Remembering the comic genius Kovacs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The TV channel Trio has on occasion , programs from the past that were great but were cancelled for one reason or another. One of those I was watching was the Ernie Kovacs show.

I remember Ernie from the fifties, when television was live. The mistakes that were made were what the viewer saw. This made those programs all the more humerous. Jackie Gleason, Sid Ceaser, and others of that era were true funny men.

Ernie played in the movie North to Alaska, with John Wayne and Fabien. He was the guy that was trying to steal the satchel full of money during the big fight scene. Funniest movie you ever saw. He always had a cigar in his mouth.

Ernie said "Every idea I ever had is based on the fact that it's 2:30 and there's a production meeting at 3"

Kovacs created most of his comedy in the heat of the moment when the little red light of Camera One was on. Rather than rely on scripts, he preferred visions: an automated office where the water cooler gurgled and the file cabinets sang like trumpets, a hand coming out of a bathtub to scrub the back of a pretty girl, or the White Rock Girl taking a bath in the effervescent brook of ginger-ale.

Born Ernest Edward Kovacs on Jan.23, 1919 in Trenton, N.J., legend has it that Ernie was born with a cigar in his mouth and a deck of cards in his hands. Growing up on Clinton Street in the then less prosperous southside of Trenton, Ernie carved his future.

Ernie created a cast of thousands - characters that for the period (40's and 50's) were shocking, yet hilarious. True Kovvacians can never forget: Wolfgang Sauerbraten, the all-night German disc jockey, a distinguished gray haired gentleman with lederhosen and an atrocious Hollywood German accent; the inscrutable Charlie Clod, Charlie Chan's lefthanded cousin; Irving Wong, The Chinese song-plugger; the zany antics of the "Original Monkees"; The Nairobi Trio; World Famous story teller and poet Percy Dovetonsils, and others.

On a Saturday, January 13, 1962 to be specific, on a typical Southern California winter's night, there is a mist in the air and a fine rain falling. Ernie is attending a christening party for the son of comedian Milton Berle. Kovacs is his usual wisecracking self. He tells friends how he's going to live forever. How?

"All it takes is 3 steam baths a day, lots of good brandy, about 20 cigars and to work all night!"

He will be 43 in a week.He leaves the party and is driving home on his usual route through the Los Angeles Country Club Grounds on his way to Santa Monica Blvd. He reaches down for one of his foot-long Havana cigar specials (his trademark), fumbling for a kitchen match, he attempts to strike it with his fingernail (an old habit). In that split second, Ernie loses control of his car and smashes broadside into a utility pole.

ERNIE KOVACS …dead at age 42