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.


Rick Spector said...

Nice write up!

Al, it needs to be noted that the masks shown are replicas and that was stated. There was one original mask, included in Lot 87, and I bought that also along with the lighter colored fur coat with pants. The mask is reported to be in bad condition. I was also not able to match the hats and wigs they sold, but I was only able to use the three 'Nairobi Trio' segments on the DVD as reference. Possibly others, or stills, exist that might explain the shorter haired wigs and very dark, very small hats.

Al Quagliata said...


Thanks for the correction. I'm going to put this in the actual post.

I'm glad you found the post as I was just about to send you an email.

J. Theakston said...

Correct. I was going to mention the masks, too (most of the originals, I assume, are either petrified or dust now).

The original Trio masks were "Gorilla" masks made by Topstone. Their "Caveman" mask was used for the New Years Eve Unmasking blackout sketch during one of the later ABC specials.

Al Quagliata said...


Thanks to you as well. I'm going to add a correction to the post right now to have folks read these comments.

Geez, I'm bummed! They're still some great items though. Why would they put up facsimile masks?

Snard said...

This is probably already well known, but one of the Nairobi Trio masks is in a display case at the Smithsonian (next to Archie Bunker's chair, last time I was there).

Al Quagliata said...


I was not aware of that. Thanks for pointing it out.

With all due respect to my friends who have purchased items of EK's at auction, I have often thought that some of the inventory ought to have ended up there.

He was such a part of the early television fabric that it seems fitting.

Rick Spector said...

The three masks sold at HERITAGE last year are at the Museum of Broadcasting in Chicago according to their website.

Snard said...

I remember two things about the mask, when I saw it: 1) it was painted green (which I've been told was common, to make things "look right" to the B&W TV cameras), and 2) the placard next to the mask said it was donated by Edie Adams.

Rick Spector said...

Then the question arises: why did they not want the three costumes or two other masks? I would have to conclude that they were available, since she ended up giving them to the Hollywood Entertainment Museum in LA, along with all these other wonderful artifacts that could not be found anywhere else.

I suggest some of the answers can be found in this week's THE COLLECTORS WEEKLY interview with the Entertainment curator.

Al Quagliata said...


Thanks for all the great commentary. I love it when folks interact here.

Rick, I am reading your email right now. Thanks so much. Great info. I'm also removing the price link at the end of the post. You are correct; I did see prices the first day but now it just says "undisclosed".

Rick Spector said...

Another, Ernie collector here has provided me with a link that shows images of the masks at the TV MUSEUM, in Chicago, proving they are not the three sold at HERITAGE last year. In fact, they more resemble the ones just sold in LA and look just as new.


Are there existing copies of catalogs from TOPSTONE that show the masks?

Al Quagliata said...


Can you post the link?

Rick Spector said...

Hi all,

Just got my pieces today and I am thrilled. The Ernie puppet is in remarkable shape, not fragile at all, as they claimed. Also, inside the body we found a coiled tube that would allow the operator to blow smoke out of Ernie's cigar. If anyone has a recollection of seeing this guy perform, please share that with us. I would guess it is even possible it was used in a cigar commercial. Any help appreciated.

The 'Nairobi Trio' coat also held a fine surprise in that the right side pocket was littered with many bits of cigar tobacco! It has an NBC stapled on tag inside. I am told the other two do as well. We have identified it to have been worn by Ernie in the NAIROBI DUO IN SPACE skit due to the patterns and marks on the lighter colored fur.

As expected, the wig is a modern replica made in china. The hat is from California, and bears the name of Lowell Purvis, a Broadway dancer of the 1950s and 60s. The original mask is in a bag in chunks, long since decayed. It was stored with a wad of paper to fill it out, but the acid ate through the entire face. It is gray and has hair matted to it.


Al Quagliata said...

Thanks for the info Rick! That's great.

Happy New Year all!

Al Quagliata said...

Ben Model has informed me that the puppet labeled "Space Bear" in one of the pictures above is in fact "The Kapusta Kid".

Thanks Ben!