Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pass The Kapusta Please!

As has been mentioned in previous posts, our friend Rick Spector runs a company called "Stairway To The Stars" which specializes in costumes, props, awards and historical artifacts from the golden age of film and television. One of the ways Rick obtains these items is through auction.

I became aware of Rick and his work last year when I posted this piece about Ernie's classic puppet bit, "The Kapusta Kid In Outer Space". At that time the puppets were up for auction but nobody was buying them. After getting to know Rick through email correspondence it occurred to me that there wouldn't be a better person to acquire and care for those legendary puppets. I guess Rick felt the same way, because he ended up buying them. Now, a lot of folks will get to enjoy them!

Rick sent me an interesting email with some pics of a couple of the Kapustas which he brought to a recent event. Our thanks go to Rick for granting permission to share these with you:
Hi Al,

Just wanted to share with you that some months ago we were asked to display some of our vintage film and TV used puppets at the Orlando Puppet Festival at the Avalon Island Gallery in downtown Orlando. This event is hosted by Heather Henson's (Jim's daughter) IBEX Puppetry Company. The event was launched with a special opening night party on Nov 16th and runs through to Dec. 10th. They have posted numerous images on their Facebook pages of which I include a few here including one of Heather.. I was specifically asked to bring Ernie and "Albumen".

I also made a slide show presentation for all the puppets and included a section on Ernie with stills of him with "Albumen" doing the "Kapusta Kid in Outer Space". It is on a digital screen that loops next to the cases for people to learn about or remember Ernie.


Rick mentioned in another email that the duck in the case with Ernie and "Albumen" was made for Dave Seville by Morey Bunin and used by him on American Bandstand in 1957:

David Seville was famous for his creation "Alvin And The Chipmunks", who of course figure very big during the holiday season with their number 1 hit "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)."

And on that note all of us here in Kovacsland wish you a most Happy Holiday Season and best wishes for a prosperous New Year in 2011!  It's your gracious support throughout the year that helps to keep Ernie's legacy alive for a new generation of fans.

And, as EK himself might have said:    "It's Been Real!"

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Be Sure You "Like" Ernie Kovacs On Facebook

I've created a new fan page for Ernie Kovacs created on Facebook. I'll be disabling the group I set up some time ago and will use the fan page to post news and trivia. Click here to go directly to the page or click on the Facebook badge below:

Ernie Kovacs

It's been real!

Ben Model,
New York, NY

Monday, May 31, 2010

Two Koufax For A Kovacs

Good afternoon fellow Kovacsians. It's been a while and I hope it's been real.

Every once in a while when I mention EK to someone who isn't all that familiar with him or his work, they will say "Oh, yeah, that guy who used to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers." Some of them are being "HAH, HAH, FUNNY!" and yet others are actually serious.

To all those folks I say that EK actually had his own version of the baseball card so you're not too far off the mark. I picked up Ernie’s "Starline Hollywood Walk Of Fame" card on eBay. They show up there quite frequently and aren't very expensive so if you’re looking for a fun EK collectible that won’t break the bank then this is it. These cards were released during 1991-1992 and clicking the link above will take you to a list of all the cards in the set.

According to the "The Movie Card Website" there were some mistakes made in the initial run of cards which were corrected for the second run. They listed Ernie’s death as November 3, 1962 when in actuality it was January 13, 1962. The web site does not mention Ernie’s card as having been corrected and since I’ve never seen one with the correct date I'm assuming they always went out this way.

When looking at EK’s "stats" you'll notice that "The Nairobi Trio" is referred to as a "monkey band", they list one of Ernie’s lesser known characters ("Irving Wong Chinese Songwriter") and they actually mention his hosting of "The Tonight Show". "Monkey band" is an odd choice of wording and Irving is too arcane of a character to make the cut but the "The Tonight Show" belongs there; readers of this blog may remember that when Conan O'Brien was slated to take the helm of the program we wrote some posts trying to convince NBC to list EK as a past host. They never did and given the way that whole fiasco turned out it was all for the best.

Should you wish to visit Ernie’s star on the "Hollywood Walk Of Fame" the address is listed, a new one on me since I never knew that marble slabs had addresses.

I'd like to wish a Happy Memorial Day to all the members of the Armed Forces past and present. And by the way if you want to trade and don’t have two Koufax cards I’ll take two Ernest Borginines and a Gene Barry. They both had a better slider than Kovacs (OOPS! I MEANT KOUFAX!) last year.

Until next time, "It’s Been Real!".

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:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Percy's Poetry Book And A New Book On Ernie

Rick Spector runs a company called ""Stairway To The Stars" which specializes in costumes, props, awards and historical artifacts from the golden age of film and television. One of the ways Rick obtains these items is through auction. He recently acquired Percy Dovetonsils' book of poetry at an auction held by the Hollywood Entertainment Museum.

Rick shared some pics with us. The color photo doesn't have to do with Percy or the auction item; Rick discovered some interesting color photos for auction on eBay and since you don't see a lot of these I thought I'd show it. The color pic dates from 1960. Thanks Rick:

Speaking of books we're excited to announce that a brand new one about Ernie is coming out in April, 2010. It's titled "Ernie Kovacs & Early TV Comedy: Nothing in Moderation" and comes to us from The University Of Texas Press. Author Andrew Horton, who is the The Jeanne H Smith Professor of Film And Video Studies at The University Of Oklahoma, took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for us:

1. What inspired you to write a book about Ernie Kovacs?

I wrote this book because Ernie has always been a part of me since I was a child and I finally said, "It's time to take a closer look at what has kept me laughing so much all these years.

As I say in my intro: Kovacs was an indelible part of my own childhood. When I was growing up in the l950’s, no one made me laugh louder and more frequently than Ernie Kovacs. The sheer nutty brilliance of the man, his wife Edie Adams, and his comic co-conspirators such as writers including Rex Lardner, Deke Heyward, and Mike Marmer and actors such as Barbara Loden, Peter Hanley and Trigger Lund has come back to make me laugh again and again through the years, often at unexpected moments.

Let’s be more specific. As a child allowed to watch several hours of television a day, I became hooked not so much on "I Love Lucy" or even Disney’s "Mickey Mouse Club" shows, but on the various Ernie Kovacs shows that existed throughout this period.

I was too young to "analyze" what it was that I enjoyed so much about his humor, but in retrospect I was fully aware that Kovacs was much further "out there" as a comedian than anyone else in the biz including my other favorites, Sid Caesar and Steve Allen. In particular, I constantly entertained family and friends acting out The Nairobi Trio, those three apes who always mischievously acted out stunts on each other, particularly angering the middle ape, as the same tune, "Solfeggio" played every time they appeared. I too would hum the song and pretend to play the xylophone with my two little xylophone hammers while then turning like some kind of a robot and zapping the "ape" (be "she" my sister, mother, grandmother, or "he" my father, grandfather or a friend) over the head with my imaginary hammers (often substituting other objects).

2. Two major books have been written about Ernie: David Walley's "Nothing In Moderation: The Ernie Kovacs Story" first published in 1975 (reprinted in 1987 as "The Ernie Kovacs Phile") and Diana Rico's "Kovacsland: A Biography Of Ernie Kovacs" first published in 1990. They both do a great job of delving into the many facets of Ernie's career and art. I can tell you that every major EK fan I know, including me, has read both and is wondering how your book is different and what new information it brings to the table (or in Ernie's case the poker table).

These books are very good and useful and bring in a lot, especially Rico's, of his life/bio. Where I come in is taking first of all a wider look at COMEDY itself thus placing Kovacs, yes, with not necessarily INFLUENCES but SIMILARITIES to everyone from ARISTOPHANES in Ancient Greece to the MARX BROTHERS , CHAPLIN, KEATON and to suggest how he exemplifies elements of, for instance, COMMEDIA DELL' ARTE in Italy (the mixture of improv with set pieces, etc.) and SURREALISM as well.

As I say early in the book, Question: what do Monty Python, David Letterman, much of Saturday Night Live especially in its early years, Larry David, especially in "Curb Your Enthusiasm" on which he works without a script, "Flight of the Conchords", "Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In", "The Uncle Floyd Show", "Captain Kangaroo" and even "Sesame Street", to offer but a short list, have in common? One answer is quite simple: they all reflect--whether knowingly or not--the imaginative and wildly creative comic jokes, ludic characterizations, hilarious insights and zany experiments that Ernie Kovacs handed down in his years with early American television and late 1950’s Hollywood cinema. “Nothing in Moderation” was not only Kovacs’ wholehearted approach to comedy and life but is also the line on his tombstone in Los Angeles’ Forest Lawn Memorial Park.

Long story short, as you see from the list of chapters, I go into close detail examining the types of comedy he developed and the influences this has had:

Chapter 1: An Overview of the Post-War Era & The Ernie Kovacs Shows in the Context of American Television Comedy

Chapter 2: The Flow of the Philadelphia & New York Kovacs Shows: Comic Surrealism Verbal and Visual

Chapter 3: Silence Please! Ernie, California & Working With Music, Sound & Surrealistic Visuals on His Specials

Chapter 4: Ernie in the Movies: From Comic Director to Supporting Character Actor

Chapter 5: The Kovacs Legacy: “I Don’t Know: I Just Do It!”

3. I read the following comment on the University of Texas web site "In this book, Andrew Horton offers the first sustained look at Ernie Kovacs's wide-ranging and lasting contributions to the development of TV comedy". In what ways?

Again, I take a close look at shows and specific scenes/moments to "open up" Kovacs' comic genius of VERBAL AND VISUAL, individual and ensemble and suggest influences this has had long since his day. I watch and write not just as a FAN or as a MEDIA SCHOLAR but as a comic screenwriter myself having, for instance, published one book "LAUGHING OUT LOUD: WRITING THE COMEDY CENTERED SCREENPLAY" (U of California Press) which has been used effectively around the world, I'm happy to say! I would add one more perspective I bring which is I fully appreciate his "Hungarian Viewpoint" for I have worked in Europe including Hungary, Czech Republic, Yugoslavia and Greece and appreciate THEIR HUMOR AND CAN SEE HOW PARTIALLY ERNIE WAS PULLING FROM SOME OF THESE ROOTS TOO!

Finally, let me add this since I am writing this a few days before Mardi Gras and in the book I do look closely at the SPIRIT OF CARNIVAL THAT ERNIE REPRESENTS! LONG LIVE ERNIE AND CARNIVAL IN OUR HEARTS AND SOULS AND LAUGHTER:

Can we think of any more appropriate carnival!

Mikhail Bakhtin in writing about the nature of carnival in Europe but projecting to the spirit of the carnivalesque in any culture, commented that:

“Carnival is not a spectacle seen by the
people; they live in it, and everyone
participates because its very idea embraces
all the people. While carnival last, there is no other life outside it (7).”
Looking back on the nature of Ernie Kovacs’ original forms of comedy on early American television in the 1950’s up through into the 1960’s, it is certainly fair to say whenever and wherever Ernie was “working”, a carnival was in session and all of those around him had to understand that. Thus it seems accurate to say that Ernie Kovacs brought a spirit of carnival into the new medium of television, a spirit that has had lasting influences. Ernie’s comment that, “I don’t know. I just do it!” is absolutely “carnivalesque” in the sense we have been discussing.

Let’s be more specific. The carnival spirit can be seen as celebrating the three “F’s”: freedom, fantasy, and festivity (Horton. Laughing Out Loud: Writing the Comedy Centered Screenplay p4). Certainly Ernie felt the “freedom” to do just about anything he wanted to do (as long as no one was being hurt!), and he had endless amounts of “fantasy” that allowed him to dream up what to do. Finally the “festivity” was the SHARING of his comedy with others. If you do all of this by yourself for yourself, that is not the carnival spirit. Carnival is to be shared “in the streets” and, in this case, in the living rooms of America. And in my personal interviews with Edie Adams, she explained she enjoyed helping to edit at times because, as she put it,“ Ernie really needed someone to help edit because he was so into whatever he was doing that often he didn’t know if it was funny or not (personal interview).”

4. You're a screenwriter and have written books on the subject. Do you offer a critical analysis of Ernie's films in the book?

In his five brief “cinematic years”, Ernie never became a famous lead actor. But he came through often as an impressive supporting character in both comedies and dramas and thus proved to be one of those rare actors who could move from television to film and back again successfully. To put this in a clearer context, it’s important to realize how small a group such actors are or have been. Jerry Seinfeld, for instance, is still funny in reruns of Seinfeld (1990-98), but he has not yet become a movie star and has actually not really tried to cross the bridge, since he has often commented how difficult such medium crossing can be. Similarly, while a few actors have been able to move between the two mediums such as James Garner, Bill Cosby and Lucille Ball, we cannot speak of distinguished feature film careers of most television comics such as Milton Berle, Johnny Carson, Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore.
5. Who did you interview who worked with Ernie in those early days?

I was so lucky to be able to interview Edie Adams several times in her home and in Kansas when we were both invited to the Annual Buster Keaton Fesitval in Iola to celebrate Buster and Ernie given that even on the day Ernie died he had been working with Buster on a TV Pilot Show.

A number of my friends worked in TV in the early days and they were helpful and of Ernie's staff workers I was able to interview Robert Key.

(ED. NOTE: For a thorough discussion of the pilot Ernie and Buster worked on see this article by our friend Rob Foster.)

6. The book is available for pre-order on the University Of Texas web site and the Amazon and Barnes And Noble web sites. Will it also be available in retail outlets?

I assume so but U Texas will have to tell you this. Alas, the paperback version will not be out the first year.

Our thanks go out to Andy Horton for a very informative interview.   It's going to be a great new angle on Ernie's work and something I'm sure all EK fans will enjoy reading.

My Dad first exposed me to EK  by making me watch "The Best Of Ernie Kovacs" on PBS in 1978 and then a couple of years later my friends and I discovered "The Uncle Floyd Show" on cable TV. That's one connection I truly look forward to reading about!   Both are from New Jersey and I've always considered the similarities. 

Until next time Kovacsians: "It's Been Real!"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Solfeggio" Lyrics

Someone wrote me over at my website, looking to find the lyrics to "Solfeggio" (a/k/a "Song of the Nairobi Trio"). In case anyone else has been wondering, here's what I wrote back:

They're not too complicated, especially if you know "Doe, a Deer" from the Sound of Music. "Solfeggio" is a musical notation system where each of the eight pitches on the major scale is given a name: do re me fa sol la ti do.

The "lyrics" to the song are nothing more than the names of the notes of the melody:

"Solfeggio" lyrics:

Mi sol la
Re fa-re sol
Do me-do fa re
Sol sol (bongo roll...)

Mi sol la
Re fa-re sol
Do me-do fa re
Sol sol do (wham!)

Do mi fa
Si re-se mi
La do-la fa re
Sol sol (bongo roll...)

Do mi-do fa
Si re-se mi
La do-la fa re
Sol sol do (wham!)

Thanks for writing!

Ben Model