Ernie Kovacs would have turned 100 yesterday (the comedy legend died in 1962 at the age of 42), and to celebrate, The National Comedy Center announced the acquisition and display of never-before-seen material and rare artifacts courtesy of the comedian’s estate.

The collection includes notes and sketches in Kovacs’ own hand, annotated scripts, candid backstage photography, screen-used props and wardrobe, personal effects, and rare production documents that chronicle the career of “Television’s Original Genius,” as well as the history of the early television industry.

“The Ernie Kovacs Centennial Exhibit” will debut in August 2019, during the National Comedy Center’s annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival. The installation will showcase never-before-exhibited creative papers, rare audiovisual content and original, screen-used artifacts from Kovacs’ influential 1950s and early 1960s television shows and specials. The Festival week (Aug. 7-11) will also feature a panel event honoring Kovacs’ art and legacy. 

“We are so pleased to partner with the National Comedy Center to celebrate Ernie Kovacs’ centennial,” said Josh Mills, executive for the Kovacs estate and son of actress/comedienne Edie Adams, who was Kovacs’ wife, co-star, and creative collaborator. “Most of this material has never been exhibited before, so it’s an unprecedented, first-hand look at Ernie’s comedic genius and his unique approach to his work.” 

“Ernie Kovacs’ pioneering comedic spirit has influenced generations of comedians and entertainers,” said Journey Gunderson, National Comedy Center Executive Director. “We are honored and thrilled to present our visitors with this wonderful opportunity to learn about, and be inspired by, one of the true legends of comedy, as we showcase his archives in this very special exhibit.” 

Kovacs influenced generations with his pioneering approach to television, noteworthy for its improvisational and spontaneous style, often featuring experimental visual effects and blackout gags, as well as a propensity to break the “fourth wall,” bringing the cameras behind the scenes, into the studio control room and onto the streets.

Kovacs died in a car accident. His posthumous 1962 Emmy Award is currently on view in the National Comedy Center’s galleries. 

George Schlatter, the pioneering producer behind TV’s Laugh-In and National Comedy Center advisory board member, found a mentor and close friend in Ernie Kovacs: “Ernie saw life differently than the rest of us. The idea that TV is a playpen – not work, but just play – permeated his work. He was an original; he was not another anything. The National Comedy Center’s exhibit will be an opportunity for visitors to watch him closely, enjoy what he does, and learn.” 

The Ernie Kovacs Archive is the latest acquisition for the National Comedy Center, which houses creative papers from comedy innovators including George Carlin, Lucille Ball, Shelley Berman, Lenny Bruce and Rose Marie, among others.