Imogene Coca: 1908-2001: Actress
Your Show Of Shows
Producer Max Liebman was inspired to team Coca with another Taminent alumnus, Sid Caesar. They appeared together for the first time in 1949 for the premiere broadcast of NBC's Admiral Broadway Revue. The show did not last long, but the two were paired again in that autumn's new television hit, Your Show of Shows. The 90-minute show was performed live and included comedy sketches, song and dance, and celebrity guests. Its writers included Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, and Larry Gelbart. Liebman often recycled material honed at Taminent. Skits typically satirized the commonplace, such as the much-loved Hickenloopers, an irreparably mismatched couple who bickered constantly. Another staple was movie parodies, such as "From Here to Obscurity" and "A Trolley Car Named Desire."
Coca put her dancing and singing training to good use in comic ballets and song parodies of French torch singers and Marlene Dietrich, among others. Both songs and dances were subtly exaggerated, yet expertly performed. In one famous sketch, she portrayed a nightclub singer who has four ardent suitors, each of whom threatens to kill her and then commit suicide if she doesn't run away with him. She trills "I'm yours, exclusively yours"—to each of the four. Coca's opera parodies started out normally enough, but somehow something went wrong. Mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens once said, "You're always deathly afraid the young singer will never make the last note." "With Coca, you're always afraid she will."
Her rubber face was seen as its best on the small television screen, as Liebman said "her left nostril never knows what the right one is doing." Coca's "little somethings," as she called her comic contributions to the show, helped make Your Show of Shows one of the most popular television programs of its time, watched by more than 30 million viewers, and won her the 1951 Emmy for best actress. Her work on Your Show of Shows inspired many upcoming comediennes, including Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg, and Tracey Ullman.
Coca's lasting claim to fame is through her extraordinary comic partnership with Sid Caesar. In his autobiography, Caesar tried to explain their success: "She's a great actress and we grew so used to working together on stage that she could guess what I was going to say—and react to it—when the thought was still in my head." Nonetheless, in 1954, Coca and Caesar split to pursue individual projects. Coca next appeared in her own half-hour television show The Imogene Coca Show on NBC. Unfortunately, the show was not a success.
Coca's husband, Robert Burton, died in 1955. After his death and through the remainder of her career, Coca performed in a variety of Broadway shows, traveling plays, television shows, and movies. In 1958, she teamed up again with Caesar on Sid Caesar Invites You, but it never had the magic of Your Show of Shows.
While on the road with a 1960 summer theater tour, Coca met and married fellow actor King Donovan. The two frequently performed together in variety shows and touring theater companies. During the 1960s, Coca also appeared in movies, including Under the Yum Yum Tree with Jack Lemmon; television series, notably Grindle and It's About Time; and television movies, such as The Incredible Incident at Independence Square, filmed in her home town of Philadelphia.
Coca teamed with Sid Caesar again for the Emmy-Award winning Sid Caesar-Coca Coca-Carl Reiner-Howard Morris Show in 1967. The duo appeared together again in the 1970s, once in The Prisoner of Second Avenue on the Chicago stage, and again as headliners at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas.
In the 1970s, Coca made frequent appearances on talk shows, such as Dick Cavett's, and as a guest on The Carol Burnett Show. Liebman and Caesar created and released Ten From 'Your Show of Shows,' to movie theaters in 1978; the collection of best sketches won a new, enthusiastic audience for the performers and the show.
- Imogene Coca: 1908-2001: Actress - Won A Tony
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