Imogene Coca: Born to Perform

After learning about Your Show of Shows last week, we are going to take a closer look at some of the forces behind the award-winning show. We begin with Imogene Coca.

Imogene Coca - IMDb
Photo: imdb.com

Imogene Coca was born Emogeane Coca in 1908. Her father was a violinist and vaudeville orchestra conductor, and her mother was a dancer and magician’s assistant.

Emogeane Fernández Coca (1908 - 2001) - Genealogy
Photo: geni.com

She began appearing in vaudeville as a child acrobat. She also took piano, dance, and voice lessons as a child. She was drawn to dance and studied ballet and moved from Philadelphia to New York to become a dancer while still a teenager. Her first job was in the chorus of a Broadway musical, “When You Smile.” For a few decades, she appeared in stage musical revues, cabaret, summer stock, and movies.

In 1935, Coca married Bob Burton. They were married until 1955 when he passed away.

Coca discussed her early career: “I never thought of myself in comedy at all. I loved going to the theater and seeing people wearing beautiful clothes come down the staircase and start to dance. I wanted to play St. Joan.”

In her forties, Coca decided to add comedian to her slate of talents, and she was a natural. In 1948 she appeared on Buzzy Wuzzy on television. If you have never heard of it, don’t feel bad. I thought it might be a kid’s show. ABC was trying to develop its network, with all of its five stations. Jerry Bergen a comedian wanted to try a variety series. This 15-minute-long show lasted only four weeks.

She might not have had an illustrious beginning, but tv was good to Imogene. For fifty years, she would appear on tv, including six shows as a regular cast member.

The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special (TV  Special 1967) - IMDb
Photo: imdb.com with Caesar, Reiner and Morris

In 1950 she joined the cast of Your Show of Shows, becoming a household name. She was nominated for five Emmys on the show. She won the award in 1952 and lost the other years to Gertrude Berg, Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, and Eve Arden. When discussing the chemistry that she and Caesar had, Imogene said “Two people couldn’t be less alike than Sid and myself. But we kind of know what the other one’s going to do. We pick up each other’s vibes.”

A born comedian, Life magazine described her as taking “people or situations suspended in their own precarious balance between dignity and absurdity, and pushing them over the cliff with one single, pointed gesture.” A critic at the time, said she was not the typical, loud, brash comedian and was “a timid woman who, when aroused, can beat a tiger to death with a feather.”

Pin on Imogene
Photo: imdb.com Cast members

Your Show of Shows was a great success and everyone tuned in Saturday nights to catch the latest show. Fans loved the ongoing skits such as Coca and Caesar playing the bickering couple, the Hickenloopers or a Bavarian town clock that had real life figures and broke down whenever it chimed the hour.

Many viewers mentioned the parodies the show did of movies. These were similar to the ones the Carol Burnett Show also did so well. Two of the scenes that came up often in viewers’ memories were the scene spoofing On the Waterfront when Marlon Brando tells his brother “I could have been a contender” and the parody of From Here to Eternity when Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster have a romantic moment on the beach. In Your Show of Shows version, the couple is continually hit with waves until they almost drown.

Comedy Legend Imogene Coca: I'm Cuckoo for Coca | The Scott Rollins Film  and TV Trivia Blog
From Here to Obscurity parody Photo: scottrollinsfilmandtvtriviablog

When the network chose to break up the Caesar-Coca team and give them their own shows, Coca had her own show, but it only lasted a year. For the rest of the fifties, she appeared primarily on drama shows which often aired plays.

In 1960, Imogene tried marriage a second time. She wed King Donovan and they would be together until his death in 1987.

From 1963-64, she joined the cast of Grindl which also lasted only one season. Coca played Grindl. She was an employee of the Foster Temporary Service, and she worked for Anson Foster (Jim Millhollin). Grindl accepts and completes a variety of jobs including babysitter, bank teller, and theater ticket taker. Most of the assignments get her involved in some type of crime or mystery. The show was on Sunday nights between Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and Bonanza which was a great spot, but it also competed with the popular Ed Sullivan Show.

Grindl - DVD PLANET STORE
Grindl Photo: dvdplanetstore.com

In 1966-1967, she jumped into another new sitcom, It’s About Time. This wacky show was created by Sherwood Schwartz and also starred Jim Millhollin. The premise is that two astronauts who were traveling faster than light end up in prehistoric Earth time and when they are unable to return, make friends with the locals living there. This show preceded The Ed Sullivan Show but then ended up competing with Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.

1966-67 Television Season 50th Anniversary: It's About Time (part 3 of 3) -  YouTube
It’s About Time Photo: youtube.com

During the seventies, she appeared on many shows, including Bewitched, Night Gallery, The Brady Bunch, and Love American Style.

Her busy career didn’t flounder in the eighties. She continued to guest star on shows including Trapper John, MD and Mama’s Family. She appeared in an episode of Moonlighting which produced her sixth Emmy nomination. She would lose to Shirley Knight for thirtysomething.

She was in movies off and on through the decades and perhaps is best known for her role of Aunt Edna in National Lampoon’s Vacation.

National Lampoon's Vacation – IFC Center
Aunt Edna in National Lampoon’s Vacation Photo: ifccenter.com

Of course, during these decades she also continued to appear on many variety and game shows. You will spot her in reruns of The Carol Burnett Show, The George Gobel Show, and Bob Hope and Dean Martin specials among other shows. She also did not ignore her early love of Broadway. She received a Tony Award nomination for “On the Twentieth Century.”

The Brady Bunch: Jan's Aunt Jenny | The Very Special Blog
On the Brady Bunch Photo: theveryspecialblog.com

In 1988 at age 80, Coca received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy; her male counterpart receiving the award that year was George Burns. She was also honored in 1995 with the Women in Film Lucy Award, named for Lucille Ball.

Coca finished her career voicing characters for children’s programming. Sadly, she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. She passed away at home in 2001. When he heard of her passing, Sid Caesar said, “All the wonderful times we shared together meant the world to me.”

Greatest Women in Comedy - Legacy.com
Photo: legacy.com

Imogene Coca was truly a special person. She had several different careers rolled into one. It’s hard to imagine that she did not begin comedy until her forties because she was one of the best. I’m sad that at the end of her life she was not able to retain the beautiful memories she gave us during her professional life. Thank you for creating a lifetime of special moments that you left for us.

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

I have checked everything off from my to-do list, and as I am sitting down to enjoy some Christmas music and bask in the glow of the Christmas lights and the smell of hot chocolate made from scratch, I wanted to send you my list.  You know I have been very really  fairly  kind of good this past year. These are things no one can buy for me.

 

A charm bracelet, but no ordinary one. I would love to have charms that are sitcom logos that express my passion for my favorite shows.  You can decide which ones to include–shows like My Three Sons, That Girl, The Partridge Family; you know the ones with the fun symbols.

 

I wish to host a dinner party with some of my favorite television characters or stars. I think parties work best with an equal number of men and women. Please send invitations to Gracie Allen (Burns and Allen Show),  Carol Burnett (Carol Burnett Show), Steve Douglas (My Three Sons), Bentley Gregg (Bachelor Father), Rhoda Morganstern (Mary Tyler Moore Show), Blanche Morton (Burns and Allen Show), Alice Nelson (The Brady Bunch),  Bob Newhart (Bob Newhart Show), Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke Show), Hawkeye Pierce (M*A*S*H), Sally Rogers (Dick Van Dyke Show), Buddy Sorrel (Dick Van Dyke Show), Donna Stone (Donna Reed Show), and Uncle Arthur (Bewitched). I would like to start out with a spinach salad with walnuts and warm brown butter dressing, followed by French onion soup, then lemon-thyme lamb chops with roasted carrots, and finally, a maple crème brulee (catered of course!)

 

Could you arrange for me to be written into one of my favorite sitcoms? Perhaps I could be Ann Marie’s cousin who has been studying in Europe or one of Laurie Partridge’s friends who Keith has asked for a date. I’d happily take a ride on the Cannonball Express to stay at the Shady Rest for a few days while getting to know the Bradley family. I could play a new neighbor in town who gets to have coffee with Gracie and Blanche. Playing a part in a skit with Carol, Harvey, Vicki, and Tim would be amazing. I would be willing to learn some nursing skills to serve under Major Houlihan. I think I’m a pretty good nose twitcher, so I could be one of Samantha’s relatives who schemes with Uncle Arthur to play a practical joke on Darrin. These are just a few ideas – I’m sure you have several good ones of your own.

 

So many people buy their clothes at Target, Kohl’s, and other places where they all look similar. I would love to wear some of the outfits my favorite characters wear. Gracie Allen always looked classy in her dress designs. Of course, everything Ann Marie wore was cute and fashionable. One of Bob Mackie’s creations for Carol Burnett would make a nice addition to my closet.  Lisa Douglas had some beautiful sheath dresses that I would like. Phoebe Buffay had some pretty cool outfits on Friends. If you’re having a hard time deciding, I’m sure Mrs. Claus would have some great input.

 

Finally, Santa, I am happy with the DVDs I have been collecting from my favorite shows. Do you think that you could find me some extra time to actually sit down and watch them?

Thanks Santa.  Don’t miss the milk and cookies on the table for you.  Enjoy December 26.

 

Love, Diana