Ernie Kovacs was an American comedian whose uninhibited, often ad-libbed, and visually experimental comic style came to influence numerous television comedy programs for years after his death in an automobile accident. Such iconic shows as Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Uncle Floyd Show, Saturday Night Live and even Captain Kangaroo, Sesame Street and The Electric Company, and TV hosts such as David Letterman and Craig Ferguson are influenced by Kovacs. Chevy Chase acknowledged Kovacs’ influence on his work in Saturday Night Live, and he thanked Kovacs during his acceptance speech for his Emmy award for SNL. In addition, Chevy Chase spoke of Kovacs’ influence on his work in an appearance in the 1982 documentary called Ernie Kovacs: Television’s Original Genius.
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.
While Ernie and his wife Edie Adams received Emmy nominations for best performances in a comedy series in 1957, Kovacs’ 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 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’ father, Andrew, emigrated to the US from Hungary at age 13. He worked at various jobs, including those as a policeman, restaurateur and bootlegger. Bootlegging was quite lucrative during Prohibition; this allowed Andrew to move his wife, Mary, and sons Tom and Ernie, into a 20-room mansion in the better part of Trenton.