The neutrality of this article is disputed. Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Please do not remove this message until the dispute is resolved. (September 2014)
Ernie Kovacs (January 23, 1919 – January 13, 1962) was an American comedian, actor, and writer.
Kovacs' uninhibited, often ad-libbed, and visually experimental comedic style came to influence numerous television comedy programs for years after his death in an automobile accident. Many iconic and diverse shows are credited with having been influenced by Kovacs, such as Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Saturday Night Live. The Uncle Floyd Show. Captain Kangaroo. Sesame Street. The Electric Company. [ 1 ] [ 2 ] [ 3 ] [ 4 ] [ 5 ] [ 6 ] Chevy Chase acknowledged Kovacs' influence and thanked him during his acceptance speech for his Emmy award for Saturday Night Live. [ 7 ] Chase appeared in the 1982 documentary. Ernie Kovacs: Television's Original Genius. discussing the impact Kovacs had on his work. [ 8 ]
On or off screen, Kovacs could be counted on for the unexpected, from having marmosets as pets to wrestling a jaguar on his live Philadelphia television show. [ 9 ] [ 10 ] [ 11 ] [ 12 ]
When working at WABC (AM) as a morning-drive radio personality and doing a mid-morning television show for NBC. Kovacs disliked eating breakfast alone while his wife, Edie Adams. was sleeping in after her Broadway performances. His solution was to hire a taxi driver to come into their apartment with his own key and make breakfast for them both, then take Ernie to the WABC studios. [ 13 ] [ 14 ]
While Kovacs and Adams received Emmy nominations for best performances in a comedy series in 1957, his talent was not formally recognized until after his death. [ 15 ] The 1962 Emmy for outstanding electronic camera work and the Directors' Guild award came a short time after his fatal accident. [ 16 ] [ 17 ] A quarter century later, he was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame. [ 18 ] Kovacs also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in television. [ 19 ] In 1986, the Museum of Television & Radio (now the Paley Center for Media ) presented an exhibit of Kovacs' work, called The Vision of Ernie Kovacs. The Pulitzer Prize–winning television critic, William Henry III, wrote for the museum's booklet: [ 20 ]
Kovacs was more than another wide-eyed, self-ingratiating clown. He was television's first significant video artist. He was its first surrealist. its most daring and imaginative writer. He was. television's first and possibly only auteur. And he was a genius. In commercial terms, a genius is any entertainer. who finds a new way to make money. Kovacs never fit that description. Kovacs' genius lay in the realm of art. There, a genius is someone who
causes an audience to look at the world in a new way.
Early life and career [ edit ]
Kovacs' father Andrew immigrated from Hungary at age 13. He worked as a policeman, restaurateur, and bootlegger; the last so successfully that he moved his wife Mary, and sons Tom and Ernie, into a 20-room mansion in the better part of Trenton. [ 21 ] [ 22 ]
Though a poor student, Kovacs was influenced deeply by his Trenton Central High School drama teacher, Harold Van Kirk, and received an acting scholarship at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1937 with Mr. Van Kirk's help. The end of Prohibition and the Depression brought hard financial times to the family. When Kovacs began drama school, all he could afford was a fifth floor walk-up apartment on West 74th Street in New York City. [ 23 ] [ 24 ] During this time, Ernie managed to see a lot of "Grade B " movies (admission was only a dime); many of them were the spark of his routines later on. [ 21 ]
A 1938 local news story shows him as a member of the Prospect Players, not yet sporting his trademark mustache. [ 25 ] Like any aspiring actor, Kovacs used his class vacation time to pursue roles in summer stock companies. While working in Vermont in 1939, he became so seriously ill with pneumonia and pleurisy that his doctors didn't expect him to survive. Over the next year and a half, his comedic talents emerged as he entertained both doctors and patients with his antics during stays at several hospitals. [ 26 ] While hospitalized, he also developed a lifelong love and understanding of classical music through the gift of a radio, which he kept tuned to WQXR. By the time he was released, his parents had separated, and he went back to Trenton, living with his mother in a two-room apartment over a store. He took work as a cigar salesman, which was the beginning of a lifelong habit. [ 21 ] [ 27 ]
His first paid entertainment work came in 1941, as a disc jockey on Trenton's WTTM radio. Ernie spent the next nine years with WTTM, becoming the station's director of Special Events along the way; in this position he did things like trying to see what it was like to be run over by a train (leaving the tracks at the last minute) and broadcasting from the cockpit of a plane for which he took flying lessons. Kovacs was also involved in local theater; a news clipping from a local paper ran a photo and the news that he was doing some directing for the Trenton Players Guild in early 1941. [ 28 ] The Trentonian. a local weekly newspaper, offered him a column in June 1945; Ernie called it "Kovacs Unlimited". [ 21 ] [ 29 ]
Start in television [ edit ]