Edie Adams, Actress and Singer (and Flirt With a Cigar), Dies at 81
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: October 16, 2008
Edie Adams, an actress, comedian and singer who both embodied and winked at the stereotypes of fetching chanteuse and sexpot blonde, especially in a long-running series of TV commercials for Muriel cigars, in which she poutily encouraged men to “pick one up and smoke it sometime,” died Wednesday in the West Hills section of Los Angeles. She was 81 and lived in Los Angeles.
The cause was pneumonia and cancer, said her son, Josh Mills.
Ms. Adams had a remarkably varied career in show business, performing on stage, in nightclubs and on the large and small screens. A classically trained singer who graduated from Juilliard, she won the Miss U.S. Television beauty pageant in 1950 after singing a coloratura version of “Love Is Where You Find It” in the talent competition. The prize was an appearance in Minneapolis onstage with Milton Berle, which led to an appearance on his television show, which in turn led to her being featured on television with the cigar-smoking comedian Ernie Kovacs, who would become her husband.
Ms. Adams made her Broadway debut in 1953, playing Rosalind Russell’s sister in the Leonard Bernstein musical “Wonderful Town,” directed by George Abbott.
By the time she took her second Broadway role, in the musical version of the comic strip “Li’l Abner” in 1956, she was already known for her comic, vocal and physical gifts. Though not as spectacularly curvy as Marilyn Monroe, Ms. Adams bore some resemblance to her and was known to do a wicked Monroe impersonation. So the part of the voluptuous and loyal Daisy Mae was a perfect fit, and for her performance she won a Tony.
In the 1960s she took her talents to the movies, appearing largely in supporting roles in battle-of-the-sexes films including “The Apartment” (1960), with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine; “Lover Come Back” (1961), with Doris Day and Rock Hudson; and “Under the Yum Yum Tree” (1963), with Mr. Lemmon and Carol Lynley. She was part of the enormous ensemble — including Sid Caesar, Jonathan Winters, Spencer Tracy, Phil Silvers, Mickey Rooney and Ethel Merman — in Stanley Kramer’s “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1963), and she played the wife of a ruthless presidential candidate (Cliff Robertson) in the screen adaptation of Gore Vidal’s political drama “The Best Man.”
In 1962 she appeared on ABC with Duke Ellington. In 1963 she also began a variety show, “Here’s Edie,” in which she performed with the likes of Count Basie and Sammy Davis Jr. The show received five Emmy nominations, but was short-lived.
“It was one of the first times that a black man and a white woman could be seen together on a stage, singing,” Mr. Mills said. “And that was her choice. That was her doing.”
In the 1970s and ’80s she returned to television, appearing frequently as a guest star on myriad series, from “Fantasy Island” and “The Love Boat” to “Murder, She Wrote” and “Designing Women.”
But of all her incarnations, she will be best remembered as the face (and the legs and the body) of Muriel cigars. In a series of commercials that ran over 19 years while sales of the brand increased more than tenfold, Ms. Adams, usually clad in the highest heels and the slinkiest dresses, danced with giant cigars, caressed them and extolled their virtues, often with a come-hither moue and a wink, and the whispered slogan adapted from Mae West’s famous invitation to come up and see her.
“One thing about my mom; she was keenly aware of her sex appeal,” said Mr. Mills, whose father was Ms. Adams’s second husband, the photographer Marty Mills. “She knew men would be happy to spend time with her. But she was smarter than the average bear.”
Edith Elizabeth Enke was born on April 16, 1927, in Kingston, Pa. — Adams was her mother’s maiden name — and spent her childhood partly in Grove City, Pa., and partly in Tenafly, N.J. Her father was a banker until the stock market crash of 1929; then he became a salesman. Her mother was a music teacher and an English teacher who quit after American soldiers returned from World War I out of a belief, born of her Welsh heritage, Ms. Adams once said, that a woman should not take a job from a man. It was also part of the Welsh heritage, she added, that young women were expected to sing.
Ms. Adams’s life was flecked with sorrow. Kovacs died in an automobile accident in Los Angeles in 1962 and left her with an enormous debt to the Internal Revenue Service, which she eventually paid off with performance dates and commercial work. Their daughter, Mia Kovacs, died in another automobile accident in 1982. Ms. Adams’s marriage to Mr. Mills ended in divorce, as did a third marriage, to the jazz trumpeter Pete Candoli. Her son, of Los Angeles, is her only survivor.
Among the most memorable performances of her career was a song she sang on the final episode of “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour” in April 1960. The show was the last in the long partnership of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz; their marriage had crumbled and they were no longer speaking on the set. As part of the convoluted plot of the episode, Ms. Adams, with Vivian Vance at the piano, performed a bell-clear, heartbreaking rendition of the Alan Brandt-Bob Haymes classic “That’s All,” which reduced the entire crew to tears.
“Say it’s me that you adore, for now and evermore,” Ms. Adams sang. “That’s all, that’s all.”
LOS ANGELES – Neal Hefti, a Big Band trumpeter, arranger and composer of themes for the movie "The Odd Couple" and the "Batman" television series, has died. He was 85.
Hefti died Saturday at his home, said his son Paul Hefti.
Neal Hefti's notable achievements include the iconic theme of the 1960s superhero series "Batman," which became a Top 40 hit and won a Grammy Award in 1966 for best instrumental theme. He also composed music for "The Odd Couple," "Barefoot in the Park" and "Harlow," which featured his classic track "Girl Talk."
His son said the "Batman" theme was Neal Hefti's most difficult piece, taking him at least one month to compose the driving bass and explosive trumpet bursts.
"He threw away more music paper on this thing than any other song," Paul Hefti told The Associated Press. "It got down to the blues with a funny guitar hook, the lowest common denominator and a fun groove."
Neal Hefti was born Oct. 29, 1922, in Hastings, Neb., and played trumpet with local bands as a teenager to earn money.
As an adult, he worked with and arranged music for the greats of the Big Band era, including Count Basie, Woody Herman, Charlie Spivak and Harry James.
"He was one of the really great arrangers and composers of all time," radio and television personality Gary Owens, a longtime friend, told the Los Angeles Times.
The Comedy Car (operated by Jerry "Scooter" Hunsberger), Gautham Prasad, Dan Berkley and Shane Cashin (in makeup for the very first time) and myself at the Bridgeport, CT Columbus Day Parade yesterday.
Gautham Prasad, Dan Berkley and myself at the Newark Museum this past Saturday afternoon performing a "Clown College Clinic" clown history show to publicize Ringling's first visit to Newark in over 50 years.
I hope to have video from the show posted this evening.