Imogene Coca, the comedienne who convulsed audiences with laughter on early television’s famous Sid Caesar vehicle, “Your Show of Shows,” and in Broadway’s On the Twentieth Century, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award, died on June 2 in her residence in Fairfield County, Connecticut. She was 92 years old.
Ms. Coca will always be linked in the public imagination with fellow television comic, Sid Caesar, off whom she played from 1950 to 1954. She won that star-making gig after 25 years dancing, singing and clowning on New York stages and in tony nightclubs. The daughter of Sadie Brady, a magician's assistant, and Joseph Fernandez de Coca, a violin soloist and conductor for orchestras in Philadelphia, Atlantic City and for the Keith/Albee vaudeville circuit, Imogene was performing by the age of 15, finding work at Jimmy Durante's Silver Slipper club in Manhattan. She would later appear in such night spots as Cafe Society in Greenwich Village and Reubon Blue.
She made her Broadway debut in When You Smile, starring Jeanette MacDonald. She also performed in The Garrick Gaities (1930), Shoot the Works (1931), Flying Colors (1932), Dime a Dance (1937) and Straw Hat Revue (1939).
Producer Leonard Sillman cast her in New Faces of 1934. Sensing her comic potential, he had her and fellow newcomer Henry Fonda do comedy routines in front of the curtain during scene changes. Critics hailed what Sillman had seen in the actress and Ms. Coca’s career as a funny woman was launched. It wouldn’t be until 15 years later, however, that television producer Max Liebman would draft her for the show that became “Your Show of Shows,” and Ms. Coca would became a familiar, mugging face to millions of Americans.
Ms. Coca would remain in contact with Caesar over the years. She co-stared in the CBS television special "The Sid Caesar-Imogene Coca-Carl Reiner-Howard Morris Show," which won eleven Emmy Awards. And, in 1990 she and Caesar reunited in honor of the 40th anniversary of "Your Show of Shows" by opening in New York at Michael's Pub for an 16-week stay. They then toured the country for several years. Following her initial television success, Ms. Coca returned to the stage, appearing in Janus with Robert Preston, and in The Girls in 509. In the latter, she met her second husband, King Donovan. Together, they acted in more than 30 shows, including Plaza Suite, The Rivals, The Fourposter, Cabaret, You Know I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running and The Gin Game.
She is best remembered by contemporary audiences for her turn in 1978’s On the Twentieth Century, a musical version of the play, Twentieth Century, set aboard the luxury liner locomotive of the 1930s. She played a religious fanatic named Letitia Primrose (it was a male role in the original play). She won a Tony nomination and the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for her work. A decade later she played Primrose (again singing the comic-puritanical song, "Repent") in a bus and truck tour of the Comden-Green-Coleman tuner, with Judy Kaye, Frank Gorshin and her husband.
At Miss Coca's request, there will not be a funeral service. Donations in her memory may be made to the Imogene Coca Charitable Foundation c/o Price Financial Group, 37 North Avenue, Norwalk, CT 06851.