Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Reminiscence From "Goldbug"

Let me start off by saying that Ernie's MySpace Fan Page is up to 269 friends. Once again (and I can't say it enough) a profound thanks to all the folks who accepted our invitation. Please let your friends know about us as well.

One of those friends is a great guy who goes by the name of "Goldbug" on MySpace and is a devout Ernie-phile, "Kovacs-phile" or as I like to say "Kovacsian" which I guess is sort of an Armenian term. Here he remembers the first time he ever saw the great Ernie Kovacs:

I was always "blamed" for the fact that my family became the third on our block to own a television set. (When did they stop calling them "sets"?)

The second set belonged to the family of the only other little kid on the block. She had recently turned five. I was three-and-a-half. We were playmates; and she'd introduced me to the Howdy Doody Show. It aired just as her family were preparing to sit down to dinner; and I had to be removed– kicking and screaming– to my own television-less home. My Father always claimed that he bought the damned thing just to shut me up...

On the last Saturday morning of 1950, a truck from the local appliance store pulled into our driveway. It was bitter cold outside, with wind-driven snow flurries. Two men in coveralls manhandled an enormously heavy Westinghouse table-top black-and-white– with a HUGE 17-inch screen– up the front steps and into the corner of the living room that had been vacated, the day before, by the Christmas tree which by then had served its purpose. They set up the TV, then left my Father in charge of its operation. He twiddled its knobs, and twisted its rabbit-ears, as a test-screen came into focus. I wanted to watch Howdy Doody then and there, and couldn't understand why that wasn't possible. In his most imperious tone, the Old Man warned me that I was never to touch his television without a grownup in attendance. It had cost him six hundred dollars. (And those were 1950 dollars!)

I did I was told through Sunday. But by Monday morning, I couldn't resist any longer. Immediately after breakfast– while nobody was looking, I turned it on. To my disappointment, Howdy Doody was a no-show. Instead, there appeared a man with a moustache and a cigar. The picture flickered and rolled. I whined. Somebody came into the living room; and after scolding me for messing with the television unattended, adjusted the picture, and left me alone to watch. Thus came my first introduction to Ernie Kovacs.

The show, of course, was 3 To Get Ready. I don't remember any details of what Ernie did that day, but it was sufficiently zany and infectious that from that moment forward, Howdy Doody was eclipsed. I still watched him, of course. Religiously. As did my friend Karin. Our set was newer than theirs, the screen was larger, and the picture sharper. But for me, the real thrill of the day was Ernie. I never missed him. I considered myself very privileged not to have to go to work or school, as my Father and sisters did. I stayed tuned for the whole show.

I remember the clock in the corner, the Kapusta Kid, Gertrude the giant rag-doll, and Norman Brooks, the news-man. I remember watching the test screen, knowing that at any moment, the fun would begin. And it always did. I recall Ernie running down a corridor, toward the camera, calling "I'm coming! I'm coming!" One morning, when he wasn't there, an announcer introduced "The star of our show" and Gertrude came flying into view from off-camera, to the shrill sound of a siren-whistle. She landed head-first, and sprawled across the floor. Another time, Ernie climbed out of the ceiling...

Forty years later, I relived those days in the pages of "Kovacsland." Once, in an admiring imitation of Ernie, I flung a cold pancake across the kitchen. Instead of a laugh, I got a spanking. I distinctly remember the hands of the clock behind Norm Brooks spinning in fast-motion. And I remember water dripping on the hapless newsman from above, while he maintained his composure and continued reading the news with a straight face. I laughed myself silly.

Ernie kept popping up during the day. At less than four years of age, I wasn't big on cooking shows. I remember "plugs" for Deadline for Dinner on the station breaks, but the show never interested me– until the day Ernie showed up, and made a shambles of the kitchen while appearing to have the time of his life. And there was "Kovacs on the Corner" with Pete Boyle (who, several years later, introduced my generation of Philadelphia kids to The Little Rascals) and Al the Dog. Supposedly, Al was invisible to grownups. Somebody played along with the gag one day, and I became a true believer.

Then Edith Adams joined the fun. I thought her name was "Eat-It." She wasn't on "Deadline for Dinner" but Ernie was. I thought maybe she "ate" the zany concoctions Ernie cooked up in the afternoon. But I never saw her eat. She sang; and laughed; and was pretty...

"Ernie in Kovacsland" came on shortly before my bedtime. I laughed so hard I couldn't fall asleep. His humor seemed specially designed to appeal to little kids. I'd seen his daughters on TTGR. They were mine and Karin's ages. He knew how to make us laugh; and seemed to take great pleasure in doing so.

Then one day, to my horror, he was gone. By sheer coincidence, he left WPTZ at just about the same time that the grand steam locomotives of the Pennsylvania and the Reading Railroads were replaced by those boxy, boring diesels. In my young mind, I always equated the disappearance of Ernie and the steam trains, and thought there was a connection. Now, in his place on Channel 3 was some bespectacled guy with a boring voice and a chimpanzee. I cried and whined until the grownups warned me that if I didn't desist, they'd give me something to cry about.

I don't remember "Kovacs Unlimited" at all. Either it wasn't on in Philadelphia; or it came on past my bedtime. Fortunately, by the time the ill-fated Ernie Kovacs Show aired, my parents were bored of Uncle Miltie. Plus, they too had enjoyed Ernie in his local Philadelphia days. I don't think I ever missed the show during its short run. In fact, for the rest of his lifetime, I don't think I missed anything that Ernie Kovacs appeared in. Today, I own the DVD's; the videotapes; a copy of a circa-1988 special from the Classic Movie Channel; A&E's Biography of Ernie; a copy of "Between the Laughter" with Jeff Goldblum; and "Kovacsland" by Diana Rico.

One Saturday morning in January 1962, I awoke to the horrifying news that Ernie had died in a car crash the night before. I was fourteen-and-a-half by then, and had been a fan for eleven years. That coming week, I was to give an oral report in English class, on my favorite television show. Naturally, I had chosen the Ernie Kovacs Dutch Masters Specials. That Saturday, I closed myself in my room and cried all day. It was the first time in my life that I'd ever cried over someone's death. By Tuesday, I had prepared a "substitute" report on "The Flintstones" because I was afraid I'd cry in front of my English class, if I tried to do the one on Ernie.

Today, I'm into my 57th year as an Erniephile. And I'm sure I'll continue to be one, until I draw my final breath...

Thanks, Goldbug, for a great story! And, my friend, for saving me from having to write a lot today!

I like to end every post with some relevant Ernie links which I've found during the previous week either on blogs or on the web. Here's one that was nice enough to link to my site, without me having to ask. Its talks about the ending credits for Ernie's show:

And, I found this blog entry about the Nairobi Trio from fellow blogger "Sisysphus:"

That's all for this week. Thanks folks. Its been real!

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