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Edie hits a high note

Saturday, August 01, 1998

By Dennis Roddy

GROVE CITY, Pa. - Call her a dizzy dame, but when Edith Enke agreed to come home for the town's bicentennial, she told folks here to get her a meeting with the big guy.

In a town like this, that would be the superintendent of schools.

She was horrified to learn that most American kids can't read music. Music means everything to the woman because it changed her life. She left town as little Edith Enke, went to the Julliard School of Music, and hit it big on Broadway and television under the name of Edie Adams.

So, Adams spent yesterday morning trying out ideas about what she could do to help, and the locals said maybe she could hold a workshop, or show some of her old TV shows.

In possibly the most honest words spoken by a returning celebrity, she told the half-dozen people sitting at the big table in Superintendent Robert Post's office, "I don't know what I'm doing here, but I do want to do something."

Mostly, Adams talked about her life as one of television's pioneers, and how hard she had to work to make it in a cruel business, only to be remembered best as the Muriel Cigar bimbo.

"That used to be my funny suit. I dressed myself up like Marilyn Monroe and everybody bought it," she said. These were the swingin' years, when guys wanted to be like Sinatra, and diamonds were a girl's best friend, closely followed by the comfortable inanity of looking like a bubblehead.

So she put on that tight dress, learned the words to "Hey, Big Spender," and a babe was born.

"They liked the wig. Pretty soon my hair was blond and I was that person. I sort've morphed," she said. "Yeah, an airhead."

Those were miserable years. Her husband was Ernie Kovacs, whose pie-in-the-brain comedy presaged the arrival of acts such as the Monty Python troupe. His Corvair rolled over and killed him in 1962. The couple had a mountain of debts and the IRS came around claiming $500,000 in back taxes. Her lawyer told her to declare bankruptcy, but Adams told him her parents were still alive and she wasn't walking away from any debts.

"I told my agent, 'I don't care what the conditions are, I don't care about what kind of dressing room, get me something that pays as much as you can,'" she said. In no time, she was popping up on the Muriel commercials, doing a little-watched, but much regarded variety show called "Here's Edie," for ABC, and singing at the Riviera Club in Las Vegas.

For "Here's Edie," she made many of the costumes, cribbed what sets she could from other shows, and hired the best musicians she could find to cut down on rehearsal time. Her first guest was Andre Previn.

"I started at $25,000 a week," she said. "I didn't keep any of it, but the government was very happy."

She never had the heart to tell her sponsors at the Consolidated Cigar Co. that she was allergic to smoke.

In many ways, Edie Adams is now best remembered for saving Kovacs' legacy. After the government was paid off, she started using the big paydays to buy up all tapes and films of the old Kovacs shows. Networks live in the eternal present, and some fools were recording over the old Kovacs tapes. Edie's music was old music. She was classically trained and she still shakes with horror at the memory of having to sing "Stony End" during one of her Vegas shows.

But not long ago, someone at a studio called her about reissuing the eight albums she recorded in the days before rock rolled over her.

"In the 50s, when rock and roll came in, I thought 'Oh, this is good for about three years,'" she said. Post and fellow teachers, two of whom join him in a 50s rock and roll act, laughed at that one.

"Now, here we are," Adams said. "We have space age bachelor pad music and they all like Frank Sinatra again."

And maybe, at last, a real fix on the woman who lived in Ernie's shadow.

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