Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ernie Kovacs & Early TV Comedy: Nothing In Moderation

Good afternoon fellow Kovacsians. It's been a while.

Exactly two months ago I posted information about the new book "Ernie Kovacs & Early TV Comedy: Nothing In Moderation" by Andrew Horton, which was released on April 1, 2010. It includes an interview with the author and all the info you'll need if you'd like to acquire a copy. That post will give you a very thorough understanding of the book; this post will give you my quick impressions since I just finished reading it.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and suggest that it's a fine addition to the library of anyone who really wants to study the work of Ernie Kovacs; it's wonderful that fans and scholars now have another book to provide them with knowledge. It's divided into five chapters which take us through and help us to understand EK's work and what influenced it during different periods of his development, from the very beginning until the very end. That, in a nutshell, is what the book is.

Here is what it is not: a biography of Ernie Kovacs. And, it doesn't claim to be; Professor Horton points this out quite clearly towards the end of his introduction:
Finally, I wish to note that I spend almost no time in these pages on Ernie's biography since that is not the subject of my study. The Works Cited section does cover book that do justice to a summary of Kovacs' life, especially Diana Rico's thoroughly researched book "Kovacsland".
Chapter four,"Ernie in the Movies: From Comic Director to Supporting Character Actor", was the most enlightening section for me. I admit that I don't spend a great deal of time considering Ernie's films and I've been writing about him for well over a decade. I never felt that they were at all what he was about or even anything to do with him really; EK was at his best when he ran the show and not when he was a crew member on someone else's ship. And that's no joke about the ship; Ernie went to Hollywood figuring he might be a leading man one day and ended up portraying so many military officers that at one point he took out an ad in "Variety", imploring "No More Captains--Please." Professor Horton does a great job of pointing this out while at the same time providing excellent analysis of the films in which EK appeared and his contributions to them.

My thanks go out to Professor Horton for the wonderful mention he gives us in the "Works Cited" section under "Internet Sources". Both Ben Model and myself have worked hard over the years to help keep EK's memory alive and to have a solid internet resource where people can learn more about him. It's great to be given a nod for that. I'd also like to thank all of you who visit my site, Ben's, and this blog for your constant support of our work. Visit Ben's site by clicking the link above and you'll find a section called "books by/on Kovacs" which will show you a list of all that is available on EK, prior to the release of this book.

The following is off topic, but a fun way to end. I get emails from time to time asking if EK based Percy Dovetonsils on Tennessee Williams. To be honest, I don't know. I have heard it alluded to, however, and I can definitely see it. Here's a video of the great playwright reading poetry. I'll let you all be the judge:

Until we meet again, "It's Been Real!"


Ben Model sent me the following message regarding the basis for Percy Dovetonsils. Thanks Ben!

Ernie's Percy character was supposedly based on someone named Ted Malone (orig name Frank Alden Russell), who read poetry on a radio program that began in 1929 and went into the 1940s called "Between the Bookends"...which is why Percy's sign-off was usually "I'll see you just outside the bookends". Here's a link to his obit on the NY Times. Here's a link to download and lithen to a 1945 epithode: click!. Malone has no dithernable lithp, but Malone's voice itself does seem to be the basis for the Percy character.


I can definitely see EK having morphed the voice into what became Percy. Here are couple of interesting pictures of Ted Malone:

Ted Malone Dining With Ronald Reagan And Jane Wyman

Ted Malone With Some Kids And An Unfortunate Mustache

I can see that aspects of Percy's looks were derived from Mr. Malone as well.

I've also found an interesting interview with Professor Andrew Horton. You'll see a poster of EK when they first show his office:


Old McDonald said...

Thank you Al, for posting this rare gem of a video. "Veddy Eentedesting" ...

Al Quagliata said...


You are most welcome. Thanks for stopping by!

Al Quagliata said...


Funny about Tennessee Williams, I never made the Percy connection. I always thought Ernie was making a jab at Bennett Cerf instead. Ernie used to make not so subtle wisecracks at Cerf on "What's My Line" which pretty much went over the publisher's head. The Percy character's smug, self pleased enjoyment of a trite saying or poem certainly seems more Cerf than Williams.But that's just me. Now I have to read the rest of your blog about the amazing Kovacs.

Al Quagliata said...


Thanks for your comment. We had to copy it and repost it because for some reason blogger wasn't allowing us to post from the comment moderation screen.

I can definitely see the Bennett Cerf connection. I'm starting to think that Percy may have been a composite of all the folks mentioned in this post; Williams, Malone, and now Cerf.

Those old "What's My Line" episodes are interesting. Could you imagine those being on TV today? The evening wear, the bon mots, the fact that all the panelists are over 40 for the most part, the whole idea of it in general would be beyond the purview of a good portion of today's audience. I used to watch those on GSN late at night but since I don't get the channel anymore I'm not sure if they're still on.

Thanks again for stopping by and I sincerely hope you enjoy what you find here.

Neil Russell said...

Thanks for saving my comment with some internet magic, I probably couldn't have done it, as the great Matzo Hepplewhite would say; "I'm no magician"
Good question about GSN and the old shows, it's been about a decade since I had cable service that carried that channel.
Fortunately a lot of the segments have turned up on YouTube.
One of my favorite appearances of Ernie was when he was a mystery guest and at one point walked over and blew cigar smoke in Cerf's face also making Arlene Francis scream.
If shows demonstrated the sort of wit and decorum today that they did in the 50s and 60s, I'd have something to watch!
Enjoying the heck out of this site by the way

Al Quagliata said...


I'm so glad you're enjoying the site.

I wish that particular type of wit and decorum were back as well, but alas...

Al Quagliata said...

This page on The Broadcast Pioneers Of Philadelphia Website talks about Ernie’s early days on WPTZ in Philadelphia. Andy McKay says that the Percy character was introduced on "3 To Get Ready" and was based on Ted Malone, further support for Ben Model’s assertion that appears in this post.

Daddy-o Dilly said...

I have finished reading this fine book about Ernie Kovacs. What impressed me was reading that Ernie was prominently featured at the Buster Keaton Festival in Iola, Kansas, in 2004. I lived about 100 miles North of Iola in Topeka. I have heard of this festival but was unaware of the Kovacs theme at that festival some years ago. It would have been fun to have attended! From photographs seen on this webpage, you can see that actors recreated Percy Dovetonsils and the Nairobi Trio! Wish I had known!


Al Quagliata said...


Thanks for your comment and thanks for that festival link! I was not aware of that site. I noticed photos of both Andy Horton and Ben Model, who is a contributor to the blog.

I wish I had gone to that festival as well. I'm glad you enjoyed the book and I know Andy Horton will be too.