The scintillating, sultry-eyed blonde (formerly a redhead) star of screen, TV and award-winning stage went on to become best known, however, for her sensual delivery pitching cigars in taunting ’60s ads and commercials with her Mae Westian come-on line “Why don’t you pick one up and smoke it sometime?” This, of course, was at a time when smoking was considered quite sexy and fashionable, and Edie Adams went above and beyond the call of duty in making these ads legendary.
Edie had her hand dipped in all pools of entertainment. She was a singing siren, an award-winning Broadway musical entertainer, a deft impressionist and comedienne, a serious dramatic actress, a commercial saleswoman and a viable TV celebrity. Off-stage, she showed remarkable poise and resourcefulness when her famous first husband, landmark TV comic Ernie Kovacs, was tragically killed in a January 1962 car crash in Los Angeles and she found her family finances in dire straits.
She was born Edith Elizabeth Enke on April 16, 1927, in the relatively small town of Kingston, Pennsylvania, but moved while fairly young to Grove City. Her family relocated again, this time to Tenafly, New Jersey, where she grew up. Following her graduation from high school, Edie aspired to become an opera singer and studied voice and piano at New York’s Juilliard School of Music. She then went on to take acting classes at the Columbia School of Drama.
Her theatrical debut occurred with a 1947 production of “Blithe Spirit”, and a year later she appeared in the stage show “Goodnight Ladies”. Gradually building up her singing reputation via the nightclub circuit, her big break came when Arthur Godfrey booked her on his “Talent Scouts” show. She didn’t come out the winner, but a TV director who caught sight of her performance envisioned in her a seductive “straight man” who could mesh well with a certain zany comedian. In 1951, Edie (then known as Edith Adams) was signed up as a featured singer on Ernie Kovacs’s comedy show that originated in Philadelphia. The show, live and unrehearsed, became an innovative, groundbreaking effort in the relatively new medium. Outrageous and even incomprehensible at times, his comedy was deemed way ahead of its time and, as a result, had problems reaching mainstream audiences who didn’t “get it”, and the programs were short-lived. Various Kovacs platforms that included Edie were Ernie in Kovacsland (1951), “Kovacs on the Korner” (1952), and, of course, The Ernie Kovacs Show (1952). She and Kovacs eloped to Mexico City in 1954 and their union produced a daughter, Mia Kovacs. The duo were a popular couple in the Hollywood social circuit (moving there from New York in the late ’50s) and the connections she developed out there were quite valuable in furthering her career.
Early ’50s TV opened many doors for Edie and she waltzed right through them. Her New York stage debut in the popular musical “Wonderful Town” in 1952 had her walking away with the Theatre World Award for “Best Newcomer”. A few years later, she slithered away with a supporting Tony Award for her bodacious take on the “Daisy Mae” character in the musical “Li’l Abner” (1956). Following that were more musical and dramatic ventures on the stage, including “The Merry Widow” (1957) (a show she would return to more than once), “Sweet Bird of Youth” (1960) and “Free as a Bird” (1960). On film, Edie showed the public that she wasn’t just a pretty face with her sharply unsympathetic supporting performance in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960) and a funny, sexier one in the second of Rock Hudson and Doris Day’s three battle-of-the-sexes romps, Lover Come Back (1961). Surprisingly, Edie and Ernie never appeared together in a film. Edie remained primarily a TV fixture and, outside of her Emmy-nominated coupling with Kovacs, winningly played the Fairy Godmother in Julie Andrews’ popular TV version of Cinderella (1957), appeared regularly with Jack Paar and Dinah Shore on their respective variety shows, acted on various prime-time shows, and graced a number of celebrity game and talk show panels.
One of Edie’s last pairings with Kovacs was in 1960 when they appeared as guests on the very last episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (1957). The pair appeared as themselves, with one of the highlights being Edie crooning the lovely ballad “That’s All”. Kovacs’ sudden 1962 death was a terrible reversal of fortunes for Edie. An inveterate gambler, he left her owing much money to the IRS. Instead of filing bankruptcy, however, she worked her way out of debt. In the process, her career received a second wind. Perhaps it didn’t hurt that the public adored Edie and that she was a genuinely sympathetic figure in the wake of her private tragedy.
She returned to the nightclub circuit from whence she came, recorded albums, and also toured the country in various dramatic and musical comedy vehicles, including “Rain” (as Sadie Thompson), “Bells Are Ringing”, “Annie Get Your Gun” (as Annie Oakley), “I Do! I Do!”, “Anything Goes” and “Bus Stop”. She also received outstanding notices in a few of her films, whether dramas (Love with the Proper Stranger (1963), The Best Man (1964)) or frivolous comedies (Call Me Bwana (1963), It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963), The Honey Pot (1967)). Moreover, she was handed her own musical variety show Here’s Edie (1963) (aka “The Edie Adams Show”) and received a couple of Emmy nominations for her efforts. She also took advantage of her famous impressions of Zsa Zsa Gabor and others, appearing in various TV comedy formats.
More than anything, however, it was her come-hither temptress pitching Muriel cigars that had TV audiences’ tongues wagging. It was a smashingly successful and highly profitable coup for Edie professionally. Her late husband, a notorious cigar smoker, at one time sold Dutch Master cigars on TV. The idea then for Edie to pitch a competing slimmer cigar on TV was only natural. She had much to do with the direction of the commercials, which ran throughout the 1960s, providing them with a perfect blend of class, glamour and sensuality.
While growing noticeably heavier in later years, she never lost her trademark humor and sex appeal. Edie could still be seen from time to time on the stage in such shows as “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”, the female version of “The Odd Couple”, “Hello, Dolly!” and “Nunsense”. She remained committed to the end to restoring/preserving her late husband’s videotapes and kinescopes of his ground-breaking ’50s TV work. She also recalled her offbeat life with Kovacs in the book “Sing a Pretty Song”, which was published in 1990.
Edie got married again in 1964, to photographer Marty Mills, with whom she had a son, Josh Mills. That union ended in divorce in 1971. The following year, Edie married jazz trumpeter Pete Candoli. She and Candoli, who died in January of 2008, divorced in 1989. In another eerie, tragic circumstance, daughter Mia Kovacs was killed in a 1982 Los Angeles auto accident at age 22 — 20 years after her father’s similar demise. Suffering from cancer and losing weight in her latter years, the beloved Edie died of complications from pneumonia at age 81 in Los Angeles.
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