October 18, 2008

Actress, Stage Entertainer Edie Adams Dies

Edie Adams, an actress, comedian and singer whose career spanned nightclubs, stage, film, television and a series of dynamic commercials for Muriel cigars, died October 15 in the West Hills area of Los Angeles. She was 81. She succombed to complications from pneumonia and cancer.

Born Edith Elizabeth Enke on April 16, 1927, in Kingston, Pennsylvania, Adams spent part of her childhood in Grove City, Pennsylvania, and in Tenafly, New Jersey as well.

After graduating from New York City’s renowned Juilliard school as a trained singer, she launched her career when she won the Miss U.S. Television beauty pageant in 1950. During the pageant, she sang a coloratura version of “Love Is Where You Find It” in the talent competition. Her prize was an appearance in Minneapolis onstage with Milton Berle.

Berle then invited Adams to appear on his television show, which in turn led to her being featured on television with comedian Ernie Kovacs, who eventually became her husband.

In 1953, Adams made her Broadway debut in he role of Rosalind Russell’s sister in Leonard Bernstein's musical Wonderful Town. Her second Broadway turn came three years later as Daisy Mae in the musical version of comic strip Li’l Abner, for which she won a Tony award.

In the 1960, Adams scored supporting roles in several movies, such as The Apartment, Lover Come Back, Under the Yum Yum Tree and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

She appeared on the ABC television network with Duke Ellington in 1962. The following year, she launched her own variety show, Here’s Edie, performing with such legends as Count Basie and Sammy Davis, Jr. Although the show lasted just two years, Here’s Edie garnered four Emmy nominations.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Adams continued to work regularly on screen, guest starring frequently on such series as Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Murder, She Wrote and Designing Women. Her most recent credit was a 2004 PBS production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, in which she portrayed the Fairy Godmother.

Although she was prolific in many mediums, Adams is best known for the 19 years of commercials she did for Muriel cigars. During the years that the spots aired, the brand’s sales increased more than tenfold.

Typically outfitted in tall heels and tight-fitting dresses, Adams danced with giant cigars, caressed them and touted their virtues, capped by the provocative catch phrase “Pick one up and smoke it some time”—a line adapted from Mae West’s famous line, “Come up and see me some time.”

In 1962, Kovacs, whom she married in 1954, died in an automobile accident in Los Angeles. Upon his passing, Kovacs owed the Internal Revenue Service hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes. Declining assistance from friends, Adams paid off the debt herself with funds earned from her live performances and film and television work.

She endured another tragedy 20 years later when Mia Kovacs, her daughter with Ernie Kovacs, also died in an automobile. Two subsequent marriages—to photographer Marty Mills and jazz trumpeter Pete Candoli—ended in divorce.

She is survived by her son, Josh Mills.

Edie Adams talks with the Archive of American Television

In March 1999, the Archive of American Television interviewed Edie Adams was interviewed by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation’s Archive of American Television.

The complete interview is available for viewing at the AAT office, located on the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences plaza in North Hollywood. You will be available for viewing online soon. Contact the Television Archive at (818) 754-2800 for more information.

To learn more about this life and works of this American Archive of Television personality online, please visit the Archive of American Television Update blog.

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