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Birth name Ernest Edward KovacsNationality USABirth 23 january 1919
at Trenton (USA
)Death 13 january 1962
(at 42 years) at Beverly Hills (USA
Ernest Edward "Ernie" Kovacs (January 23, 1919 – January 13, 1962) was an American comedian, actor, and writer.
Kovacs' uninhibited, often ad-libbed, and visually experimental comedic style came to influence numerous television comedy programs for years after his death in an automobile accident. Many shows, such as Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, Saturday Night Live, Monty Python, The Uncle Floyd Show, Captain Kangaroo, Sesame Street and The Electric Company are credited with having been influenced by Kovacs. Chevy Chase acknowledged Kovacs' influence and thanked him during his acceptance speech for his Emmy award for Saturday Night Live.
On or off screen, Kovacs could be counted on for the unexpected, from having marmosets as pets to wrestling a jaguar on his live Philadelphia television show.
When working at WABC (AM) as a morning-drive radio personality and doing a mid-morning television show for NBC, Kovacs disliked eating breakfast alone while his wife, Edie Adams, was sleeping in after her Broadway performances. His solution was to hire a taxi driver to come into their apartment with his own key and make breakfast for them both, then take Ernie to the WABC studios.
While Kovacs and Adams received Emmy nominations for best performances in a comedy series in 1957, his talent was not formally recognized until after his death. The 1962 Emmy for outstanding electronic camera work and the Directors' Guild award came a short time after his fatal accident. A quarter century later, he was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame. Kovacs also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in television. In 1986, the Museum of Television & Radio (now the Paley Center for Media) presented an exhibit of Kovacs' work, called The Vision of Ernie Kovacs. The Pulitzer Prize–winning television critic, William Henry III, wrote for the museum's booklet: "Kovacs was more than another wide-eyed, self-ingratiating clown. He was television's first significant video artist.
Kovacs and his first wife, Bette Wilcox, were married on August 13, 1945. When the marriage ended, he fought for custody of their children, Elizabeth ("Bette") and Kip Raleigh ("Kippie"). The court awarded Kovacs full custody upon determining that his former wife was mentally unstable. The decision was extremely unusual at the time, setting a legal precedent. Wilcox subsequently kidnapped the children, taking them to Florida. After a long and expensive search, Kovacs regained custody. These events were portrayed in the television film, Ernie Kovacs: Between the Laughter (1984), which gained an Emmy Award nomination for its writer, April Smith. Kovacs was portrayed by Jeff Goldblum.
Kovacs' first wife made a legal attempt to gain custody of her two daughters shortly after his death. She began August 2, 1962 by claiming $500,000 was her share of Kovacs' estate and charging her ex-husband had abducted the girls in 1955; Kovacs had been granted legal custody of his daughters in 1952. On August 30, Wilcox filed an affidavit claiming that Kovacs' widow, Edie Adams, the stepmother to the girls, was "unfit" to care for them. Both daughters, Bette and Kippie, testified that they wanted to stay with their stepmother, Edie. Kippie's testimony was very emotional; in it she referred to Edie as "Mommy" and her birth mother as "the other lady." Upon hearing the verdict that the girls would remain in their home, Adams broke down, saying, "This is what Ernie would have wanted. Now I can smile." Elizabeth Kovacs' reaction was "I'm so happy I can hardly express myself", after learning she and her sister would not be forced to leave Edie.
Kovacs and Adams met in 1951 when she was hired to work on his WPTZ show, Three To Get Ready. Her appearance on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts caught the eye of Kovacs' producer, and he asked her to audition for the program. A classically trained singer, she was able to perform only three popular songs. Edie said later, "I sang them all during the audition, and if they had asked to hear another, I never would have made it." Quoting Kovacs, "I wish I could say I was the big shot that hired her, but it was my show in name only – the producer had all the say. Later on I did have something to say and I said it, 'Let's get married.'"
After the couple's first date, Kovacs proceeded to buy a Jaguar, telling Adams he wanted to take her out in style. He was seriously taken with the beautiful and talented young woman, courting her with imagination and flair. Kovacs' attempts to win Adams' heart included hiring a mariachi band to serenade her backstage at the Broadway musical she was performing in and the sudden gift of a diamond engagement ring, telling her to wear it until she made up her mind. Kovacs continued this romantic quest after the show went out of town.
Adams booked a six-week European cruise which she hoped would let her make up her mind whether or not to marry Kovacs. After only three days away and many long-distance calls, she cut short her trip and returned to say "yes". They eloped and were married on September 12, 1954 in Mexico City. The ceremony was presided over by former New York City mayor William O'Dwyer and was performed in Spanish, which neither Kovacs nor Adams understood; O'Dwyer had to prompt each of them to say "Sí" at the "I do" portion of the vows. Adams, who had a very middle class upbringing, was smitten by Kovacs' quirky ways; the couple remained together until his death. (She later said about Kovacs, "He treated me like a little girl, and I loved it—Women's Lib be damned!")
Adams also supported Kovacs' struggle to reclaim his two older children after the kidnapping by their mother. She also was a regular partner on his television shows. Kovacs usually introduced or addressed her in a businesslike way, as "Edith Adams". Adams was usually willing to do anything he envisioned, whether it was singing seriously, performing impersonations (including a well-regarded impression of Marilyn Monroe), or taking a pie in the face or a pratfall if and when needed. The couple had one daughter, Mia Susan Kovacs, born June 20, 1959.
Kovacs and his family shared a 16-room apartment in Manhattan on Central Park West that seemed perfect until Ernie went to California for his first movie role in Operation Mad Ball. The experience of the totally different, laid-back lifestyle of Hollywood made a big impression on him. He realized he was working far too much in New York; in California he would be able to work fewer hours, do just as well or better, and have more time for Edie and his daughters. At the time he was working most of the time and sleeping about two or three hours a night. When he was telling his girls a bedtime story and found himself thinking of writing it up instead, Ernie realized it was time for a change. Kovacs moved his family there in 1957, after Edie finished Li'l Abner on Broadway.