I recently read Ernie Kovac’s novel Zoomar. I’ve had a copy for years. The “modern popular novel” is generally not my cup of tea. But Ernie Kovacs is an old hero and favorite of mine. Then, Zoomar was published over fifty years ago (in 1957) thus it’s not too modern.
I found a second copy (with the dust jacket, as pictured).
In Diana Rico’s Ernie Kovacs biography KOVACSLAND, she says “In Zoomar Ernie vivesected everything he hated or couldn’t understand about commercial TV: the misdirected network brass decision-making, the stupidity of sponsors, the shlocky shows, the political game playing, the Byzantine cost-accounting systems, the ridiculous pampering of stars.”
She also discounts Ernie’s claims to have written the book in thirteen days. His editor Kenneth McCormick thinks it was closer to two months. Either way, he still wrote it quite quickly.
It’s interesting to look at the television industry of fifty years ago, and try to figure out how it compares to the industry today. Even then, he wrote that “We are the strongest, most influential medium in the entire world.” Even as a baby, TV was feeling its power grow.
One section, late in the book, makes fun of television ads: “So get Invincible Spray today.” and so on.
Yet for all his criticisms, you also get the sense of his love for and enthusiasm over “the tube.” In one section, he speaks of the early, rough days of the medium:
“I started this business in Philly far enough back to remember the vocalist getting burned across the face and chest from the early lighting system. I helped put the first prisms into a can that had been used for frozen orange juice. We painted the can black. This was probably the first image inverter in the business.”
He goes on to talk about using orange crates for pedestals, and other improvisations.
There’s a “self-referential scene” where one character asks another about Sid Caesar (miss-spelled as Caeser) and it goes on:
“How about Kovacs,” as asked.
“Too erratic,” said Hope, “his comedy is too extreme and too frequently he gets his punch line from the grisly side of life…man being torn apart by horse…trick golf expert missing the golf ball and bashing in his assistant’s head.”
“I like him,” said Matti.
“Oh you like everybody,” said Hope.”
There are also references to old movies and movie stars. If you know who Erich Von Stroheim and Eric Blore were, you’ll better appreciate one of his wisecracks. Others mention include Walt Disney, Phil Silvers, Sam Goldwyn, Ruby Keeler, Roy Rogers and (I think) Orson Welles.
Other (non- movie) people mentioned include Goethe, Nietzsche, Lewis Carroll, Heinrich Heine, dancer Maria Tallchief and cartoonist Al Capp.
There are some nice accounts of the Stork Club and of Christmas in New York. You get some sense of the city back in the 1950’s. He also describes the automobile phone (an ancestor of today’s “cell phone”).
The book notes the existence of sexuality, homosexuality and infidelity. Today, many of its values may seem out of date, sexist, inappropriate and so on. The book does seem a product of its times. There’s one passage which details a sort of “woman-machine.” Yet for all that, there’s also this, talking about a housecat:
“She wouldn’t eat a poor defenseless bird,” Eileen said, with that misplaced faith that women have in men and animals.
I appreciated this book for giving me more insights into Ernie Kovacs and his times. Of course, I prefer his television work. Yet reading this makes one wonder whether he’d have gone on writing books had he lived. If he had, I think he’d have done some interesting work.
I’ve been doing further studies involving the great Mr. Kovacs. Expect another post on him from me next year.
My previous blog post on Ernie Kovacs:
An old article which talks about Zoomar:
This includes an image of the paperback edition of Zoomar: