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The Imogene Coca Show aired from October 1954 until June 1955 on NBC.
The Imogene Coca Show never quite figured out what it wanted to be. Initially it went on the air as a situation comedy with Miss Coca essentially playing herself as an actress whose comic adventures in " real life," away from the tv cameras, formed the basis for stories. After only 2 weeks in this format, the show was altered to become a comedy-variety show with sketches, production numbers, and guest stars. On February 19, 1955 the format was overhauled again. It was now a situation comedy about a newlywed couple, Betty and Jerry Crane ( Imogene Coca, Hal March), and the adventures they had with their neighbors Helen and Harry Milliken ( Bibi Osterwald, David Burns). All the changes and tinkering with format never gave the show a solid audience and it was canceled at the end of it's first season.
Here's an article from Time Magazine talking about Imogene and some other comedians as they get ready to star in some tv shows for the 1954-1955 season.
Review of the Week
Monday, Oct. 11, 1954 Article
It was a big week for the comedians. Several of the old familiar faces and a few new ones tried just about anything and everything for a laugh.
The week's most stirring question—not finally answered—was: Would Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, who broke up their topnotch Show of Shows team last spring, do as well separately as they did together? With his own Caesar's Hour (Mon. 8 p.m., NBC), Sid began with a fine skit in a cafeteria, went on to a funny getting-dressed scene. But when Guest Star Gina Lollobrigida showed up, he switched from well-paced pantomime to goo-goo-eyed mugging that suggested Milton Berle.
With Billy de Wolfe as her guest, Imogene Coca (Sat. 9 p.m., NBC) did little better with song and a strained set of sketches. Only in one skit-Motorist Coca trying to get through a toll station without a dime-did she show her talent for getting laughs with the famous whimper.
A new face, ballyhooed as an "offbeat, low-pressure Wally Cox-Will Rogers type," was crewcut George Gobel (Sat. 10 p.m., NBC). Straining at a deadpan, Midwestern delivery ("Wai, I'll be a dirty bird"), Gobel was better at dialogue than monologue. The show's two sketches were unpretentious, underplayed and very funny.
The old hands did well enough. Balloon-shaped Jackie Gleason (Sat. 8 p.m., CBS) growled, grinned and blustered his way through a refreshingly lively one-hour situation comedy. Red Buttons (three Fridays a month, 8 p.m., NBC) returned with a hatful of new routines and old Bronx-accented characterizations. Old Trouper Jimmy Durante (Sat. 9:30 p.m., NBC) was as agile as ever. Groucho Marx was again quizmaster on You Bet Your Life (Thurs. 8 p.m., NBC) and insulting his guests while paying them money.
Ray Bolger (Fri. 8:30 p.m., ABC) strained a few laughs out of a routine boy-and-girl-in-Manhattan situation, but, in his second season, there was still not enough of the famed Bolger dancing shoes. A more pretentious 60-minute production is The Martha Raye Show (alternating Tuesdays, 8 p.m., NBC). Tireless Trouper Raye bounced through songs and dances, but even her magnificent energy and Guest Star Wally Cox's support failed to pull along the old story line. The gags were hysterical, the mugging furious, and the sponsor (Hazel Bishop lipstick) added to the confusion by forcing its inane commercials into the action.
Of all the week's comedians, Steve Allen had the most arduous chore. His Tonight (Mon. through Fri., 11:30 p.m., NBC), starts off in New York, at intervals picks up more stations across the nation, finally signs off the air at 1 a.m. E.S.T.
When the show is cut off for local commercials, it must still be kept moving for the stations where commercial time remains unsold. As a result, Allen's easy, oh-so-casual delivery becomes choppy and labored. Tonight's 90 minutes (plus a 15-minute local broadcast) forces him to rely on singers and special news telecasts as a respite from what is plainly a TV marathon.
Here is Imogene Coca's Obituary from the New York Times
Imogene Coca, 92, Is Dead; a Partner in One of TV's Most Successful Comedy Teams
By ROBERT D. MCFADDEN JUNE 3, 2001
Imogene Coca, the saucer-eyed, rubber-faced comedian who teamed with Sid Caesar on NBC's ''Your Show of Shows'' and kept America's Saturday night television audiences in stitches for five years in the early 1950's, died yesterday at her home in Westport, Conn. She was 92.
Her leer was superb, her wink epochal. Her eyebrow could rise to moronic bewilderment or descend to gold digger torch time. Her chin could jut out with the indignation of a dowager caught cheating at canasta or vanish into the pathos of an abandoned woman. And the wide, silent mouth could curl into almost anything: outrage, boredom, smugness, sweet innocence, and on and on.
To millions, that face -- elfin, mischievous, wistful -- was the funniest thing on television in television's golden age. With Mr. Caesar, who was the top star and got most of the punch lines, Ms. Coca spoofed movies, society matrons, marital bliss and everyday life with extraordinary pantomimes, with a chanteuse voice that seemed always on the edge of a screech, with toe dances that laid waste to Debussy's ''Afternoon of a Faun.''
A child of vaudeville performers who lived out of a trunk and put her on the stage as an 11-year-old song-and-dance girl, Ms. Coca drifted from nightclubs in the 1920's to variety shows and Broadway revues in the 1930's. She was often out of work until her television career began, and then it was rags to riches: $10,000 a week, a $1 million contract.
From 1949, when they began tickling television audiences in the ''Admiral Broadway Revue,'' the forerunner of ''Your Show of Shows,'' to 1954, when they split up, Ms. Coca and Mr. Caesar were one of television's most hilarious and successful combinations, reaching peak audiences of more than 25 million people that swamped the competition.
''Your Show of Shows'' did more than dominate the Saturday night viewing habits of the American household. The 90-minute show started the careers of some of the nation's most successful writers and performers and set comedic standards that gave rise to Carol Burnett, Gilda Radner, Lily Tomlin and others. For many viewers old enough to remember, the show still represents television comedy at its most inventive.
Sex, politics and religion were out of bounds for television comedy in that era. So ''Your Show of Shows,'' which also starred Carl Reiner and Howard Morris and at various times counted Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and Woody Allen among its writers, had to be fashioned out of the broader terrain of everyday life, which gave the comedy a timeless, classic quality.
Blending lunatic fantasy and more contortions than a fun house mirror, Ms. Coca caricatured the foibles of housewives, spinsters, opera singers, ballet dancers, pouting flappers and haughty socialites, while Mr. Caesar provided the stoicism of a luckless schlemazel and wacky foreign accents -- memorably, a fastidious Prussian with a ''geschmutzik'' monocle who dons a bemedaled tunic and braided military cap and barks orders at his aide-de-camp: ''Brushin' a Prussian!'' ''Perfuma-schpritzen!'' -- then marches off to his job as a doorman.
The sketches were never about very much, often just an idea: a wife trying to hide the fact that she has just smashed up her husband's car, a roof leaking on an elegant dinner party, a catered boardroom lunch that lurches into chaos over who gets the chopped liver as a slavering chairman lusts after a pickle wagged by his vice chairman.
In one pantomime, Ms. Coca, Mr. Caesar, Mr. Reiner and Mr. Morris were life-size mechanical figures on a Bavarian town clock, trotting out to strike the hours -- hammer on anvil, a splash of water from a dipper, a wheezing bellows -- until the thing goes madly, progressively to pieces, leaving all the quaint lederhosen figures drenched, battered and sprung.
In another, Ms. Coca was a wife posing for her amateur photographer husband, who could not quite satisfy himself about her face. Poking here, pushing there, he kept rearranging her features, which froze where he put them. Finally, he got it right: her left eye shut in a grotesque wink, the right following him around the room like a searchlight. The husband-and-wife routines -- dubbed ''The Hickenloopers'' -- became a staple of marital rapture and catastrophe.
In ''The Sewing Machine Girl,'' a sendup of sweatshops, Ms. Coca, with Mr. Reiner as a badgering, leering boss, worked faster and faster, drooping lower and lower, until at last she gave up, did a whirling dervish dance of consumption, collapsed in death throes and, sprouting wings, flew up to heaven on wires.
In ''From Here to Obscurity,'' a parody of Fred Zinnemann's film ''From Here to Eternity,'' Ms. Coca played the hard, innocent bar girl and Mr. Caesar her boxing-bugler soldier, tragic lovers in Hawaii on the eve of war. At last, they are alone together on a beach, in swimsuits under the moonlight. You can hear the romantic music, the waves rolling in.
''I love you,'' she says passionately.
They start to embrace.
And water -- about a bucketful -- splashes in their faces.
''I love you,'' he says gamely.
Dripping, bedraggled, shivering, she can hardly keep a straight face as another bucketful hits them.
''There's one thing I have to ask,'' he says.
''Did you bring a towel?''
Ms. Coca's musical satire came from a well-trained but not powerful voice. She could turn a Wagner aria into a nightmare of brow-knitted concentration, quavering glissandos and narrow escapes from tonal disaster -- just the reverse of a young singer approaching a difficult passage, the mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens once said. ''You're always deathly afraid the young singer will never make the last note,'' she said. ''With Imogene, you're always afraid she will.''
Her dance spoofs were also a result of years of training, and were far more subtle than most audiences realized, extracting humor not by stumbling around but by finely exaggerated professional movements. In ''Afternoon of a Faun,'' she traipsed off in amorous pursuit of a prancing satyr, eventually making her capture by pouring salt from a shaker over his little goat tail.
But it was Ms. Coca's flexible face and her talents as a pantomime that delighted most audiences. ''Imogene can look so abandoned that you wonder if she ever had anybody to abandon her in the first place,'' a friend said. And Max Liebman, who produced and directed ''Your Show of Shows'' for NBC, said, ''The great thing about Imogene is that one nostril never knows what the other is doing.''
At the height of her success, Ms. Coca, who won an Emmy as the best actress of 1951, was making $10,000 a week. After ''Your Show of Shows'' ended in 1954, NBC gave Ms. Coca her own half-hour show and a 10-year, $1 million contract. She was paid half that sum in the first year, but her show faltered and she gave up the balance of the contract.
Ms. Coca subsequently appeared in nightclubs, Broadway plays, films and many television specials. In 1958, she and Mr. Caesar were reunited for an ABC program that ran 18 weeks. And in 1967, ''The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special'' won an Emmy Award for the year's best variety show. But, critics said, the old Caesar-Coca magic was not quite there.
From 1950 to 1954, they had made 160 editions of ''Your Show of Shows.'' Those were the years before videotape, when television was live and programs -- classics or not -- vanished into the ether. But Mr. Liebman, the producer, kept ''Your Show of Shows'' on kinescopes, 16-millimeter films.
Last year, like a long-delayed punch line, the staff of the City Center in Manhattan found 47 dusty boxes of long-lost scripts and other memorabilia (but no kinescopes) from ''Your Show of Shows,'' the ''Admiral Broadway Revue'' and other pioneering television productions. They had been stashed away in a closet in an office suite where Mr. Caesar, Ms. Coca and their writers created shows, and had apparently lain undisturbed for nearly 40 years.
In 1973, Mr. Liebman and Mr. Caesar created and released ''Ten From 'Your Show of Shows,' '' a selection of some of the best skits in a 35-millimeter enlargement that went into the nation's movie houses and was enthusiastically received by critics and audiences. Videotapes have since made ''Ten From 'Your Show of Shows' '' widely available to a new generation of fans.
Among its offerings, ''At the Movies'': A poor sap (Mr. Caesar) goes into a theater to relax. He chews 10 sticks of gum while eating handfuls of popcorn. A woman (Ms. Coca) comes in and sits next to him. She begins to squirm and fidget with her skirt. Soon, they are both squirming and fidgeting.
Her jealous boyfriend (Mr. Reiner) enters and accuses them of meeting secretly. The lovers quarrel. The sap moves over one seat, trying to stay out of it. To defy her boyfriend, she moves over and kisses him. (''I'll kiss the fathead if I want!'') Enraged boyfriend attacks unresisting sap. Finally, the lovers make up and depart, arm in arm, leaving the bystander mauled and in tatters.
In 1963, Ms. Coca starred with Jack Lemmon in the film ''Under the Yum Yum Tree'' and in a television comedy called ''Grindl,'' about the adventures of a maid. She later appeared in nightclubs and regional playhouses and in 1979 was in a Broadway revival of ''On the Twentieth Century.''
Imogene Coca was born in Philadelphia on Nov. 18, 1908, the daughter of José Fernandez de Coca, a violinist and vaudeville band leader, and Sadie Brady Coca, a dancer who also performed in a magician's act.
When the Cocas were not on the road, home was a tumultuous Philadelphia household where singers, dancers, actors, gag men and acrobats kept life in a constant swirl. An only child, Imogene spent her early years in the theaters where her parents worked. At the age of 5, she began piano lessons; at 6, singing lessons, and at 7 dancing lessons.
She went to school in Atlantic City for several years, but by the age of 11 was performing in vaudeville. At 13, she was singing in a slinky black dress at the Dixie in Manayunk, Pa., and at 15 was performing in Jimmy Durante's Silver Slipper Club in New York. She made her Broadway debut at 17 in the chorus line of ''When You Smile'' in 1925.
For years, she bounced from show to show, when employed at all. Finally she got a lucky break. Shivering in a chilly theater while rehearsing for Leonard Sillman's ''New Faces of 1934,'' Ms. Coca, a lesser light to Henry Fonda and other young stars, wrapped herself in someone's huge coat and began clowning around: a fan dance with flapping ends. Mr. Sillman saw it and put it in the show. The show flopped, but critics hailed Ms. Coca as a rising comedian.
In another flop, ''Fools Rush In,'' she met Robert Burton, an actor. They were married the day after the play closed in 1935. Mr. Burton, who became a record company executive, died in 1955. In 1960, Ms. Coca married King Donovan, an actor she had met on a summer theater tour. They often performed together in plays and variety shows. Mr. Donovan died in 1987.
Ms. Coca had no survivors.
A small woman -- 5 feet 3 and 100 pounds -- Ms. Coca was shy offstage, a gentle, unassuming, sensitive person, friends said.
Someone who worked with her remembered that once in the chaos of a rehearsal for ''Your Show of Shows'' on a night when the cast was tired and nerves were frayed, when lines were lost and nobody believed it would all come together for the cameras at 9, Ms. Coca suddenly twisted her face into an appalling moue.
The tension dissolved in an uproar of laughter.
''She had the wonderful faculty of understanding,'' the friend said.
To read some articles about The Imogene Coca show go to http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=TAhMAAAAIBAJ&sjid=DSQNAAAAIBAJ&dq=the%20imogene%20coca%20show&pg=5698%2C6923975 and http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=IXsTAAAAIBAJ&sjid=qQAEAAAAIBAJ&dq=imogene%20coca&pg=7336%2C728150 and http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=JqVHAAAAIBAJ&sjid=sv4MAAAAIBAJ&dq=imogene%20coca&pg=2910%2C4875187
To watch some clips of Imogene Coca go to http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=+imogene+coca+&aq=f
For more on The Imogene Coca Show go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Imogene_Coca_Show
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