Brian Hull is a writer and animator, and
contributed this piece to Kovacsland Online some years ago. There
is so little in the way of insight from the performers who worked with
Ernie on his shows, this is a great piece of history. I've not
found any interviews with Mikolas, nor with Bobby Lauher, Peggy
Connelly, Peter Hanley, Steve Blauner, Barbara Loden etc etc, about
working with Ernie from the 1960s, '70s or later.
I was working on a play on the life of Ernie Kovacs.
Through the process, I was hooked up with Joe Mikolas, Ernie's
"straight man" for many of the wonderful moments found on the ERNIE
KOVACS SHOW and even the marvelous "Silent Show". He filled the
conversations with remarkable character in that unmistakable voice.
surprised that there were any significant amount of
people interested in the show, not believing that his name was
recognized much anymore. He was interested in the prospect of a play,
and became a good ally, hoping that it may spark interest in those
who've never heard of Kovacs and his contributions, hoping to return
credit where it's due.
knew Ernie from 1958 - on, introduced to him through
Bobby Darren's manager who brought him to a Kovacs card game. Ernie was
an avid card player, a master bridge player, and during a game Ernie
turned to him and said, "Hey, do you wanna be in a commercial?" To
which Joe replied,"Sure." It was not long after that Joe found himself
opposite Ernie in the classic Dutch Masters "High Noon" commercial
where Ernie and Joe (as cowboys) face each other to draw, both smoking
cigars. Ernie fills Joe with bullets only to have the smoke escape
through the bullet holes when he puffs on the cigar. This was the
beginning of their working relationship.
for being the world's worst poker
player, some nights losing as much as $4000 to $5000. One night,
wanting to give Ernie a break from losing, Joe decided to "throw" a few
hands. Ernie noticed it, and was quite upset. He felt that affected the
way Ernie played poker with him from then on, but there never was any
contest; He could beat Ernie for anything. The games were notorious and
famous, bringing in stars from all around, Eddie Fischer, Richard
Conti, etc. and etc. a veritable "who's who" of Hollywood. And the
games were almost every night, all night. Once Edie broke up a game
that lasted until 6:00 AM, only to have Ernie call Joe At 9:10 Am to
tell him to come back and play some more.
about Ernie's troubles with the IRS; how that was a
constant battle, and at one point an agent had offered to make a deal
to close it. This agent went into Ernie's den and suggested they settle
all the accounts with $40,000 cash on the spot. To this Ernie
responded, "Who do you think you are... God?" and threw him out. Soon
after Edie found a safe in the den that had more cash than that
available the whole time, but with Ernie it was the principle of the
wonderful talent, especially of her amazing Marilyn
impersonation. He remembers Ernie meeting Marilyn at a party with Carl
Sandburg, and that Marilyn would sometimes call Ernie, although he was
never quite sure whether it was really her or Edie playing a trick. Joe
really seemed to have a lot of respect for Edie; not only her singing
and acting talent but always speaking highly of her and the things she
had gone through.
being a "man's man". How kids adored him. How his
crew admired him. How he was constantly creating, coming up with ideas
and fleshing them out. Once, Joe had seen a documentary about Rasputin.
He called Ernie, who was out of town at the time and flying home that
night, and told him that he would make a great Rasputin. By the time
Ernie got home he already had a treatment written.
television, Joe's favorite may have been the sketch
where Ernie introduced him as a man with an incredible tale to tell.
The bit continued with Joe not being able to remember anything, and
Ernie ended up telling the story as they go along. He fondly remembered
the SILENT SHOW, speaking of Ernie's brilliance in working the tilted
table sequence. He talked about Barry Shear as a great director on the
program, and how Barry once saved his life. In one sketch, Joe played
an escape artist, chained and lowered into a body of water. Evidently,
something went wrong, and Joe found himself stuck, until Barry (who was
under water as well) was able to free him.
was his best friend, and that there were many
plans and dreams that went away when Ernie died. There was an idea for
Percy Dovetonsils that never saw light: where we saw Percy's home as
the camera travelled up a long driveway through the mountains, and
inside the home among the sunken carpet were two Cadillacs as lamps and
a big round table held up by four girls. Another sketch had to do with
a man who was in prison for 18 years; in his cell was everything from
coctails to anything you wanted. Also, there was talk between them of
touring the country doing one night stands, and Ernie directing two
plays in New York.
the terrible night when Ernie died; how he and Jack
Lemmon kept going over and over wondering why, WHY Ernie took such a
strange route home. Then, after Kim Novak was able to help Edie relax
and finally get to bed around 5:30AM, Ernie's mother burst into the
house, screaming. It was "the most horrible thing you'd ever seen."
I had many conversations with Joe, each
one a delight, if only to hear that voice. After those days he owned a
few nightclubs and married the actress who played Gloria on THE ODD
COUPLE. He loved his children, and was very proud of them. I never met
him personally, and regret that. About a year and a half ago I called
him to chat and was informed that he had passed away from a heart
attack. And although my play has never seen the light of the stage I
feel it was all worth the experience, just to get a chance to talk to
Brian K. Hull
Jolene Brand played Anna
Maria Verdugo on the Disney TV series "Zorro" in 1958-59, and then
joined Ernie's ensemble of players for "Take a Good Look". Ms.
Brand continued working with Ernie on his ABC specials. She was
married (still is!) to George Schlatter, best-known for producing
"Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In".
The only member of any of Ernie's ensemble still living, she was
interviewed, along with her husband, for the Ernie Kovacs Collection
DVD set in December 2010 and this is the first time that first-hand
insight into Ernie's working methods on his later shows has been
documented in any way.
Ms. Brand continued doing TV series work through the mid-1960s