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Imogene Coca
Imogene Coca

Veteran entertainer and comedic actress Imogene Coca appeared as Aunt Jenny in one episode of The Brady Bunch.

Personal Information
Birthname: Imogene Fernandez de Coca
Gender: Female
Born: (1908-11-18)November 18, 1908
Birthplace: Philadelphia, PA, U.S.
Died: June 2, 2001(2001-06-02) (aged 92)
Deathplace: Westport, Connecticut, U.S.
Occupation/
Career:
Actress, Comedienne, Entertainer
Years active: 1925-1996
Character/Series involvement
Series: The Brady Bunch
Episodes appeared in
(and/or) involved with:
"Jan's Aunt Jenny" (Season 3)
Character played: Aunt Jenny


Imogene Fernandez de Coca (November 18, 1908 - June 2, 2001) appeared on The Brady Bunch as Aunt Jenny, Carol's aunt, in the episode "Jan's Aunt Jenny". A veteran comic actress of stage, and film and a pioneer in early TV comedy, Imogene was best known for her role opposite Sid Caesar on the 1950's TV variety series Your Show of Shows.

Starting out in vaudeville as a child acrobat, she studied ballet and wished to have a serious career in music and dance, graduating to decades of stage musical revues, cabaret, and summer stock. Finally in her 40s she began a celebrated career as a comedienne in television, starring in six series and guesting on successful television programs from the 1940s to the 1990s.

She was nominated for five Emmy awards for Your Show of Shows, winning Best Actress in 1951 and singled out for a Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting in 1953. Coca was also nominated for a Tony Award in 1978 for On the Twentieth Century and received a sixth Emmy nomination at the age of 80 for an episode of Moonlighting.

She possessed a rubbery face capable of the broadest expressions —Life magazine compared her to Beatrice Lillie and Charlie Chaplin, and described her characterizations as taking "people or situations suspended in their own precarious balance between dignity and absurdity, and push(ing) them over the cliff with one single, pointed gesture"—the magazine noted a "particularly high-brow critic" as observing, "The trouble with most comedians who try to do satire is that they are essentially brash, noisy and indelicate people who have to use a sledge hammer to smash a butterfly. Miss Coca, on the other hand, is the timid woman who, when aroused, can beat a tiger to death with a feather."[1]

In addition to vaudeville, cabaret, theater and television, she appeared in film, voiced children's cartoons and was even featured in an MTV video by a New Wave music band, working well into her 80s. Twice a widow, Coca died in 2001.

Early life

Coca was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to dancer and magician's assistant Sadie Brady and well-known violinist and vaudeville orchestra conductor José Fernandez de Coca, both show-business veterans.

Imogene took lessons in piano, dance, and voice as a child and while still a teenager moved from Philadelphia to New York City to become a dancer. She got her first job in the chorus of the Broadway theatre musical When You Smile, and became a headliner in Manhattan nightclubs with music arranged by her first husband, Robert Burton. She gained prominence when she began to combine music with comedy; her first critical success was in New Faces of 1934. A well-received part of her act was a comic striptease, during which Coca made sultry faces and gestures but would manage to remove only one glove. She committed this routine to film in the Educational Pictures comedy short The Bashful Ballerina (1937), and co-starred opposite another newcomer to films, Danny Kaye, in Educational's 1937 short Dime a Dance. Both of these comedies were filmed in New York.

Career

In the early days of live television, Imogene played opposite Sid Caesar on The Admiral Broadway Revue (January to June 1949), and then in the sketch comedy program Your Show of Shows], which was immensely popular from 1950 to 1954, winning the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Series in 1952 and 1953. The 90-minute show was aired live on NBC every Saturday night in prime time. She won the second-ever Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress - Comedy Series in 1951 and was nominated for four other Emmys for her work in the show. She was also singled out to win a 1953 Peabody award for excellence in broadcasting.[2] Writers for the show included Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and Woody Allen. Her success in that program earned her her own series, The Imogene Coca Show, which ran from 1954 to 1955.

Prior to working with Caesar she had starred in an early ABC series, Buzzy Wuzzy, which lasted 4 episodes in 1948.[3] She went on to star in two more series. In the 1963–64 TV season, Coca portrayed a comic temporary helper in the NBC sitcom Grindl, with character actor James Millhollin as her boss, Anson Foster. It competed with the second half of The Ed Sullivan Show and lasted only one season. Coca later starred as a cave woman with Joe E. Ross in the 1966–67 time-travel satire sitcom It's About Time.

She continued to appear on comedy and variety series throughout the 1950s, '60s, '70s and '80s including several appearances each on The Carol Burnett Show, The George Gobel Show, The Hollywood Palace and Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town, and Bob Hope specials. She appeared on other shows and specials by Dean Martin, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Lewis, Dick Clark, Danny Kaye, and Andy Williams. The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris Special won a 1967 Emmy for Outstanding Variety Special.

She made memorable guest appearances on sitcoms including two appearances on Bewitched as Mary the Tooth Fairy, on The Brady Bunch as Aunt Jenny, and on Mama's Family as Gert in the episode "Gert Rides Again". Coca appeared with Milton Berle and Your Show of Shows co-star Howard Morris in "Curtain Call", a 1983 episode of Fantasy Island.[4]

Coca appeared in a number of literary adaptations for children. In 1960 she appeared as Miss Clavel in Sol Saks' adaptation of Ludwig Bemelmans' Madeline for Shirley Temple's Storybook. In 1972 she voiced the character of Princess Jane Klockenlocher in a Rankin/Bass version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Emperor's New Clothes. In 1978 she appeared in A Special Sesame Street Christmas alongside Muppets Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch and humans Henry Fonda, Michael Jackson and Ethel Merman. In 1985 she appeared as The Cook in Alice in Wonderland, an all-star TV miniseries adaptation of the book by Lewis Carroll. Among her final roles was voicing characters in Garfield and Friends, based on the Jim Davis cartoon series (1994).

References

  1. Havemann, Ernest (February 5, 1951). "Girl with a Rubber Face". Life magazine 30 (6): 53+.
  2. http://www.imdb.com/Sections/Awards/Peabody_Awards/1954
  3. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0379087/
  4. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0577740/

External links

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