The Library of Congress has taken another step in its effort to preserve American television and video by acquiring a collection of kinescopes, videotapes, 16 mm and Super 8 home movies of legendary comedian Ernie Kovacs and his wife, singer-actress-comedienne Edie Adams. It is the most comprehensive collection of their work in existence today.
In 1997, the Library of Congress released the first comprehensive study on the state of American television and video preservation, which uncovered major losses and a cultural legacy at risk. Understanding the importance of preserving her husband’s legacy following his accidental death in 1962, Adams participated in the Library’s public hearing in 1996, documenting the loss of scores of his television programs. She noted that truckloads of videotapes and kinescopes were destroyed as refuse. The 1997 report concluded that the audiovisual record of the first few decades of American television and video history is nonexistent or fragmentary at best.
In addition to ensuring the preservation of programming by the early television pioneers, the Kovacs-Adams archive represents a significant addition to the Library’s impressive collections of iconic film and television humorists, including Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope, Groucho Marx, Danny Kaye, Johnny Carson and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
“The Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams Collection is an especially welcome acquisition for us,” said Mike Mashon, head of the Library’s Moving Image Section. “We’re very proud of our humor collections and we’re always looking to expand our holdings in early television. With Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams, we accomplish both.”
The Library acquired the collection from Josh Mills, president of Ediad Productions and the son of Edie Adams. “The Library of Congress is the ideal place for the Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams Collection, because both are synonymous with television history and the preservation of American popular culture,” Mills said. “It’s immensely gratifying that Edie’s dedication to preserving the history of Ernie’s pioneering genius in television will ensure that both of their work will live on for generations to enjoy.”
Kovacs (1919-1962) combined a flair for surrealist humor with a genuinely experimental approach to television production, making him—in the words of critic William Henry III—the medium’s “first significant visual artist.” He created such indelible characters as Eugene, who never spoke; the faux erudite “artiste” Percy Dovetonsils; and the gorilla-suited Nairobi Trio. His influence can be seen in the work of Monty Python, David Letterman, Pee-wee Herman and on such shows as “Saturday Night Live” and “Comedy Bang! Bang!”
Adams (1927-2008) was a Juilliard-trained singer who had a very successful career on Broadway and in television, including the ABC comedy sketch series “Here’s Edie” (ABC, 1962-1964) and her signature Muriel Cigar commercials.
The collection includes more than 1,200 audiovisual items, documenting some of Kovacs’ and Adams’ earliest work in television. Highlights include:
- 2″ videotape masters of all eight of Kovacs’ monthly specials for ABC (1961-1962)
- 35 mm kinescopes of 74 episodes of Kovacs’ morning show for NBC (1956)
- 2″ videotape masters of 35 episodes of “Take a Good Look,” Kovacs’ tongue-in-cheek panel quiz show (ABC, 1959-1961)
- Original 16 mm elements of Kovacs’ silent-movie spoof “The Mysterious Knockwurst,” made for his CBS morning show in 1953
- 2″ videotape masters of all 21 episodes of “Here’s Edie” (ABC, 1962-1964)
- Original 16 mm kinescopes for “Ernie in Kovacsland” (NBC, 1951)
- Audio masters of a formerly unreleased Kovacs LP “Percy Dovetonsils…Thpeakth”
- Test footage of matting effects for Ernie as “Superclod”
The Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams Collection will be available to researchers in the Library’s Motion Picture and Television Reading Room in Washington, D.C. Processing of the collection continues, but much of it is currently available to researchers.