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Ernie Kovacs: Tele-visionary at 100

Ernie Kovacs
October 4, 2019 - 7:30 pm
Josh Mills, Ernie Kovacs historian and son of Edie Adams.

The Archive concludes its Ernie Kovacs Centennial celebration with an appropriately idiosyncratic evening of television curios illuminating but a few of the innumerous aspects and talents of the legendary entertainer. Born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1919, Kovacs rose from obscurity in local radio in the 1940s to pioneering the television morning show format on NBC’s Philadelphia affiliate WPTZ by the early 1950s. By the end of that decade, Kovacs had co-starred in several major motion pictures and boasted a credit list that included television series (of varying formats and time slots, including a game show) on every major network. The start of the 1960s brought more roles in features as well as the pinnacle of his artistic achievements, the remarkably innovative swan song, The Ernie Kovacs Show (ABC-TV). Tragically killed in a car accident in the prime of his creativity, Kovacs remains evergreen—a highly-influential, true original that defies simple categorization: surrealist, postmodernist, broadcaster, video artist, comedian and more.

In addition to the programs listed below, the evening will include a specially curated reel of outtakes and video rarities.

Program curated and notes written by Mark Quigley, John H. Mitchell Television Archivist.

Special thanks: Mike Mashon, Library of Congress; Retro Video Inc.; John H. Mitchell Television Collection at UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Cards & Cigars: The Trenton in Ernie Kovacs  (WNJN-TV, 1/13/1980)

Produced locally by New Jersey Public Television, this affectionate home town documentary traces Kovacs’ formative years in his birth city of Trenton. Through light, candid interviews with his wife, actress and entertainer, Edie Adams, and close friends and acquaintances, an intimate portrait of Kovacs emerges, gently revealing the talents and eccentricities of the beloved genius.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress. Digital Video, color, 30 min. Executive Producer: Calvin Iszard. Cast:  Edie Adams.

Take a Good Look  (ABC, 3/2/1961)

Recently re-discovered and not on home video, this final episode of Kovacs’ wildly unconventional network program includes sketches featuring the pioneering comedian as characters “Super Clod” and “Miklos the Chef.” The expected rigid framework of the game show format is gleefully flouted here by Kovacs, giving way to his singular brand of sincere affability and convention-breaking anarchy.

Courtesy of Retro Video Inc. Digital Video, b/w, 30 min. Director: Joseph Behar. Cast: Ernie Kovacs, Hans Conried, Cesar Romero.

Ernie Kovacs Special No. 6: “Eugene”  (ABC, 11/24/1961)

Kovacs restages his acclaimed “silent show,” originally presented in color on NBC in 1957. Produced here on “state-of-the-art” black and white videotape, Kovacs sublimely orchestrates audio and visual effects as his hapless Eugene character upends the physics of the medium of television. For their surreal work, Kovacs and Joseph Behar were honored for “outstanding directorial achievement” by the Directors Guild of America.

From the John H. Mitchell Television Collection at UCLA Film & Television Archive. Digital Video, b/w, 30 min. Director: Ernie Kovacs; Joseph Behar. Screenwriter: Ernie Kovacs. Cast: Ernie Kovacs, Jolene Brand, Joe Mikolas.

Total running time: 100 min.