an open-ended budget for the show.  Ernie decided that what the audience would most want to hear after an hour of the loud, frenetic {Jerry) Lewis was no words at all.  So Ernie created his pantomime character Eugene, the roots of which were from my mother's rattling house.  He felt it was important not to speak throughout the program, just to use music and sound effects ... This show, of all shows, had to have Ernie's total vision and control.  The title if the show was Eugene, but it has since become known in television history as the Silent Show ... This was the first time that Ernie had received both critical and popular recognition."

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #33 

Emmy Nomination Script (February 16, 1957)

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #33 

Perry Como Show (February 23, 1957 & October 26, 1957) - guest

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #19 

Wide Wide World: Spring Jubilee (March 31, 1957) - documentary guest

Truth or Consequences (May 20, 1957 & December 20, 1957) - guest

Festival of Magic (May 27, 1957) - performer

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives) - Box #19 

The Ed Sullivan Show (July 21, 1957 & July 27, 1958) - guest host & performer

What's My Line (August 11-November 3, 1957)

The Ted and Jinx Show (August 20, 1957) - guest

Zoomar: A Sophisticated Novel About Love And TV (1957) - Doubleday & Company - 348 pages

  As the story goes, Kovacs wrote this novel in 13 days.  And, it shows.  Apparently, the normal editorial back-and-forth steps were ignored.  According to his spouse (Edie Adams 1927-2008) the book was written because of Kovacs' experience with the production of Silent Show, a television special.  The main character (Tom Moore) was based on TV producer Sylvester (Pat) Weaver (1908-2002).  It is also likely that the main female character (Eileen Moore) was based on his relationship with Edie.  Ernie was a very busy man in 1957.  He performed in at least 15 television shows, wrote articles for MAD magazine, and made his first appearance in a major motion picture (Operation Mad Ball).  It is not surprising that he could only allot two weeks for his novel.  The story is about the rise of an advertising man into the production departments of a major television network.  The book is riddled with the misogyny and homophobia that permeated media businesses in the 1950s and beyond.  Men were TV executives and women were secretaries and housewives.  The double standard was in full effect regarding acceptable behavior especially with extra-martial sexual affairs.  The story meanders at times as Kovacs tried various devices to fill pages.  His strongest point in this book is his ability to know and describe the inner workings of television programming, including negotiations and office politics.  He does make fun of himself when he injects his actual persona into the story.

  " 'How about Kovacs,' he asked.  'Too erratic,' said Hope, 'his comedy is too extreme and too frequently he gets its punch line from the grisly side of life ... man being torn apart by horses ... trick golf expert missing the golf ball and bashing in his assistant's head.'  'I like him,' said Matti.  'Oh, you like everybody,' said Hope"

Later, Kovacs describes himself as "the coo-coo with the cigar."  Finally, he presents the "three Hungarian sayings whenever he met a Hungarian" on page 276.  Although the book fails as a novel, it does serve as an important historical artifact in the short life of one of the great earlier pioneers of television programming.  [JAM 9/1/2020]

 

(Edie Adams, 1990, from Sing a Pretty Song): " (Ernie) told me the story, and sat down at his typewriter.  He stayed there for nearly two weeks, having only carbon paper, food, and an occasional drink delivered.  He napped on the sofa in his den whenever he was tired.  Otherwise, he wrote straight through.  When he handed me Zoomar ... its fictional characters read very much like our life ... When the book came out, Pete Martin of the Saturday Evening Post ... asked Ernie how he could have written the book in thirteen days.  Ernie told him: 'When you're writing about a subject you know ... it's spontaneous writing ... I wrote my book my way: I had no plot ... Some days I wrote 40 pages, some days two ... I would never revise ... I had 600 pages, then I got a hurry up call to make a movie, so I made the book shorter, pages lopped off -- about a hundred.  It was just as well.  I would have talked too much if it had run as long as I had originally planned.' "

 

What's It For? (1957) [not mentioned in Kovacsland]

Operation Mad Ball (1957) - Columbia - Captain Paul Lock

  The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Disc #6 - Trailer - May 1957 

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #23 

Playhouse 90 - Topaze (September 26, 1957) - performer

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #33 

Newsweek (June 3, 1957) - "This is No Gag"

  "Ernie Kovacs, outstanding member of the most miserable of all fraternities, the TV comedians, this week delivered a few brief lines and gags on Producers' Showcase's 'Festival of Magic' and joined the growing ranks of his unemployed brethren.  Last week, with the end already in sight ('I have absolutely no TV contract of commitments'), Kovacs, unlike his confreres who have been squawking and flapping their clipped or broken wings, was happy as a pigeon comfortably nested in an eighteenth-floor, seventeen-room duplex eyrie overlooking Central Park.  In black velveteen Gaucho shirt, corduroy slacks, and dirty reversed-calf moccasins, Kovacs teetered behind an eighteenth-century boule desk and conferred over an Execuphone (no hands) with his book publisher about his upcoming novel, 'Zoomar,'  ('It's taken them longer to decide on the jacket than it did for me to write the whole book.')  He then carried a half grapefruit past his collection of antique firearms out onto one of three terraces, lit a cigar, and stripped to the waist for the sun.  It hadn't always been so.  'With two or three jobs going for me for a solid eight years, I've been into TV so high that I was being ducked every time the motorboats went by.  I worked a seven-day week.  If I was lucky, every one in awhile I could come out here at 4 a. m. and take three or four gulps of air -- the drunks in the park and I were the only ones awake -- then go back to work.  I sat so long at my typewriter (a man of parts, Kovacs writes, directs and produces his own material) my hips actually went out of joint.  I was walking around like an Arthur Godfrey loser.  Now I can go bicycling with Edie and the kids.  I can play jacks when my daughters (aged 8 and 12) ask me to.  I can play poker without getting guilt feelings and go to a movie without worrying about how I'm going to satirize it on the air.  I'm going to become a health fanatic; lots of exercise, maybe even yoghurt.  There's a lot of satisfaction in doing nothing at all.'  Kovacs could qualify, if he wished, for the title of TV's most frustrated comic.  Over the years, his wacky wit has brightened the off-hours of three TB networks (and numerous radio stations), earned him critical huzzahs and his share of honors -- the Sylvania Award and three Emmy nominations last season.  But he has never been able to stabilize himself in the prime evening spot that is the just reward of every first-string comic.  A lot of Kovacs' innovations, including teaser openings, lavish use of electronic tricks (including showing himself upside down on screen), and an exaggeratedly off-hand approach to the TV audience, have been taken over by others.  Like others before him, Kovacs has had long, intense discussions with NBC about possible series.  He finally bowed out from the most recent when they refused to give him the 'below-the-line' (for costumes, scenery, props, etc.) budget that he demanded.  'I've gotten to the point' he says with some pride, 'where I have to deliver a certain amount of quality.  When you build a set at a 15-degree angle it costs money.  If I back an elephant onto the set, I want it to be a real elephant and not just a papier-miche fake.'  Despite the leisure which has been forced on him and other TV comedians, Kovacs is sanguine about the future of television comedy.  'Nowadays everyone looks at a comic, any comic, and says he can't last.  It's fashionable.  If you tune in someone and shake your head sadly and say, 'poor guy he's finished,' no matter how funny he is you're not going to laugh at him.  It's dreadful what they've done to Caesar.  But, it's just a fad, like mah-jongg or miniature golf.'  When the anti-comedy fad is over, Kovacs, who meanwhile plans to spend his time with stage and screen assignments, envisions his own return to TV on a more relaxed basis.  'I'd like to write, direct, and produce five or six programs a season.  I don't care if I appear in them or not.  After the gags are set up and timed, it doesn't matter who delivers them.  What I do before a show is more important than what I do while I'm on.' "

The Polly Bergen Show (October 5, 1957)

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives) - Box #19 

Bride and Groom (October 29, 1957) - guest

Wide Wide World: The Fabulous Infant (November 10, 1957) - documentary performer

The Dinah Shore Show (November 24, 1957) - performer

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #33 

The George Gobel Show (December 31, 1957) - guest

The Big Record (1958)

Bell Book and Candle (1958) - Columbia - Sidney Redlitch

 UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #23 

General Electric Theater (1958-1959) - "I Was a Bloodhound"

The Eddie Fisher Show (September 30, 1958 & February 17, 1959) - guest

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #33 

The Ford Show (October 16, 1958) - guest

G.E. Theater: The World's Greatest Quarterback (October 19, 1958) - performer

The Jack Benny Show (January 25, 1959) - guest

The Ann Sothern Show (1959) - "Hurrah for the Irish"

Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (February 2, 1959) - "Symbol of Authority"

G.E. Theater: I Was a Bloodhound (February 15, 1959) - performer

Schlitz Playhouse of Stars (March 27, 1959) - "The Salted Mine" - performer (grizzled old miner)

Highspots of The Greatest Show on Earth (March 9, 1959) - ringmaster

Academy Awards (April 6, 1959) - guest

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #19 

Kovacs on Music (May 22, 1959) Hollywood NBC

  The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Disc #4 - May 22, 1959 

  Nothing in Moderation: "The finale prodied everybody from Wagner to Jeanette MacDonald to Nelson Eddy and anybody in between.  Edie the Valkyre meeting Ernie the Mountie all scrupulously scripted and ad-libbed ..." - "... also contained a very old bit which Ernie had first done in Philadelphia where he had electronically matted himself into an old Boris Karloff film.  In his version of 'Blue Tail Fly' Ernie mixed animated cartoon figures and live images ..." 

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #19 

It Happened to Jane (1959) - Columbia - Harry Foster Malone

  The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Disc #6 - Trailer - June 1959 

Shotgun Slade (1959) - Hack Hackberry

Our Man in Havana (1959) - Columbia - Captain Segura

  The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Disc #4 - Outtakes April to May 1959 

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #23 

Ford Startime: The Wonderful World of Entertainment (October 6, 1959) - performer

The Bob Hope Show (December 11, 1959) - guest

Take a Good Look (October 22, 1959-March 16, 1961) Hollywood ABC

  The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Disc #4 - October 22, 1959 to July 21, 1960 & October 27, 1960 to March 16, 1961 

  Nothing in Modernation: "... turned out to be a cross between a weekly Kovacs special and a continuing parody of a quizshow." - "Ernie himself received a Cleo (for Dutch Masters ads)"

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #22 - September 24, 1959 to July 14, 1960 (12 shows)  

  (Edie Adams, 1990, Sing a Pretty Song): "Consolidated gave Ernie nearly total creative control of Take a Good Look, which had been just an average quiz show, cheap to produce, and originally hosted by Mike Wallace.  Ernie was thrilled about his $5,000 weekly salary and told the press that it was going to take only two hours of a week of his time.  However, privately, he told me he had no intention of doing any simple, uncomplicated quiz show.  He used it as a means to show obtuse, funny blackouts, which he had the audacity to call 'clues'.  Take a Good Look thus became a parody of all TV quiz shows ..." 

Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse: The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show (April 11, 1960) - performer

Wake Me When It's Over (1960) - Fox - Captain Charlie Stark

Author at Work (February 5, 1960) Alcoa Goodyear

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #22 

Strangers When We Meet (1960) - Columbia - Roger Altar

North to Alaska (1960) - Fox - Frankie Canon

Pepe (1960) - Immigration Inspector

Silents Please (March 23-October 5, 1961) Hollywood ABC

  The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Disc #4 - March 23 to October 5, 1961 

The Ernie Kovacs Show (May 18-June 15, 1961)

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #23 - March 6 to July 24, 1961 (general correspondence) 

Ernie Kovacs Specials (April 20, 1961-January 1962) Hollywood ABC

  The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Disc #5 - September 21, 1961; October 28, 1961; November 24, 1961; December 12, 1961; January 23, 1962 

  Nothing in Moderation: "The specials themselves contained many old characterizations but almost no Percy Dovetonsils.  It seemed everyone loved Percy except a certain ABC executive ... who thought Ernie was making fun of nearsighted people ..." - "... the Specials produced its own classic of technical endurance for the crews, a bit which is still talked about today on the ABC lot in Los Angeles.  For one show Ernie conceived of a sketch called 'Jealousy', a musical mise-en-scene which employed the services of an entirely automated, syncopated office where the file cabinets acted like slide trombones, the switchboard lights piccoloed, and the water gurgled on cue.  A straight-forward idea in principle though it was an expensive, complex, time-consuming tour de force which taxed the production staff to the point of mania."

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #22 (7 shows) 

Five Golden Hours (1961) - Columbia

The United States Steel Hour: Private Eye, Private Eye (March 8, 1961) - cowriter & performer

Sail a Crooked Ship (1961) - Columbia - Captain Bugsy G. Foglemeyer

 UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #35 

Newsweek (September 18, 1961) - "King Leer"

  "The secret word in Ernie Kovacs' life these days is BIB.  The first B stands for Betsy, who as the curtain rises is seen drawing a needle with a flourish through a piece of material.  (The I stands for Indiana, and the second B stands for Big-speech-from-King Lear.)  She ties off a tail of thread and sets the needle on the table, sighing a joyful sigh.  The doorbell rings.  It is her friendly neighborhood newsboy, who shouts: 'Here is your afternoon paper, Miss Ross.  Look --- Alaska and Hawaii have just been voted statehood.'  Betsy faints.  'I always get these ideas in bed, or when I'm driving,' Kovacs said one morning last week, every inch the proper occupant of a suite at New York's Hotel Pierre.  'But I'm too lazy to get up, and you can't write with a cigarette lighter, so I think up two or three others at the same time and form their initials into a word so I can remember them.  I haven't written BIB down yet, but I have them all constructed.'  The construction has been taking place on behalf of a group of seven wild, notably personal half-hour specials that Kovacs will do on ABC this season, the first of which, it is sometimes claimed, will be seen next week.  The three shows so far have drawn choked-off cheers of recognition, evidently smothered in puzzlement, from most of the nation's critics.  Kovacs' departure point has been his own manic love of classical music and electronic equipment; by combining the two with skill, infinite precision, and bravery, he comes up with a series of blackouts and fleeting images (a knife cutting through celery at one instant of 'The 1812 Overture') that is both an exercise in old-fashioned esthetics and a brilliant demonstration of new-fashioned comedy.  Kovacs is the only man, in fact, except Dave Garroway, to create a form of TV comedy that has not been lifted almost whole from some other media.  ' I try to make it sound like a gag,' Kovacs said of his working methods, flashing a lascivious leer (Kovacs has a hundred facial expressions, each of which looks like a different kind of lascivious leer).  'But the truth is I have a pretty inclusive collection -- 9,000 or 10,000 albums.  I've spent as many as eight days just listening before getting the music for a show.  You've got to wait for the ideas to come.'  When the ideas do come, they betray a strange and private vision.  The opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth, for example, reminded Ernie of a poker game.  'Tum-tum-tum tummm,' he tum-tummed forte, arrogantly shoving a huge pile of chips into the pot.  'Tum-tum-tum tummm,' he echoed piano, meekly calling the bet.  Sometimes the ideas get incredibly complicated.  In one segment on his next show, the camera will follow a drop of water (played by a tiny piece of quartz) down a river, around the map of a city, out of the tap, into a kettle, into a teapot, into a cup, down the sink, through the sewer, and back to the river, where it will be drunk by a bird who watched it go by in the first place.  Kovacs is amused that his far-out programs have had a splendid audience (one rating service thought he was in the top ten last time), while everyone persists in regarding him as woefully specialized.  'In the beginning,' recalled Kovacs, 'the network, the sponsor, all my friends, people like John Crosby, all of them said: 'We dig you, Ernie, but nobody else will.'  Now I get cabdrivers who say: 'I dig you, Ernie, but you oughta see the guys I get in this cab!'  Everybody thinks the rest of the public is moronic.  That's a crock of anti-verisimilitude.'  Kovacs began to get moist-eyed at the mention of his sponsor.  'Jack Mogulescu, of Consolidated Cigar, really digs this stuff,' he said, 'Like other people look down on each other.  I look down on sponsors.  His only complaint is that I'm not in it enough.  I get up there in the control room and I write myself out of the show.  My real interest is in timing it.  When I'm supposed to go on, I say: 'See if this suit will fit that guy over there.'  Kovacs, like James Joyce, has what Nora Joyce described as 'a dirty mind, surely,' but he has run into almost no trouble with the network, possibly because he confuses them, too.  The one thing the network questioned about his next show was a shot of an 'unexpurgate edition' of Webster's that carried the legend 'Four-letter words' on the cover.  'What four-letter words come to your mind?' I said to the woman from the network,' Kovacs recalled.  'She blushed.  I said: 'See, it's all in your own mind.  I was thinking of words like love  and work and play!'  As the comedian's pre-occupation with off-camera duties would suggest, he hopes to rid himself of what he called 'the funny-pants bit.'  He is writing a Broadway show and has unfirm plans to direct Alec Guinness in a movie, the screenplay of which Kovacs has already written.  For the nonce, there are his specials, and viewers who do not tune him in deserve all the 'Pete and Gladys' the networks can produce."

The Lively Arts (October 31, 1961) - CBS interview

A Pony for Chris (December 27, 1961)

  UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives): Box #23 (script) 

Medicine Man (1962) - Dr. P. Crookshank

 

UCLA Collection (Kovacs archives)

  (undated bits, skits, etc.) - Boxes numbered 24 to 32 (2,059 scripts) 

  Material written for Kovacs - Box #34 (Rex Lardiner) -- Box #35 (Bill Barr, Earle Doud, Bob Crean, Elroy, Deke Hayward, Neal Hirsch, Dick Joseph, Mike Marmer and misc.) 

  Illustrated Profuselies (original ink drawings by Kovacs): Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, Doris Day, Perry Como, Wilder Brothers, Patti Page, Ink Spots, Dolores Grey, Johnny Ray, Rosemary Clooney, Sarah Vaughn and Tony Martin (286 drawings) 

Playboy (August 1972) - "Ode to a Bottomless Bathtub" by Terry Galanoy

"... the first, and still the only, comic genius of the medium [TV], Ernie Kovacs."

"Camera sees flutist spraying water out of flute holes.  Water then spills down onto the neck of the cellist sitting below him.  Two violins are oozing pizza dough, which is dripping into the kettle drum.  The drummer stops his sticks for the final chord and drumsticks and arms disappear into the dough-filled drum."

"Medium shot of burglar kneeling and working on safe combination.  He carefully clicks last number and opens door.  Matted perfectly into the opening is another burglar opening another safe."

"Girl in bathtub piled high with suds ... diver climbs out of tub ...periscope emerges from suds and looks at her ... shark fin goes by ...water burns after she lights cigarette ... sailor, woman and dog come out of suds and walk away ... outboard motor goes by."

"Violin is sitting on gray velvet.  To the right of the violin is a card that says, ANTONIUS STRADIVARIUS, $25,000. Two beats after we read this, we see a man's feet come into the scene.  He steps on the violin and stands there."

"Kovacs draws a picture of a refrigerator on the wall and then cuts open the door with a razor.  Ice cubes fall out."

"Poodle walks slowly by fire hydrant.  Fire hydrant sprays dog with water."

"Medium shot of man firing at duck targets in shooting gallery.  Camera cuts in tight on one duck as it swings toward camera, exposes gun on side and fires back at man."

"Medium shot of Kovacs as a maintenance man washing the nose of a statue at Mount Rushmore.  The nose wrinkles and sneezes, leaving an empty scaffold flapping against the mountain."

"Indian draws bow to shoot arrow and the following things happen: Flaming arrow sets bow on fire; arrowhead falls off; arrow telescopes into itself; bowstring stretches out of frame; arrow is shot, taking sleeve and hand with it."

Sing a Pretty Song ... the "Offbeat" Life of Edie Adams Including the Ernie Kovacs Years (Edie Adams and Robert Windeler) - William Morrow and Company - 1990 - 366 pages

Edie Adams often portrayed the "dumb blonde" in television comedies but she was not dumb.  She was an intelligent, talented, hard-working performer with an excellent sense of humor.  This autobiography serves as an account of her accomplishments but is also valuable as a chronicle of the short life of her first husband, Ernie Kovacs.  She came from a sheltered life and a middle-class family in Pennsylvania.  However, her life completely changed when she went to work for the innovative Hungarian genius of television.  They were a perfect match, I suppose.  After the tragic death of her husband in 1962, Edie was left to pick up the pieces.  And she did.  In addition to work to erase the Kovacs debt, she also made sure that the legacy of Ernie Kovacs was preserved by collecting the remaining kinescopes of his that would have otherwise been scrapped (see The Ernie Kovacs Collection).  This autobiography ends suddenly in 1964 with the word "intermission."  She may have had plans for a book about her "second act" but it never happened.  Edie had a successful second act but it could never be as entertaining as act one.  [JAM 9/24/2020]

  "Ernie created the Nairobi Trio in 1953 by listening to a record that Peter Hanley had brought to him ... Peter, Ernie and I sat in the suite's living room [Savoy Plaza] listening to the record.  Ernie didn't say a word throughout, but the minute it was over he ordered me to sit at the piano and Pete to stand opposite while he sat on a nearby chair to conduct ... Pete and I had no idea what was going on; we were just following Ernie's counting.  He asked me to just look at him at the end of a phrase, as if it were a love scene between the conductor and the pianist.  As he turned away from Pete to look at me, it gave Pete a chance to hit him with the breakaway vase.  We couldn't see Ernie's take to the camera with the ape mask on, so we never did know what was so funny until we were shown a kinescope months later.  Pete and I did the counts exactly as Ernie told us.  The idea evolved as Ernie played with it.  He had envisioned it on first hearing the music and put it completely together in no more than a half hour." 

  (Ernie Kovacs, 1959): "Nothing has changed more in this country in the last five year than comedy.  Today we laugh at different things ... satire is very big today ... people have grown up ... Witness how humor we thought was so chic ten or twenty years ago is now considered stale and dated ... Television is the big culprit.  Fellows like Sid Caesar stuck their neck out being satirical, and gradually it seeped in.  And another big thing is that, today, for reasons I can't explain, people are laughing more at themselves than they ever were."

  "I had never worked with Lucy (Ball) before, so I didn't know how much of a perfectionist she was on the set.  She involved herself in every minute detail of anything that touched her in any way.  Desi, it was clear, was the overall brain behind the business ... not 'the bongo player that Lucy dragged into show business.' " 

 

Kovacsland (Diana Rico) - Harcourt Brace Jovanovich - 1990 - 352 pages

Published the same year as the Edie Adams autobiography, this book is the most thorough of the Kovacs biographies.  Although Rico wrote the book without the assistance of Adams, she did have the full cooperation of the oldest daughters of Ernie Kovacs, Kippie and Bette (now known as "Elisabeth").  In the Adams book (Sing a Pretty Song), Ms. Adams revealed that she and the two older girls had been "estranged" for a long time.  The girls had removed themselves from the custody of Edie Adams at the ages of 16 and 17, respectively.  It is quite possible that Adams rushed to complete her autobiography to compete with Kovacsland.  Ms. Rico also complained that the 1975 David Walley book (Nothing in Moderation) was full of "errors" but I could not find many except for different spellings of names.  In my opinion, Walley captured the essence of Kovacs; Adams' book added personal notes; and Kovacsland was better-researched without adding much new information.  [JAM 10/16/2020]

 

(1974/2020) Who wrote "Strangely Believe It!" for MAD?  Ernie Kovacs was the first great genius of television.  In the early 1950s, television producers struggled to find programming to fill the daytime hours.  Kovacs jumped into the medium as a TV host and was given almost free rein to do whatever he wanted within budget (for one of his shows he had a daily budget of $48 for props).  One of his early bits was Strangely Believe It! that he wrote (or ad-libbed) by himself but eventually he had the services of network writers.  The following is from the 1973 biography (Nothing in Moderation) by David G. Walley: "Mike Marmer (who also wrote for [Steve] Allen) was introduced to Ernie back in 1953 and helped him as much as a writer could ... and specialized in small bits of informational humor like ... 'Strangely Believe It's' "  There was also a footnote in the book about "Kovacs archives at the UCLA Special Collection room ..."  So after learning about the collection, I bought a UCLA library card in 1974 and went to view the collection that had been donated by Edie Adams.  What I found were 35 boxes of an unorganized jumble.  The UCLA library allowed me to skim through 35 boxes of Kovacs archives, one box at a time.  The last box (#35) contained files of ideas written by network writers including 86 pages ("scripts") for Strangely Believe It! written by Mike Marmer.  The librarian who not allow me to photocopy anything but I was able to transcribe some of the material.  I copied some of the Marmer jokes that seemed like they had also been in MAD.  "Arturo La Frange, a Polish pipefitter" had the reference to "a quart of chianti" deleted for MAD #43.  "The horned greebus fish, also known as the dancing greebus fish" became "the crawling horned greebus" for MAD #37.  So, who made the changes?  Was it Kovacs or a MAD editor (Nick Meglin or Jerry DeFuccio)?  At this stage, we will probably never know.  [JAM 9/14/2020]

 

Nothing in Moderation: A Biography of Ernie Kovacs (David G. Walley) - Drake Publishers Inc. - 1975 - 247 pages

This is an unconventional biography written by an unconventional author.  According to the dust jacket: "The book is written in a style identical to the zany, original scripts that Kovacs would deliver into the hands of directors and producers."  I cannot completely agree with that statement.  While author Walley has tried to be zany here, it is often a labored attempt at best.  The author does throw a lot of everything into the book that a wise editor would probably trim for fluid reading.  However, the book captures more Kovacs history than any other book and for that, show business historians should be grateful.  After almost 60 years, many of the quotes and observations could have lost to the ages.  I have seen no other book that presents such a complete picture of the man, the first real genius of the medium of television.  [JAM 9/15/2020]

  Diana Rico (Kovacsland): "David Walley's 1975 Nothing in Moderation ... laid out the groundwork but contained many factual errors and passed over some areas of his life that I consider important."

 

 

The Ernie Kovacs Collection (2010) - Shout - 6 DVDs - 13+ hours