With the release of The Edie Adams Christmas Album (Omnivore Recordings), Adams, whose legendary husband Ernie Kovacs has been documented recently with DVD releases and museum retrospectives, gets her turn at a career revisit.
The multitalented songstress, who died in 2008 (46 years after the death of Kovacs), is featured on 15 tracks recorded in 1952 on Kovacs Unlimited, as The Ernie Kovacs Show, which was televised on CBS from December, 1952 to April, 1953, was originally known. They include secular and classic holiday songs—and three duets with Kovacs.
“It’s a mighty fine album,” says Josh Mills, admitting to “a slight bit of shameless self-promotion,” having written the liner notes. Then again, Adams was his mother.
Mills, who also manages Dengue Fever, runs Ediad Productions, Inc., which was formed by Adams and is home to what is perhaps the biggest independent archive of early American television, including over 150 half-hours of Kovacs’ TV content as well as two seasons of Adams’ prime-time variety show from the mid-1960s. Titles include, The Ernie Kovacs Show, Ernie in Kovacsland, Take A Good Look, Kovacs’ specials for ABC, The Edie Adams Show and Here’s Edie.
“We’ve been collecting and holding on to a lot of material for a lot of years starting with Mom in the mid-‘60s, and among the things we have are audio air checks that were recorded over an FM band in the ‘50s for Kovacs Unlimited,” says Mills, noting that only one videotape of the show survives. Adams herself paid a transcription service to record the audio for the show so she could hear herself singing contemporary pop songs.
“She was a Juilliard graduate and classically trained singer, and about the only thing she didn’t do was dance,” says Mills. “She did everything else–Broadway, movies and TV, but her singing career was scattershot: She did a couple records of standards and a really bizarre album, Music To Listen To Records By–Edie Adams Sings?, that’s basically a comedy record with all sorts of crazy songs, but had a sexy cover–and she played it totally straight. One record on RKO Records in 1959 was reissued in the mid-‘90s—The Charming Miss Edie Adams—but everything else is out-of-print.”
Mills relates that Adams recorded versions of Broadway songs that were essentially funded by Muriel Cigars, having starred in the famous “Why don’t you pick one up and smoke it sometime” Muriel commercials in the ‘60s and ‘70s. She was the Miss New York Television and Miss U.S. Television of 1950, and had her own ABC variety show (Here’s Edie, which garnered four Emmy nominations) and starred on Broadway, winning a Tony in 1956 for her role as Daisy Mae in Li’l Abner.
She appeared in feature films including The Apartment and It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and headlined nightclubs in major cities; besides RKO, she recorded albums for MGM, Columbia and Decca. She starred with Kovacs on shows on the CBS, NBC, and DuMont TV networks.
“She did what she liked when the opportunity presented itself,” says Mills. “But after Ernie passed away, there was a huge debt to the IRS she had to repay, so she took a lot of gigs she wouldn’t have done otherwise to stay afloat. There was a lot more to her than some of the records she put out, but to be perfectly honest, she was a little more interested in the money.”
Regarding the recordings on The Edie Adams Christmas Album, Mills says that Adams sang a song every day on Kovacs Unlimited.
“For the month of December and just prior, she sang Christmas songs,” he says. “The good folks at Omnivore were looking for potential themes, so we thought a Christmas album might be interesting, and compiled a list of Christmas songs and picked the best ones.”
Of the “quote-unquote” duets with Kovacs, he concedes that while Kovacs wasn’t much of a singer, he “sounds pretty okay” when carried vocally by his mother. But Mills also notes that his mother never wanted to be known as “the widow Kovacs,” and that her Christmas album is just the first release from the extensive archive in a reissue campaign designed to showcase her own many talents.
The album follows Percy Dovetonsils…Thpeaks, a previously unreleased comedy album featuring Kovacs’ best-known and beloved character, which was recorded in 1961 and released earlier this year by Omnivore as the first album project in an ongoing agreement between the label and Ediad Productions for release of audio material. Omnivore is currently compiling more archival audio recordings for future releases.
“We’re working with another company on a DVD box set for next year containing 21 episodes of Here’s Edie, the show she did in the mid-‘60s,” adds Mills. “It had a lot of singing and amazing jazz performances from artists like Duke Ellington and Count Basie, Stan Getz, Charlie Parker and Bobby Darin. She did some amazing stuff that nobody really saw. It was a very high-brow, high art variety show.”
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