Edie Adams, RIP

Edie Adams has died at the age of 81. Those who watched television in the 1950s will remember Adams as the foil to her husband, comedian Ernie Kovacs.

Kovacs was a reckless spender, and after he died in a car crash in 1962, Adams found herself in debt to the tune of more than $500,000 and in trouble with the IRS. Milton Berle, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jack Lemmon, and others offered to organize a TV special to help her out of these financial difficulties. Adams rejected the offer and worked non-stop until the obligations were taken care of.

Those who watched television in the 1960s will remember Adams for the ads she did on behalf of Muriel Cigars. In one, she performed a steamy impression of Mae West that culminated with this invitation: “Why don’t you pick one up and smoke it some time.” In another, she sang the Peggy Lee number “Big Spender,” finishing with an invitation to “spend a little dime [the cost of the cigar] with me.”

These ads were the sexiest thing on television at the time, or at least the sexiest thing I encountered.

But Adams was more than just Kovacs’ foil and a Madison Avenue sex symbol. She won a Tony for best supporting actress in a musical for her role as Daisy Mae in the “Li’l Abner.” And she starred in several movies including “The Apartment,” which won the Academy Award for best picture in 1960.

For me, though, her most memorable performance was in “The Best Man,” a classic political potboiler based on a Gore Vidal novel. Adams plays the wife of a ruthless politican (Cliff Robertson) who will stop at nothing to capture his party’s presidential nomination. Adams has only a few scenes, but the combination of ambition and sensuality that she exudes leaves an impression.

As Groucho Marx said of Adams, “there are some things Edie won’t do, but there’s nothing she can’t do.”

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