This down-to-earth 1940s Hollywood support actor was a master of expressionless humour and sarcasm.

Ernie Kovacs was born in Trenton, New Jersey, the second son of Hungarian immigrants.

When 20, Ernie came down with pneumonia and while in hospital was placed in a tuberculosis ward, caught that as well and almost died. The picture here is a scene from Bell, Book and Candle (Columbia, 1958) with James Stewart. Incidentally, the cat's name was Pyewacket.

Ernie once stated he felt safest on stage. No one could get at him there. He meant creditors and the like. While on TV, Columbia Studios re-signed him on a four-year contract at $100,000 a film. Then came the awful day when the Kovacs attended a christening party at Billy Wilder's apartment on Wilshire Boulevard.

Driving home alone in a station waggon - his wife Edie Adams hated to drive - Ernie crashed the car and wrapped it around a pole, dying of a fractured skull. The dead-pan, cigar-chomping comedian was gone. His epitaph was "nothing in moderation".

Ernie Kovacs died in 1962, aged 42.

  • Gordon Dean, Lancing