50th Anniversary Of the Death Of Ernie Kovacs

Ernie Kovacs Is Killed In A Car Accident January 13, 1962

Ernie Kovacs would have turned 93 on January 23 and today I’ll be remembering him.

Kovacs was a brilliant comedian who was killed in a car crash 50 years ago today on January 13, 1962 at the age of 42.

Kovacs was an author, radio, television and movie star.  Most of all he was a true genius in an industry that bandies about that word rather loosely. Had Kovacs lived he would have surely gone on to greater heights.

Because he died at a relatively young age and most of his TV work is gone forever, many people unfortunately have never heard of, or seen Ernie Kovacs. He would work for all of the major television networks for over a decade, yet few of his shows survive.

For instance, Kovacs 1954-1955 late night talk show The Ernie Kovacs Show, was broadcast on the Du Mont Television Network.  Many of the Du Mont programs were broadcast live, but filmed and saved on kinescope for a later broadcast to the other time zones of the United States.

The ABC network did a double whammy to the Kovacs legacy. ABC was the last network Kovacs was affiliated with. Three months after his death, his widow Edie Adams was informed by some concerned ABC staff members, that ABC had started re-using the Kovacs tapes from shows he had made for them from 1960-1962. ABC was taping over Kovacs for news, weather and public service announcements. Adams bought back from ABC what little was remaining of Kovacs later TV work, about 15 hours worth of programming.

ABC had also inherited the vast archive of Du Mont programs from 1946-1956.  In the 1970’s ABC was still paying to store the thousands of shows that were not generating any revenue.  A lawyer for ABC said he would take care of the Du Mont programs. The films and kinescopes of the Du Mont Network (including many of Kovacs’ early programs) which had been carefully preserved in a climate controlled warehouse in New York City were loaded into trucks, put on a barge and unceremoniuosly discarded into New York Bay in the middle of the night.

This was a time before cable television, so the possibility of ever resurrecting most of these programs for broadcast was not even thought about.

All of the networks were guilty of routinely taping over old episodes of previous programs to save money on tape costs. But in these manners, much of Kovacs’ work was permanently lost and wantonly destroyed.

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The best word to describe Kovacs is original. Everything Kovacs did was unique. He could ad-lib with the best of them and his visual style was extremely experimental. Today, when I watch the remaining ABC programs of The Ernie Kovacs Show, I am surprised that any network would have allowed him on television. The program had sketches that satirized and poked fun at things that I am sure many viewers did not understand or find funny.   The show had an anti-establishment undertone and looked completely different than any other program that aired in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. Los Angeles Times columnist Cecil Smith wrote an article the day after Kovacs died in which he lamented the fact that there would be a huge void in television from this day forward.

His unorthodox humor is showcased on DVD compilations and you can see snippets of his brilliance on You Tube. It is not for everyone. But if you appreciate the surreal, than there is an excellent chance you will appreciate Ernie Kovacs.

Here is a sample of Ernie Kovacs from his television program.

Ernie Kovacs on live television

Finally, here is Ernie Kovacs, when he was a semi-regular panelist on one of the greatest television shows ever, What’s My Line, encountering a special guest.

The world misses you Ernie.

6 thoughts on “50th Anniversary Of the Death Of Ernie Kovacs

  1. M. Mitchell Marmel

    I make it a point to smoke a Dutch Masters cigar once a year in January in Ernie’s memory. Remember, kids, keep those cards and letters!

  2. Joe

    I watched Ernie as a kid. Yes his comedy
    is by 2010s standards a bit dated. Yet in the fifties and sixties he was well ahead of his time. He was a comic genius. He is still missed by millions of Great Generation Americans and Boomers.

  3. David Reno

    I remember his death. I took it hard. Ernie Kovacs was a true original.

    I hope those who did not know his work may find it on video or utube.

    There was one other story after his death. Edie his widow was left with huge bills to the IRS.
    Kocacs friends in Hollywood put out the word on film if there was a suitable part
    “Give it Edie”. Check out how many films she was in later.

  4. Shai

    Absolutely DO care! My Dad intro’d me to Ernie when I was in my teens. The speical effects, ape suits and someone AHEAD of his, theirs and our times!


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