More From Life: Ernie Kovacs

Ernie Kovacs Show Electronic Sight Gag
The Life archive notes: “Electronic sight gag created by comic Ernie Kovacs in which he appears to be peering thru head of actress Barbra Loden as part of his TV special ‘Ernie Kovacs’.”

Life cover: April 15, 1957 This and the photo below (which shows how the effect was done) were by Ralph Morse and done in March 1957, which were probably included in the cover story on Kovacs. Kovacs created something of a sensation with his half-hour NBC special, The Ernie Kovacs Show. Usually, NBC specials were 90 minutes, but Jerry Lewis was only willing to do a hour-long show and Kovacs very willing stepped into the breach to fill the allotted time slot. He took this opportunity to experiment with a show done entirely in pantomime; he also showed his penchant for experimenting with the medium, including doing visual effects. These type of “electronic” effects by Kovacs and other early TV pioneers in many ways anticipated today’s digital effects.

Anyway, as The Ernie Kovacs Website describes notes:

The 30-minute show Ernie did was devoid of any dialogue, and featured the silent character Ernie had been developing, Eugene, as well as the Nairobi Trio. The show’s centerpiece was an extended series of surreal sight gags following Eugene, a mute, meek character as a fish out of water in a stuffy men’s club. The sketch included the famous gag involving the gravity-defying olives and thermos of coffee.

Ernie Kovacs and Barbra Loden demonstrating how electronic sight gag was done for Ernie Kovacs Show
“Comic Ernie Kovacs pasting black patch on forehead of Barbra Loden before posing her against black background which will create the illusion of a hole in Loden’s head for sight gag to air on his TV special.”

Author: Harvey Deneroff

Harvey Deneroff is a Los Angeles-based independent animation and film scholar specializing in labor history. He formerly taught at the Savannah College of Art and Design and was editor of Animation Magazine, Animation World Magazine, and Graiffit (published by ASIFA-Hollywood). He is the founder and past president of the Society for Animation Studies.

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