By Cait Brennan
Ernie Kovacs is rightly regarded as television’s first genius. Dynamic, irreverent and uncompromising, Kovacs pushed TV technology to its limits in the service of his anarchic comic brilliance. More than that, Kovacs was larger than life. His personal motto was “Nothing In Moderation,” and he lived up to that billing until the day he died.
Few mere mortals could hope to keep up with his madness. But he met his match the day he met Edie Adams. Smart, sexy, sultry and with a voice like butter, Adams was everything Ernie needed: merry co-conspirator, brilliant comic foil, and a tremendously versatile actress and vocalist that brought elegance and heart to the proceedings. Kovacs’s life, and for that matter his untimely death, cast a big shadow, and Edie’s talents have often been unfairly overlooked.
Thankfully, the lady’s finally getting her due. From the formidable Kovacs/Adams archive and the good folks at Omnivore Recordings comes The Edie Adams Christmas Album, featuring Ernie Kovacs, a warm, charming, and nostalgic record featuring 15 never-before-heard holiday classics. It’s the perfect antidote to contemporary holiday angst and a testament to Adams’s vocal gifts.
A classically-trained vocalist, Adams began working with Kovacs in 1951, at the very beginning of his television career. The songs on The Edie Adams Christmas Album were meticulously transferred from fragile 60-year-old acetate discs recorded for the Kovacs Unlimited show. There’s a bit of surface noise, but if anything, the very faint sound of shellac adds a lovely organic quality to the album, recalling the experience of listening to Christmas albums back in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. Earlier this year, Omnivore released a great never-before-issued comedy album featuring Kovacs’s priceless Percy Dovetonsils, (reviewed here)which is essential listening for fans. The Omnivore team did another fine job here, enhancing the intimacy of the recordings, and Adams’s pure, winning voice rings out clear as a bell.
Kovacs himself makes several appearances. The album opens with Kovacs and the Kovacs Unlimited cast laughing it up with Edie on a sprightly version of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town,” and the couple trades banter on the comic, bluesy “Household/Holiday Blues.” But the love story between Edie and Ernie really comes through on the tender duet “Silver Bells.” Kovacs was no Tony Bennett, but his gentle, earthy baritone demonstrates a surprising tenderness, and Adams’s voice wraps around Ernie’s with great feeling.
Edie takes the lead on the album’s other tracks, showing her mastery of diverse holiday material, from ballads like “Blue Christmas,” to sacred carols like “I Wonder As I Wander,” to lively takes on holiday pop like “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” (complete with hilarious Kovacs’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside” interlude.) The simple piano accompaniment sets the scene perfectly and lets Edie shine.
It goes without saying that Kovacs and Adams fans will love this album, but these wonderful performances will please anyone looking for a little holiday spirit. The vintage warmth of the recordings and the well-chosen traditional Christmas tunes and mid-century holiday pop couldn’t be more perfect for the season.
The album also comes with a nice bonus: eight pages of liner notes and memories from Adams’s son Josh Mills, recalling childhoods with his mother and well-loved Hollywood family friends (including Kovacs’s close friend Jack Lemmon).
Thanks to Adams’s tireless efforts and investment, and Mills’s fine stewardship, Kovacs’s work (and Edie’s own) may be the best preserved of any from television’s golden age. Here’s hoping more of Edie’s work—maybe even, dare we hope, her groundbreaking TV series Here’s Edie—will find its way to us soon. For now, with the holidays approaching and the end of a difficult year at hand, Omnivore Recordings’ The Edie Adams Christmas Album is just the thing to make spirits bright.
The Edie Adams Christmas Album was released on October 9 through Omnivore Recordings and is available to order from their website.