Ernie Kovacs (January 23, 1919 - January 13, 1962) was a creative and innovative entertainer from the early days of television. His on-air antics would go on to inspire TV shows like Saturday Night Live and TV hosts like David Letterman.
Kovacs was rarely seen without a cigar in his hand.
His live shows were unique at the time because of their ad-libbed routines, experimentation with video effects (including superimpositions, reverse polarity, and reverse scanning which flipped images upside down), and a willingness to break the "fourth wall" by allowing viewers see activity beyond the set - including crew members and, on occasion, outside the studio itself.
Kovacs invented many camera tricks that are still common today. One of his most popular gags was a bit where Kovacs sat down at a table to eat his lunch. He took items out of his lunch box and one by one, each item mysteriously rolled down the table into a gentleman reading the newspaper at the other end. Kovacs then started to pour a glass of milk. The milk appeared to pour from the thermos in an unusual direction. The visual trick, which had not been seen on TV before, was created with a crooked table and an equally crooked camera.
Other popular bits included; performing an all-gorilla version of Swan Lake; poet Percy Dovetonsils; The Nairobi Trio; the Silent show; and various musical segments with every day items moving in sync with classical music.
Kovacs once said, "Television: A medium - so called because it is neither rare nor well done."
Kovacs fought with his first wife, Bette Wilcox, for custody of his two children, Bette and Kip. The courts awarded Kovacs full custody of his children, which was extremely unusual at the time, because they decided that his former wife was mentally unstable. Kovacs' first wife then kidnapped the children. After a long search Kovacs was eventually reunited with his children, with the help of the police.
Kovacs married actress and singer Edie Adams in 1955 and remained happily married until the time of his death. The couple had one daughter together.
Kovacs wrote a novel entitled, ZOOMAR (Sophisticated Novel About Love and TV) in 1956. His Television programs include "Time for Ernie" in 1951, "Ernie in Kovacsland" in 1951, "The Ernie Kovacs Show" in 1952 and "The Tonight Show" from 1956 to 1957.
Kovacs died in a car accident on January 13, 1962. When Kovacs died, he owed the IRS several hundred thousand dollars in back taxes. Kovacs felt the tax system was unfair, and simply refused to pay taxes. His widow, Edie Kovacs, eventually paid off the back taxes herself, refusing help from celebrity friends. Although much of it was lost years ago, she now owns all the rights to all of Kovacs' surviving television work.