Edie Adams, Broadway's Original Daisy Mae, Dies at 81

Obituaries   Edie Adams, Broadway's Original Daisy Mae, Dies at 81
Edie Adams, a multi-talented actress who put her shapely figure, comic instincts, and clear, Juilliard-trained singing voice to good use by creating the roles of Eileen Sherwood in Wonderful Town and Daisy Mae in Li'l Abner, died Oct. 15 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.
Edie Adams
Edie Adams

Ms. Adams had a kittenish, self-aware persona, her ever-present sexuality usually set off by a knowing playfulness and a touch of parody. During her career, she found work in every medium. She sang in nightclubs across the U.S. She played a series of comic foils in movies, perhaps most memorably as the scorned and vengeful secretary of Fred MacMurray in "The Apartment." She had her own variety show, "Here's Edie," in 1963, though her lasting place in television history is probably as the wife of the brilliant but troubled comedian Ernie Kovacs, who died in a car accident in 1962. She was also for 19 years the highly suggestive spokesperson for Muriel Cigars, in which commercials she danced with six-foot-tall cigars. (In one, she played the singing "Adams Sisters": Edith, Editha and Edie.)

Her Broadway career was two credits long, but they were major roles. Wonderful Town was a rush job written by Leonard Bernstein, Adolph Green and Betty Comden for Rosalind Russell, who played Ruth Sherwood, an Ohio transplant trying to make it in New York. Ms. Adams played Ruth's younger sister Eileen, who doesn't seem to realize the effect her beauty has on men, but nonetheless uses it to her advantage. Among the songs Ms. Adams introduced in the show are "Ohio" and "A Little Bit in Love." She won a Theatre World Award for her work.

Three years later came what is probably the defining role of Ms. Adams' career. In Li'l Abner, composer Gene de Paul, lyricist Johnny Mercer and librettists Norman Panama and Melvin Frank gave flesh and bones and music to the exaggerated hillbillies of the long-running comic strip that gave the show its name. Central to the broadly drawn tale were the handsome, strong and dim Abner, and Daisy Mae, the hourglass blonde in the skimpy costume of black micro-shorts and yellow polka-dot blouse who can't seem to attract Abner's attention. Ms. Adams sang "Namely You," "I'm Past My Prime" and "Love in a Home" in the show, winning a Tony Award for her performance.

Ms. Adams was offered the role of Cunegonde in Bernstein's Candide at the same time as Li'l Abner. On the advice of her Wonderful Town director George Abbott, she went opted for the latter show, which Abbott said would run longer. (He was right.)

She was born Elizabeth Edith Enke on April 16, 1927, in Kingston, PA. She took her mother's maiden name for the stage. She quickly began to develop talents of a sort. She was the baton-twirling champion of Tenafly, NJ. And in 1950, she was named Miss U.S. Television. She married the volatile, mustachioed, cigar-chomping Ernie Kovacs in 1954 in Mexico City. The ceremony was presided over by former New York City mayor William O'Dwyer, and was performed in Spanish. She was a regular on "The Ernie Kovacs Show," singing, doing impersonations — and the occasional pratfall. Of her husband, Ms. Adams later said, "He treated me like a little girl, and I loved it — Women's Lib be damned!" When Kovacs died, he owed several hundred thousand dollars in back taxes to the government. Ms. Adams worked steadily for several years and eventually paid off the debt.

Other television credits included the Fairy Godmother in Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1957 television musical "Cinderella." She and Kovacs appeared on the final episode of "The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour," with Ms. Adams singing "That's All." She was nominated for three Emmy Awards, one for "The Ernie Kovacs Show" and two for "Here's Edie." Movies included "Lover Come Back," "Under the Yum-Yum Tree," "The Best Man" and "The Oscar."

She married Marty Mills in 1964 and they had one son, Josh, who survives her. They divorced in 1971. Her third marriage, to Pete Candoli, from 1972 to 1988, also ended in divorce. A daughter she had with Kovacs, Mia, died in a car accident in 1982.

Edie Adams with <i>Wonderful Town</i> co-star Rosalind Russell
Edie Adams with Wonderful Town co-star Rosalind Russell
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