Ernie Kovacs – The mad genius of TV

I mentioned earlier how Chaplin took on a new technology and carried beyond what anyone had otherwise imagined.  Ernie Kovacs did the same thing in television.

When television was a new medium, local tv stations had airtime to fill.  A Philidelphia station manager found Ernie Kovacs on the local radio, and offered him some time on the TV.  He was given practically no budget and his only expectation was to be entertaining and find an audience.  The bit below may be his most famous, and it looks like it cost about $9.75 to produce.

This is also a good example of surrealism in film.   The imitation mechanical movement is quite intriguing.

Kovacs had very cartoon sensibilities. Like this:

This next video has some great narration by Kovacs, as he both explains, and makes fun of film making. He opens with this line:

There’s a standard formula for success in the entertainment medium, and that is beat it to death if it succeeds.

Jerry Lewis as Ernie Kovacs

Here is a trailer for the Jerry Lewis film “The Bell Boy”.  First I include the introduction by “Rolko52” the person who posted the clip.  It’s a interesting view on what might have been going on behind the scenes.

[From “Kovacs Corner” on] – Consciously or not on Jerry Lewis’ part, I have an opinion that his 1960 film “The Bellboy” was shot at least in part as a response to Ernie’s award winning half hour television special “The Silent Show” which featured his character “Eugene”. If you analyze some the events surrounding Ernie and Jerry around that time, it bears some consideration. On January 19, 1957, the NBC Television Network offered Jerry ninety minutes for a one time special program. Lewis had just broken up his partnership with Dean Martin and the network thought that it would be a great opportunity to showcase his comedy as a solo act. Jerry agreed but he wanted only sixty of those minutes. That left a half hour AFTER the Lewis special that nobody wanted…except Ernie. It was reported that when Kovacs came back to NBC with an outline of the show, they were shocked beyond disbelief. During the show’s rehearsals, the network executives made such disparaging remarks to Ernie that at one point he threatened to walk off the show and force them to run the backup program – a filmed western episode. This event may have severed Ernie’s professional relationship with NBC Television, as he subsequently made a deal and brought his projects to ABC. His wife Edie Adams was reported to have said that this event prompted him to write his novel “Zoomar” which is a satire surrounding the television industry. If you analyze “The Bellboy” you will see many similarities with Eugene. First, the bellboy character is silent throughout the movie…an indirect nod to the Kovacs character. Secondly, the film essentially has no storyline. It is simply a sequence of comedy “bits”. Jerry’s professed homage to Laurel and Hardy with this film would belie that statement as L&H shorts and feature films did indeed possess a fleshed out story. Lastly, the bellboy character essentially possesses the same attributes as Eugene…breaking the “fourth wall”, bending time and space, the musical references, and using the medium’s technology to drive the comedy. After “The Silent Show” airing, Ernie received critical acclaim from the newspapers and won the Sylvania Award for 1957. Anyone who has watched Jerry on his telethons or in interviews could reasonably assume that this would not sit well with his ego. I am sure that he expected to make the big splash with the audience and critics but it tuned out that the “throwaway” half hour from Ernie Kovacs garnered the publicity and award. In fact, so much good ink was generated that Ernie was subsequently featured on the cover of Life Magazine and he was offered his first Hollywood movie role in “Operation Mad Ball” by Columbia Pictures.

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