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Imogene Coca: 1908-2001: Actress

Won A Tony

Coca was nominated for a 1978 Tony Award for her last Broadway appearance, playing a religious fanatic in the acclaimed On the Twentieth Century, and continued with the part on a national tour. Throughout the remainder of the 1970s and 1980s, she performed only sporadically in parts as diverse as Granny's "Maw" in The Return of the Beverly Hillbillies to the Cook in Alice in Wonderland, as well as Aunt Edna in National Lampoon's Vacation. The year 1991 found Coca Together Again, with Sid Caesar, touring the country in the show of that name.

When not performing, Coca lived a quiet life in Manhattan and Connecticut with her husband King Donovan until his death in 1987. Shy, gentle Coca was an animal lover, her pets included a crippled duck she had rescued, as well as a dog who was in love with the duck, and a cat, who was terrified of the duck. She founded the Imogene Coca Charitable Foundation, which donated proceeds to the Humane Society and some human and civil rights groups. Coca died quietly at her home in Westport, Connecticut on June 2, 2001, at the age of 92.

Despite her fame and critical acclaim, Coca was always very insecure. She told Rex Polter of the Philadelphia Bulletin, "Actually, I never say anything witty … I don't like entertaining at parties, either. I prefer to watch. Even small gatherings of people scare me. The only time I'm not afraid of more than 3 or 4 people is when I am on stage. Paradoxically, her shyness was part of her appeal and made audiences sympathize with her. "The trouble with most comedians who try to do satire," one critic wrote, "is that they are essentially brash, noisy, and indelicate people who have to use a sledge hammer to smash a butterfly. Miss Coca, on the other hand, is the timid woman who, when aroused, can beat a tiger to death with a feather."



Caesar, Sid, and Bill Davidson, Where Have I Been?, Crown, 1982.

Kalter, J, Actors on Acting: Peforming in Theater and Film Today, Sterling, 1979


Detroit News, June 3, 2001.

Evening Bulletin (Philadelphia), January 20, 1979.

Houston Chronicle, June 2, 2001.

New York Times, June 3, 2001

Parade, June 4, 1978.

Philadelphia Inquirer, June 3, 2001.

Sunday Bulletin Magazine (Philadelphia), October 3, 1965.

TV Digest, April 12, 1952

Variety, June 11, 2001.


Additional information for this profile was obtained from the William Morris Agency: Coca Coca. Press Release, Courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia Theater Collection and from Mark Wilson, Coca Coca. Press release, Shubert Organization, Courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia Theater Collection.

—Ruth Savitz

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Ciara Biography - Wrote Out Goals to Elizabeth David (1913–1992) BiographyImogene Coca: 1908-2001: Actress Biography - A Born Trouper, "pure Accident", Your Show Of Shows, Won A Tony