TRENTON, NJ -- Native Trentonian Ernie Kovacs was honored at the New Jersey State Museum, in the year when he would have been 100 years old. Through presentations, anecdotes and archival footage of his television work, the “Ernie Kovacs Centennial” honored Kovacs’ multiple contributions to television history, and the Mayor of Trenton, W. Reed Gusciora, proclaimed Kovacs’ birthday, January 23, as “Ernie Kovacs Day.”
“It’s an honor to be here to celebrate a hometown hero, a first-generation American, and a true Renaissance man,” said New Jersey Secretary of State, Tahesha Way, Esq. “His story embodies the promise and creativity of this great state.”
Kovacs was born in Trenton in 1919, the son of Hungarian immigrants. He attended Trenton Central High School, and through the encouragement and help of his drama teacher, received a scholarship to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. His first professional work was in Trenton; he was an announcer on local radio station WTTM and his hometown paper, The Trentonian, published his column called, “Kovacs Unlimited.” He then went on to local television in Philadelphia, where he hosted the very first morning television show, and later went on to create “The Ernie Kovacs Show,” which appeared on all major broadcast networks.
“New Jersey is known for so many celebrities and some are better remembered than others,” said Steven Gorelick, Executive Director of the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission, one of the sponsors of the event. “The current generation--they don’t know who Ernie Kovacs was and they don’t know the incredible footprint he has on television history. So we looked at this as a chance to teach the younger generation and remind the older generation,” he said.
Ben Model, Archivist for the Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams Collection, served as the Master of Ceremonies for the centennial celebration. He described how Kovacs would encourage interactivity with his audience, speaking to them directly into the camera, and even encouraging viewers to take pictures of their TVs and send them in. “He was doing social media before it even existed,” said Model. “Some of his shows are so laid back, you feel like you’re just hanging out with him,” he added.
Joshua Mills, of Ediad Productions, the Estate of Ernie Kovacs, and the son of Kovacs’ wife, Edie Adams, also appeared in a roundtable panel discussing the importance and influence of Kovacs. “My Mom told me this: that he would essentially say to her that when you’re on television, you’re going into their living room. It’s a very interpersonal relationship,” he said.
Joel Hodgson, Creator of Mystery Science Theater 3000, gave special remarks at the event. “Kovacs, to me, he was the guy who really exploited videotape,” said Hodgson. “He took the immediacy of radio and the thinking of radio, and in a really elegant way, translated that to television.”
Kovacs continued to be inspired by Trenton, basing characters on people he grew up with, and used his experiences of growing up in the city in his comedy sketches. “I think you don’t have Ernie without Trenton,” said Mills.
To learn more about the life and career of Ernie Kovacs, visit www.erniekovacs.com.