Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Kapusta Kids And Nairobi Trios: IN COLOR

Did the title grab your attention Kovacsians? Good. It was supposed to.

I have a great visual treat for you today and considering Ernie was such a visual comic the shoe, or in this case the shoes, masks, scarves and hats, fit.

The Hollywood Entertainment Museum held an auction this past weekend of their 100 year old collection of television and film memorabilia in order to raise money for at-risk youth. Included in the inventory of this most worthwhile cause were a mother lode of goodies from Kovacsland.

Wonderful puppets from Ernie's parody of children's sci-fi and puppet shows, "The Kapusta Kid In Outer Space," were some of the featured items. Rick Spector, a new fan of the blog and website, was the lucky winner of the EK puppet which you see pictured below. He seems to think these puppets may have been made by the late puppeteer Larry Berthelson and this certainly may be the case as his puppets appeared regularly in Ernie's early shows. "Kapusta" incidentally is the Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, and Slovak word for cabbage. You might say Ernie's puppets were the original "Cabbage Patch Kids."

In addition to the puppets, the masks and costumes of Ernie's legendary "Nairobi Trio" were also up for auction. And, as if that wasn't enough, throw in some title cards from two of Ernie's early shows, "3 To Get Ready" and "Kovacs Unlimited," some assorted props (including the "Nairobi Trio" mallets) and an odd prop with dials known as "Gearshift's Mechano Almanac" which, quite frankly, I've never heard of. It's amazing what great shape these items are in considering they date back to the early 1950s. (ED. NOTE: I have to make a correction as we've just been informed that the masks pictured are not the actual ones, but facsimiles since the original is very fragile and I'm assuming they decided not to handle it too much. Please read the comments section for additional clarification. My apologies!)

I certainly hope you enjoy the color photos posted below; something different since they, along with Ernie, were always seen on TV in black and white:











Well, there you have it Kovacsians. Until next time Happy Holidays and a very sincere "It's Been Real!"

ED. NOTE, DEC. 26TH, 2009:

The Museum Of Broadcast Communications in Chicago has their archives listed online so you can view the list. Some of these listings have a digital file accompanying them for viewing and ⁄ or listening.

"The Ernie Kovacs Show" from December 19th, 1955, is one of these. The show contains as one of its sketches "The Kapusta Kid In Outer Space." I uncovered this while doing some further research on the puppets. The EK puppet is not in the sketch but many of the others are.

To view this file:
  1. Visit this link and sign up. It’s free.

  2. Once you login choose the "TV" link, put Ernie Kovacs in "Keywords" and check the box at the bottom that says "Digital File Available". Then click submit. The archive listings for several files along with links to them will then come up. Look for catalog # TV_05449-3 with a date of 12/19/1955.
Most people who visit my EK sites know I don't usually promote online files because most of the time the person uploading them does not have permission to do so. Many times I'm sent emails with links to EK file downloads which I ignore and delete. My assumption here is that a broadcast museum is not just putting up clips without permission.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Festival Of Magic" Hosted By Ernie Kovacs

Good evening Kovacsians. I have something for you that I know you'll enjoy.

Kovacs fans know that outside of the "Best Of Collection" and the ten films he appeared in, there is a dearth of material with Ernie in it that is available for purchase. Now, however, there is something you can add to the list.

"Producers Showcase: Festival Of Magic" aired on NBC on Monday, May 27, 1957. Ernie acts as the emcee for this extravaganza which you can now purchase from The Miracle Factory, the company which produces it. Todd Karr, who owns The Miracle Factory, was nice enough to send us a copy for review.

The program itself is an ode to the big production number/variety shows from television's golden age. From a magic standpoint it has a wonderful theme; grand stage illusions are performed by magicians from the far corners of the world.

There's Robert Harbin , the British magician who invented the famous "Zig Zag Girl" illusion, a version of which he does here and who for purposes of the show is from "South Africa". Then from "Asia" there is "Li King Si" (a Frenchman born Edouard 'Georges' Cassel), Sorcar from India, Rene Septembre from France, June Merlin from Ireland and Milbourne Christopher from the United States.

But for me the highlight of the magic is the genius of the Englishman Richard Pitchford, better known to the world as "Cardini". This is the only performance of his full act available on film and it's something well worth seeing. He's like a great actor; the delivery and the magic together make for a fine performance and I find it amazing that unlike the other magicians, who are working with much bigger items and/or animals, Cardini pulls off his act with just playing cards and cigarettes. Truly phenomenal, a master of sleight of hand and very funny as well, the perfect compliment to EK.

"So what about Ernie?" you may be asking. In her book "Kovacsland: A Biography Of Ernie Kovacs" author Diana Rico describes him as doing a sword balancing act and performing some running "magic" gags in which he shoots, saws and otherwise tries to destroy some NBC Vice Presidents. This is an apt description; EK, who wrote his own bits for this show, is using them as a jibe at the meddling ways of television executives, something he was famous for loathing. Before addressing the assemblage of "executives" for the first time he tells the audience:
"Some of the gentleman with whom I've been at odds occasionally, the NBC Vice Presidents, felt that perhaps I might not restrain myself in doing a magic show; they're a little bit skeptical."
After turning to look at them he says:
"You've been here all day; it's awfully difficult to work with them here."
He then opens with a "trick" in which he attempts to make one of them vanish inside a large cabinet. Very telling.

Ernie performs all the "tricks" as himself so you won't be seeing "Matzoh Hepplewhite: Itinerant Magician". There is also no interaction between Ernie and the magicians themselves; he does his bits at the end of the acts before the commercial breaks and then again coming in from the breaks before the next act, then announces the act. This could have been a "meddling vice president" choice; Ernie was at his best when riffing with people or performers not used to his brand of humor so it seems odd that this was not pursued.

This is not going to go down on record as Ernie's greatest hosting performance. It's from a time period several months after his fill-in stint as permanent guest host of Steve Allen's "Tonight!" and was at a point when Ernie did not have a show of his own but was still under contract to NBC. For this reason it's apparent that it's of the "let's get Kovacs to host this magic show" variety, since NBC could never quite figure out what to do with Ernie in a show of his own. At points he's reading from cue cards and seems to not be all that into it.

That being said Ernie's bits when he's allowed to be Ernie have their moments; wind-up toy animals talk, there's a visual bit where he has a conversation with a tiny man in a pith helmet and of course the attempts to execute TV middle management disguised as illusions are great, if simply for that reason that it's obvious what his point is. Amongst the "executives" Kovacs stalwarts will recognize the veteran character actor Henry Lascoe and actor/singer Peter Hanley, both Kovacs show regulars. Hanley of course is famous for introducing the song "Solfeggio" to Ernie; he brought it into work one day to use as a singing exercise and it's the song that inspired Ernie to create the "The Nairobi Trio" and then became the music for same.

The DVD itself was made from a tape of an excellent kinescope; for the most part it looks and sounds fine with the occasionally audio and video glitches you might expect but completely watchable. Originally the producers had intended to include the original commercials but left them out because they felt it slowed down the show's pace, however, you do get to see who the sponsors are during the show opening. There is a choice on the DVD menu called "Commercials" but it is simply a little bit of comedy with EK before a commercial break. Running time is slightly over an hour and fifteen minutes which means the original show was probably 90 minutes. The cost of this DVD is $35.

All in all a very enjoyable "hour and a quarter"; as I write this I can hear my relatives laughing in the other room at EK's antics. That's as good an endorsement as any. If you're an Ernie fan, magic fan or both (and most people who read this blog are), then I suggest you pick up a copy.

Here's a short trailer so you'll have an idea what you're getting:


Until next time, "It's Been Real!"

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Ernie's Former New City Home For Sale


Good morning Kovacsians. It's been a while.

Back in the mid 1950s when Ernie was doing his show from New York City he purchased a home for his mother Mary Kovacs in New City, New York, which is a suburb in Rockland County. The home is currently up for sale; you can see the listing and some additional photos by clicking the link above.

(ED. NOTE, 9/12/2009- I disabled the link to the property as it's apparently been sold or pulled off the market and the page no longer exists.- Al Quagliata)

Many Kovacs fans will remember that Ernie's daughters, Bette and Kippie, were kidnapped to Florida by their mother and Ernie's first wife, Bette Wilcox. According to Diana Rico's book "Kovacsland: A Biography Of Ernie Kovacs" Ernie filled the home with presents and decorations each Christmas in the hope they would all be reunited in time for the holiday. When they were finally reunited in the summer of 1955 the girls were brought to the house for the first time. Bette Kovacs remembered that there were still candy canes and stars on the ceiling in the room where they were to sleep and these remained there for all the years her grandmother occupied the home.

A nice story for a nice Sunday. Until next time, "It's Been Real!"

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Edie Adams Interview With Josh Mills And Becky Greenlaw

EK fan Mary Lou Cassidy brought to our attention a six part interview that Doug Norwine of Heritage Auction Galleries did with Edie's son Josh Mills and her assistant Becky Greenlaw as part of their last celebrity memorabilia auction which took place from June 5-7, 2009.

Each segment is about 7 minutes. The first five feature Josh and Becky discussing Edie and Ernie; the sixth shows Edie's gowns and dresses which are up for auction with either Josh or Becky discussing their history:

PART 1 PART 2 PART 3 PART 4 PART 5 PART 6

We thank Mary for digging these out for all EK fans to see; they are not easy to find on the site.

One very interesting item that sold was for $1314.50 was EK's famous poker table! That's probably a lot less than Ernie would have lost in a typical night of gambling.

Until next time, "It's Been Real!"

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ernie Kovacs And Bob Hope On DVD

Good afternoon Kovacsians. Our good friend John Hammes of The UGA Science Library at The University Of Georgia wanted to share with us his quick review of an interesting piece of Ernie video memorabilia which he brought to my attention a while back. Fans of the blog know John as the gent who has contributed a couple of very tough trivia quizzes to the site. Here's his latest trip into Kovacsland:

Original Air Date: 12/11/59
"Bob Hope Christmas Special"

Repeat Air Date: 10/29/76
"Bob Hope's World Of Comedy"


BOB HOPE: The Ultimate Collection is mainly comprised of the original Bob Hope anniversary/compilation specials that were broadcast circa 1970's 1980's. This is a four DVD set that was released in 2007.

The 1976 "World Of Comedy" special is the sole feature on disc four. Among hundreds of clips, this includes a sketch featuring Ernie from the 1959 Christmas Special. EK and BH had another sketch on that same special (based on top 40 radio "Payola"), but that other sketch is absent here. Guess we will need to sent nice letters and e-mails to the good people at the Hope Estate, requesting the 12/11/59 Christmas Special in full.

Ernie's segment on "World Of Comedy" was unfortunately edited somewhat: it would have been better to see the entire sketch. Still, this is a good representation of Kovacs, clocking in at two minutes.


I'd like to thank John for taking the time and effort to put this together for the EK Blog. If you're an EK fan, Hope fan or both be sure to pick up a copy.

On May 12, 2009, the New York Observer ran an interesting piece about the former talk show host Richard Bey. Interesting because I was just having a "whatever happened to discussion" with someone the other day then saw this and interesting because someone in the article compares Bey to EK. I will say this; I never liked his show because of the prurient and infantile subject matter but I always liked Bey and found the man funny. He had some good bits, did some decent character work and was always quick on his feet. I can see the EK comparison to a certain extent. Read the article if you get a chance and judge for yourself. As always feel free to post a comment.

Thanks for stopping by friends. Until we meet again, "It's Been Real!"

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ernie The Sketch The Artist

Good morning Kovacsians. I bet you didn't know Ernie was also something of an artist. EK fan Lynda Francis shared the following anecdote with me:
Back in the late 70's the nurses aides at a nursing home in Chelsea (Oklahoma) decided to have an auction to raise enough money to buy every resident a Christmas gift as some had no family. They bought a book of celebrity addresses and sent letters requesting a piece of memorabilia, an autograph or whatever they could get. It was amazing the response they got. The residents not only got a gift but also other needed items. Edie Adams sent this sketch. I cannot remember what I paid for it.
Here's a photo of the sketch:

Here's a close-up of the signature:

The sketch is of a Gaucho. Lynda emailed wanting to know if EK did any other artwork. To be honest, I'm not sure. He would parody art on his shows and sketch on his morning show in Philly for the kids and his likeness was rendered for bits in Mad Magazine and by artists such as Don Bevan and Al Hirschfeld. If I find out about any other drawings EK did I'll post the info here.

Thanks for stopping by folks and thanks for the pics Lynda!

Until next time, "It's Been Real."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Quitting The Nairobi Trio

Good afternoon Kovacsians. I discovered the book to the left while doing some "Nairobi Trio" research online and was able to get a copy from my local library.

I just finished reading and it's fantastic. Rather than give you a review I'll say this; its not what you might think. And the way EK and "The Nairobi Trio" work into this true story is wonderful. Yours truly picks up ANYTHING that has to do with EK and reads it, yet I found that right from the start I was enjoying the book so much that it wouldn't have mattered to me whether EK was mentioned or not. When he finally was it really hit me. Great writing and well worth your time. To learn more about the author, Jim Knipfel, visit his website. Scroll down and you'll see a link to the book on Amazon along with a plot summary.

Our fight to get EK listed as a past guest host of "The Tonight Show" continues. This link will bring you to both articles on the subject, one written by me and the other by Ben Model. There you'll find full instructions on how you can join the fight. Let's get EK on that list!! Our thanks go to both Mark Evanier and Altrok Radio for writing great pieces on this subject regarding our campaign.

I haven't done this in a while so a here's a "shout out" (EK used to call it "Yoo Hoo Time" on TTGR) to all the members of the Ernie Kovacs MySpace Fan Page, which is currently up to 874 friends. I'd like to thank all those that have asked to be added. If you'd like to be a friend visit the page by clicking on the link above and put in a request!

If you are a Facebook user there are two EK Groups on that site; one run by Ron Evry and the other by my fellow EK blogger Ben Model. You must be a member of Facebook to join the groups and participate but clicking either link will bring you to the page so you can see them. Definitely join if you can; Ben and I always use the groups to post EK updates.

Another site to which we've added EK updates is Twitter; you can always visit that link to see what we're up to. In addition, I've embedded the Twitter updates directly into the homepage of www.erniekovacs.net. If you're a member of Twitter be sure to sign up as an EK follower; if not you can learn more about the service here.

Until next time my friends, "It's Been Real!"

EDITOR'S NOTE: After I posted this I contacted Jim Knipfel, author of "Quitting The Nairobi Trio" to tell him how much I enjoyed the book. He shared this anecdote with me:
Thank you, Al. I'm honored to have been recognized by the Kovacs cognescenti. Here's a story about the cover I think you'll appreciate.

About 2 weeks before the book was set to be released, the publisher realized that they had never obtained the rights to use the Nairobi Trio still. This was Bad News, and led to much hair pulling.

Finally, we contacted Edie Adams (who, as you know, controlled the estate) to get permission.

First, she wanted to read all the scenes in the book in which Ernie was mentioned. Happily, she was okay with those. Then came the matter of payment.

She asked how much people usually got for the rights to use an image on a book cover. "Usually anywhere between $200-$300," the publisher told her.

She thought about it for a minute, then said, "All right. I'll take $350."

God bless that woman.

(And god bless the publisher for agreeing to pay her $350.)

Many thanks again. I'm glad you liked the book.

Jim

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tell NBC To Add Ernie Kovacs To Their "Tonight Show" Host List!!

If everyone who reads this blog posts something on the Tonight Show forum at NBC's website, they may get the message that something is wrong with the pantheon of hosts on their "Tonight Show Experience" website, shown below:


Go to NBC's "Tonight Show Experience" website by clicking here, and then click on "Community" to go to the posting forum. You will need to sign up in order to post to the board, but it's pretty simple to do. You should see my post about Ernie there:


Log in and post a reply (supporting this cause). Let's see if we can get NBC to take notice...

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ben; fantastic idea! I've already posted a reply on Ben's post on the NBC board. If you need more background on Ernie's "Tonight Show" tenure, I posted a piece last week that discusses it.

You can also send a message directly to NBC about without registering to post on the message board:

http://www.nbc.com/Footer/Contact_Us/

You'll see a pull down menu that says "Select Show." Choose "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and then a box will open where you can type in your message.

Let's try to get Ernie on that list!-
Al Quagliata

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ernie & "Tonight!": Another "Nairobi Trio": EK DVD Box Set On Hold

Good morning Kovacsians. As the title of this post indicates I have several EK items to share with you today.

I receive emails from time to time asking about Ernie's stint as permanent guest host of "The Tonight Show", on Monday and Tuesday nights from October 1st, 1956, through January 22nd, 1957. Ernie replaced the venerated Steve Allen who was so exhausted from the rigors of hosting five nights a week AND hosting a Sunday night variety show that so NBC could compete with Ed Sullivan on CBS, that he informed the network he would need the first two days of the week off to recuperate and prepare material for the following Sunday's show.

There's an interesting article I found on The Kansas City Blog's TV Barn which discusses the fact that in anticipation of Conan O'Brien taking over "The Tonight Show" from Jay Leno on June 1st 2009, NBC has posted a timeline of "Tonight Show" hosts which skips right from Steve Allen to Jack Paar without bothering to mention Ernie. I've posted comments on the piece so that you can learn more about Ernie's involvement as a "Tonight Show Host." In my humble opinion NBC needs to acknowledge his hosting of the program.

The number one jazz group in New Zealand is named "The Nairobi Trio" but they didn't get their name from EK's iconic sketch. The writer of this piece mentions EK and then goes on to discuss how the band got the name. It's interesting to think there are two well known "Nairobi Trios", albeit completely unrelated. I wonder who swings more, the band or the apes?

Back in November, 2008, Ben Model (who contributes here regularly) announced that he had been hired to put together a box set of 15 hours of EK material not seen in years and never before available to the general public. This set was slated for release sometime late in 2009. On April 6th, 2009, Ben announced on his own EK website that the project has been put on hold. This is sad news as so many EK fans (myself included) were looking forward to this release. We never say never in Kovacsland, however, and Ben assures me that there is a contingent that really wants to get the EK material out. Keep your fingers crossed; when there is more news you will hear about it here.

We have some great EK items available directly from The Paley Center For Media. The Vision Of Ernie Kovacs T-Shirt and Book come from a retrospective the Center (formerly known as "The Museum of Broadcasting" and then "The Museum Of TV And Radio")did on Ernie back in the 1980s. They're one-of-a-kind and you can only get them here.

Thanks for stopping by folks. Until next time, "Its Been Real!"

EDITOR'S NOTE, Wednesday, April 15th, 2009: According to the book "Inventing Late Night: Steve Allen And The Original Tonight Show" by Ben Alba, the first time Ernie hosted "Tonight" was for two weeks in August 1955 and it was during this hosting stint that he introduced "The Nairobi Trio." According to Diana Rico's book "Kovacsland: A Biography Of Ernie Kovacs", "The Nairobi Trio" was introduced on "The Ernie Kovacs Show" on April 21st, 1954. "Kovacsland" states that it was during Ernie's hosting stint of October 1st, 1956, through January 22nd, 1957 that the character Eugene was introduced in a sketch called "Library Bit." This bit would be repeated throughout the stint and Eugene would eventually get his own 1/2 hour special, "The Silent Show", in both 1956 and 1961.

I wanted to present both sides of the story as I discovered this after I commented on the TV Barn's "Tonight" post; I generally go with Diana's book for anything related to Ernie Kovacs.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Poster Of Ernie Kovacs

Good afternoon my fellow Kovacsians. I know I don't have a mustache but at least I do a reasonable job making the face.

I bought this poster at The Paley Center For Media in Manhattan, formerly known as The Museum Of Television And Radio and prior to that The Museum Of Broadcasting. They also have a location in Los Angeles. If you've never been to the Paley Center you should go as they have a great collection of EK videos for your viewing pleasure.

"The Vision Of Ernie Kovacs" was a retrospect the museum did on Ernie from from May 30- September 4, 1986. The picture you see on the right is a scan I made of a postcard I received from the museum.

The poster I framed myself. If I'm not mistaken that screwy face Ernie is making is from a segment on "Time For Ernie" which originated from Philadelphia in 1951. Ernie was using his pliable face to show the audience how the vertical and horizontal holds worked on one of those newfangled television sets. He also had a piece of wood with knobs hung from a string around his neck which he turned as he showed the various "adjustments". Quite the relevant and educational concept for those days. Now if only he were around today to show me how to use this computer...

Until next time, "It's Been Real!"

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Not To Be Morbid, But...


A blog by Larry Harnisch at the online version of the L.A. Times called "The Daily Mirror" posts images of pages from the paper from the past. A recent blog posting includes a hi-res image of the front page of the Times on January 13, 1962. Click here to go to the blog post to see the front page image real big and read the article. Also posted is an image of a later article interviewing Edie.

Friday, February 27, 2009

An Ernie Tribute Music Video

My Google alert for "Ernie Kovacs" caught this posting from Feb 26 on a blog called PowerPop. The blog describes itself as: "An idiosyncratic blog dedicated to the precursors, the practitioners, and the descendants of power pop. All suggestions for postings and sidebar links welcome, contact any of us." Anyhoo, this posting embeds a music video by a band called The Loud Family in which the band (or their director) recreates several classic Kovacs bits, rather faithfully in some instances, and actually adds a sight gag or two that fit the mold. Here's the video:

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ernie Kovacs/Edie Adams Auction Results

Good morning Kovacsians. Here are some of the results of the memorabilia auction that took place this past weekend at the Heritage Auction Gallery and featured items from Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams (thanks go to Ben Model for providing the photo):

The two items that interested me the most, Percy's glasses and the Nairobi Trio Masks, went for a total of $5,975. Not that much for such a huge part of early TV history. I hope the folks who bought these items will consider loaning them to a museum at some point.

In a previous post I wrote about an item similar to lot number 49125 which is at the very top of the chart. I'm not surprised this didn't get bids as its a fairly common item. I think if they had obtained an E.E.F.M.S. card for the auction it would have been a different story; it's surprising they didn't as I believe these items came directly from the Kovacs estate.

You can visit the Heritage Auction Galleries website and sign up for a free account which will allow you to search the auction archives and view all the results. The auction number for the Ernie/Edie items is 7004 and the total amount sold was $720,273.11. This amount does not represent the total for Ernie/Edie items sold as there were items from other celebrities included in this auction.

Until next time, "It's Been Real!"- Al Quagliata

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Interview: "Kovacsland" Author Diana Rico

In January of 2008 I was contacted by one of my favorite authors/biographers Diana Rico who wrote the definitive biography on Ernie Kovacs, "Kovacsland".

What follows is an interview with Diana that has been in the works for the past year. I sincerely hope you enjoy it and I thank Diana for taking the time out of her very busy schedule to answer my questions. - Al Quagliata, February 11, 2009

1. Give our readers some background on yourself and how you got started as a writer.

I studied English literature at UCLA because I wanted to become a writer, and I minored in film history because I was an obsessive film-o-phile. Writing had actually been my dream since I was seven and read my first novel, "Little Women" (I realize now it was probably an abridged child’s version, but nevertheless I wanted to be Jo March!). When I got out of school I went to work as a magazine editor, then gradually started to pitch article ideas and get writing assignments. Eventually I was writing about the arts and entertainment for major publications like GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, and Architectural Digest, and I became the art writer for the Los Angeles Daily News and the art critic for the NPR flagship station in Los Angeles, KCRW.
2. What first got you interested in writing a book about Ernie Kovacs and how did the project finally come to pass?

I was first introduced to Ernie when I was associate editor at Emmy, the magazine of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. My editor at the time was a big Kovacs fan, and he assigned me to do an article on the history of Ernie’s shows. I sort of knew who Ernie was, but as a little kid I’d mix him up with Tennessee Ernie Ford—they both had black mustaches and smoked cigars. I think Ernie Kovacs’s work was too weird for my parents, so we didn’t watch him at home. Anyway, when I went to the UCLA Television Archives and saw Ernie’s work for the first time, I went wild. It was like watching Theater of the Absurd, only on mainstream 1950s TV. I loved the surrealism of it, his casual attitude about being on TV (unheard of at the time), his strangeness and whimsy, all his kooky characters and playful use of language. Then, in the course of researching the Emmy article, I discovered Ernie had had a fascinating, roller coaster life as well as, of course, a tragic death at the height of his creative powers. He was a bigger-than-life creative genius, and I felt he deserved a serious, in-depth biography. I hung onto all my research. A few years later, when I had an agent, I pitched the idea to him and he had me write a proposal. He actually got an auction going among several publishers, including William Morrow, where Edie Adams eventually sold her own memoir. I ended up going with Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. They were immensely supportive, especially my fantastic editor, John Radziewicz. When the book came out in 1990 they organized a book tour for me, and I was interviewed on "Larry King Live," "CBS Nightwatch with Charlie Rose," "Good Morning America"—lots of places. I must say I was blessed with a thoroughly marvelous publishing experience for a first-time book author.
3. Did you have any other titles in mind for the book besides "Kovacsland?" What made you decide on that particular title?

My editor felt, quite rightly, that it was important to have some reference to Ernie’s name visible on the spine of the book. I was a longtime fan of Lewis Carroll’s "Alice in Wonderland" and had found it enchanting that Ernie had a 1951 TV show referencing that, "Ernie in Kovacsland." So I borrowed from the best! As it turned out, it was quite apt, as I felt like I was guiding readers through this marvelous, wacky world that was peculiar to Ernie Kovacs.
4. What did you find to be the most difficult aspect of the research?

The most difficult aspect of the project was just figuring out how to write a biography for the first time. There is no roadmap for it (despite my attempts to find one by reading a zillion biographies I admired). One amasses fantastic quantities of research, ideas, notes, scripts, etc., and also develops some spiritual sense of who the person was. To say that putting order to all that chaos is daunting is an understatement. It was one of the biggest writing challenges I’ve ever had. Of course, that experience paid off years later, when I became a producer-writer for E! Entertainment Television and got to make biography shows of other artists I loved, like Richard Pryor, Steve McQueen, Alfred Hitchcock, John Lennon, Natalie Wood, and Jane Fonda—great, great talents with big, complicated lives like Ernie’s.
5. What (or who) did you find to be the most valuable aid in your research?

I think the love people still had for Ernie, years after his passing, was my greatest aid. Old crew members, his writers, poker buddies, even childhood friends—they were so happy to share their memories of Ernie, so open and forthcoming. While all the other types of research are critical for a biography, I find that interviewing the people who actually knew the subject is the best way for me to get a deep feeling about who they were and what made them tick.
6. Who was your favorite interview for the book?

Oh gosh, they were all fantastic. One of the great privileges of working on this book was getting to talk to all these wonderful people who knew Ernie. But I would have to say my absolute favorite was the late Louis “Deke” Heyward, one of Ernie’s writers from New York. We just clicked (probably because we’re both writers). Deke was an extremely intelligent man with a highly developed sense of whimsy—a wonderful combination, which Ernie shared. When I found out Deke had been a writer on Winky Dink, one of my favorite childhood shows, I was hooked! We didn’t just talk about Ernie. I mean, how often do you get to chat with the guy who invented adventures for Tom Terrific and Manfred the Wonder Dog? I got to hear all about the Magic Screen!
7. How long did it take you to complete the book?

It took three years from the time I got my contract with Harcourt Brace. I had already done the preliminary research for the Emmy article, so that helped me get off to a good start. I knew who to go after for interviews, where a lot of the resources were, the places I needed to go where he had lived, and so forth.
8. Tell us about the first time you ever saw Ernie Kovacs on TV and what sort of impression it made on you.

Please see #2 above.
9. I always get emails from Ernie fans asking me if any copies of "3 To Get Ready" exist and of course I have to tell them no. At any point in your research did you hear from a source or an interview that a copy might exist someplace?

“3 to Get Ready” was a local show in Philadelphia, as you know. In the early 1950s local shows just went out live over the airwaves and were gone, poof! In those days they only made kinescopes when a show was going to be “syndicated,” or sent to another market beyond the local one. I mean literally they would shoot the broadcast off a TV screen using a film camera, take the film cans, and “bicycle” them to another city; that was the available technology of the time. This was not done with "TTGR," because it was only sold in the Philadelphia market. So unfortunately the only documentation that exists is in written material and photographs. Andy McKay was a great help to me in reconstructing the experiences of "TTGR."
10. You quoted Ernie's ABC-TV cameraman Bob Kemp as saying "If management put up a barrier he (Ernie) would tear it down." How do you feel Ernie would have dealt with the management structure in today's television world given that there was less management interference when he was on TV? Do you feel today's bottom line "television by committee" structure would have adversely effected his art?

I doubt that Ernie would be working in TV if he were alive today. He was always attracted to what was on the cutting edge, whatever arena hadn’t been explored yet. TV was like that when he first entered it, but, as you point out, it has changed into television by committee. I think he’d being doing something way out there on the internet, or making his own independent productions (something he wanted to do, but the technology and distribution systems hadn’t become democratized as they have now in the digital era). He just wanted to be free to create, and I think if he were around now he’d be seeking out the most open-ended means of doing that.
(ED. NOTE: I interviewed Ernie's head ABC cameraman Bob Kemp a while back and he has a similar opinion.)
11. I've read the biographies of many of the famous TV comics/comic actors from Ernie's era; giants such as Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis, etc. and while all were comic geniuses there are many stories about the conflicts they sometimes had with others or about employees disliking them. Yet in your book and in David Walley's "The Ernie Kovacs Phile" the picture that's given is that for the most part everyone liked Ernie. Why do you think this is?

For all his genius, I think Ernie had very little ego (except when, as you mentioned earlier, management was trying to quash his creative urges—then he could fight like a tiger). Everyone, everyone I interviewed talked about his sweetness, his extreme generosity, how he treated everyone as equals. He had a childlike quality too that was genuine, a really charming innocence. These characteristics set him apart from the usual “star” type personalities. The crew members and writers I talked to wanted more than anything to please him. They just adored him.
12. What are your favorite Kovacs sketches and why?

To this day my favorite sketch is the Nairobi Trio. It’s almost a mystical thing; the charm of it cannot be explained. It’s mimed, it’s slow, it’s deliberate, it’s crazy. I will never tire of it.

13. Which is your favorite Kovacs film and why?

In truth most of the films Ernie appeared in were pretty dismal and not strong showcases for his talent. I like him best in "Operation Mad Ball" – it’s lovely to see him with his best pal, Jack Lemmon. And I think "Our Man in Havana" is an elegant film. I’m working on a novel right now that takes place partly during the Cuban Revolution, and director Carol Reed actually shot that film on location as the Revolution was happening. I mean, I read a magazine interview with Ernie in which he talked about how they could hear the rebels setting up firing squads as they were filming the movie. So for me it’s also an interesting document of the time.
14. In your intro to the book you say that some of Ernie's work is "nearer in structure and spirit to absurdist theater and Dadaist and surrealist art than to the sitcoms and stand-up routines that have defined most of television comedy since the earliest days." Which pieces do you feel most exemplify this?

I think the last work he did, the ABC specials, were the most avant-garde expressions of his sensibility and the closest to the European avant-garde movements I cited. I mean, Ernie didn’t even appear in those pieces. They were strange little films of his peculiar, unique visions. It still amazes me that they were made for broadcast TV. But then he was selling those cigars in the commercials. As long as he brought the sponsor’s money in, the network was ok with the rest of it.
15. Would you consider some of Ernie's more abstract pieces to be an early form of performance art?

Performance art uses the artist’s body as a sort of instrument and is presented live before an audience, so I wouldn’t say Ernie’s work was performance art. But I would definitely consider it early video art. A lot of the concepts he pioneered in his use of the TV medium were ideas that video artists like Nam June Paik and Teddy Dibble later explored in depth.
16. Two of the people closest to Ernie, Edie Adams and the late Jack Lemmon, declined to participate in the project. What was the reason for this? It's a generally positive and very honest portrayal and you figure they'd want to share their reminiscences.

Edie cooperated with me when I was working on the Emmy article. In fact, at one point we were in discussions about the possibility of my helping her catalog her incredible cache of Ernie costumes, props, and other paraphernalia, which she had in storage at Bekins in L.A. She had Percy Dovetonsils’ leopard smoking jacket! But when I got my book contract, she decided she wanted to do her own book. She hired a theater writer, Robert Windeler, to ghost it for her. She was very close to Jack Lemmon, and out of respect for Edie, he shared his memories exclusively with her. But absolutely everyone else I approached participated happily, including his two daughters, Kippie and Elisabeth, who were marvelous.
17. If Ernie were alive today how do you feel he would make use of all the new technology?

Please see #10 above.
18. Is there any TV comic performing today who you feel best carries the torch passed on by Ernie Kovacs?

That’s a good question, but I can’t say. I don’t watch much TV these days, to be honest.
19. It seems that while you do see movies with Ernie frequently on cable (especially "Bell, Book And Candle" and "North To Alaska"), its only TRIO-TV which shows his programs as part of their "Brilliant But Cancelled" series and I've heard this is because the president of that network is a fan. In the beginning Comedy Central used to show his work all the time but then stopped. Why do you think there aren't more cable nets showing Ernie's work given the fact that there are so many channels that you'd think there'd be a need for content?

Oh, that would require a dissertation on the vagaries and politics of cable TV management and economics. But I also think Ernie’s work never appealed to very large numbers of people, and it still may not. His fans are fiercely devoted, but not as huge in numbers as those of some of the more mainstream comedians. And TV, whether it’s cable or broadcast, always tends towards the mainstream.
20. How do you feel about the state of the television industry today?

I think TV is still a marvelous medium with so much potential. But unfortunately a lot of what gets made and watched is, in my opinion, junk. In particular I deplore the mean-spiritedness of a lot of the so-called “reality” shows, which (I can tell you because I have a lot of friends who have worked on them) are anything but real. There is, however, some brilliant writing and producing going on in the area of dramas and “dramedies.” I have great respect for the really gifted producer-writers who manage to get their unique visions and voices on the air, like Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy) and Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives).
21. You're a producer, publisher, photographer, writer/journalist and I want to strongly encourage our readers to visit your website AND pick up a copy of this great book. What projects are you working on currently?

Well, I left Los Angeles three years ago and became a nomad, dividing my time between New Mexico, Colorado, and Guatemala, where I wrote documentaries for a director named Mischa Prince. Those projects are now in post production. Now I’m settling in New Mexico and building up my business, The wordARTist (http://www.wordartist.net/), which offers premium writing, editing, producing, and multimedia content development services exclusively for individuals and organizations in the arts. I love doing this! I’m also in the middle of curating a series of live readings by major award-winning authors (Alisa Valdes Rodriguez, Hampton Sides, Robin Romm, numerous others) for the Society of the Muse of the Southwest, a venerated literary nonprofit in northern New Mexico. And I am working on an experimental novel about the late Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta called "The Woman Who Fell to Earth". I researched her life and work as if I were writing a biography, but now I am freely imagining her life, and bringing in elements of magical realism, the SanterĂ­a religion, Cuban music, mythology, art history—all sorts of things. I’ve received fellowships and grants from a number of organizations for this project, including the Wurlitzer Foundation, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, and the Harwood Museum of Art. Oh yes, and a few days ago I launched a blog! It is sooooo fun, a whole new genre of writing. It’s on the subject of creativity, and people can check it out at http://theloveartblog.wordpress.com/. Please leave comments on the posts—I truly want this to be an interactive endeavor! Maybe that’s what Ernie would be doing now. Blogging.
Thanks again Diana! You can also visit Diana's main website at http://www.dianarico.com/.

Kovacsians, if you've never read "Kovacsland" you really need to pick up a copy. I've read it several times and its my constant reference companion for helping to answer all the questions I get from Ernie's fans. Its a fantastic and wonderful resource about everything to do with Ernie and his work.

While the book is available from most major online booksellers we suggest you get your copy from Powell's Books; they give authors a much better percentage on book sales than most. For a great biography like this that is most deserved.

Thanks for stopping by and until next time: "It's Been Real!!"

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fan Scan Joe Masi's The Man!

Good evening Kovacsians. Let me start out by thanking all the folks who have put in friend requests on the Ernie Kovacs MySpace Fan Page. Accept my apologies; we haven't mentioned the page in quite a while and are always getting requests. We're pushing towards 1,000; the page is currently at 856 fans and we're grateful to all who are helping to keep Ernie's work alive!

Today I'd like to share with you two scans which Kovacs fan Joe Masi sent me. The first is an autographed card from "Kovacs Unlimited" which he received back in 1953:

And here's an extra fun artifact in case you were wondering when Joe received this prized possession (I removed the street address):

Almost 56 years ago! Remember the days before zip codes? How about typewriters? Remember two cent postage? Well I don't but I wish I did. I grew up in Westchester County so of course Port Chester resonated with me; that I remember!

Joe was inquiring as to what the value of the card might be. To tell you the truth I'm not sure. Our last post talks about an upcoming auction of Kovacs memorabilia; a similar "Kovacs Unlimited" card is one of the listed items and there are several title cards which Ben Model thinks are also from that program. Here is another scan of one of these autographed cards which a fan sent me about seven years ago.

From left to right in the photo are "Kovacs Unlimited" cast members Eddie Hatrak, Edie Adams, Ernie, Trigger Lund and Andy McKay, each with an accompanying signature underneath. In all the different photos of this card the signatures appear similar though the ink colors are different. Joe is of the opinion that the signatures on his are "secretarial" and I tend to agree; "Kovacs Unlimited" was a nationally broadcast program which orginated daily, "live from New York", and I doubt very much that the cast would have had the time to sit around signing cards for which there were probably myriad requests while still preparing for a live comedy show. That being said this is still a great piece of Kovacsian memorabilia which could probably draw some nice bids at auction, especially with the envelope featuring that cool CBS-TV logo.

Joe also mentions in his email that he once had an EEFMS card but lost it; I have a feeling these are worth a bit more because they were from Ernie's local "Three To Get Ready" program in Philly and are probably rarer. Even though it's a scarce item I've received many scans of it from a variety of fans. Here's a color version of the card.

We thank Joe very kindly for his question and for taking the time to send these scans; what keeps this blog going and Ernie's legacy alive are the memories of the folks who loved him and enjoyed his work.

Until next time my fellow Kovacsians: "IT'S BEEN REAL!"- Al Quagliata

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kovacs Memorabilia Auction Feb 21-22 2009 In Texas

A pair of Ernie's Percy Dovetonsils glasses are among many piece of Kovacs memorabilia slated for the auction block on Feb 21-22 at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas Texas.

You may never get a chance to see any of these items again, but you can take a gander at the auction preview page. Click here to go directly to the list of Ernie Kovacs stuff. In each item display, just above each item image, there is a text box that says "turn off/on Pan & Zoom Images". Turn it off and then click on the image to see it in high resolution. For instance, you'll see that the black horizontal "eyelids" on Percy's glasses were drawn on.

There are also two books that have been hollowed out with some sort of sound or light effect inside. Ernie tried out the "library" sequence of the 1957 Silent Show a couple times when he was hosting Tonight in November and December of 1956. These prop books may be from those dry runs. Kinescopes survive for at least one of those Tonight episodes.

Below is an image for four title cards up for auction, in a lot, which are not identified but I believe these are from Kovacs Unlimited (CBS, 1952-54), as Schroeder was one of the puppets used on the show. The puppet is still around, in the collection of a relative of Andy McKay.


Anyone with deep pockets live near Dallas? Paging Mr. Letterman...!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Anniversary Of Ernie's Death (And Birth)

Yesterday marked the anniversary of the accident that prematurely ended Ernie's life in 1962. His 90th birthday comes up in ten days, on January 23rd. There used to be an event held in Trenton in January to commemorate these two events, organized by a woman whose uncle was Bernie Kosnowski, the "polka king" of NJ (or Trenton, anyway) and whose last name Ernie used a great deal (the names Arthur B. Kosnowski or Betty Lou Kosnowski pop up a lot in sketches). But it got too hard to get people to come out in January to play poker and smoke cigars.

For those of you in the NJ area, I will be giving a talk on Kovacs and showing clips at the Ocean County Library in Toms River, NJ on Monday January 26th 2009. Click on the image to go to the library's website. I'm still narrowing down what I'm going to show, but have to tell you it won't be anything planned for the DVD set, as that material hasn't been transferred or remastered yet. If nothing else, the evening will be a chance to meet – and watch Ernie Kovacs – with other fans. Click on the image to find out more.

Ben Model