This week’s theme for the 52 Ancestors challenge is “Road Trip.” I would say that my second cousin, 1x removed, hands down, went on the most epic road trip.
Back in 1983, Edna was staying with the family of her daughter, Catherine, in Kansas. However, Edna wanted to go stay with her son, Normy, who lived in Phoenix. Fortunately, her niece, Ellen and her family, from Chicago were coming to visit. They were passing through on a road trip to California. So Edna, and her dog, Dinky, decided to ride along with Ellen’s family and have them drop her off in Phoenix.
However, it was a tragic road trip for both Edna and Dinky. Ellen’s husband, Clark, was a terrible driver who was always driving above the speed limit and arguing with Ellen. Along the way, they stopped at a campground to eat. Clark tied Dinky to the bumper of the car, while they ate. However, Clark forgot to untie poor Dinky when they drove away. Clark did not realize his mistake until a state trooper pulled him over to cite him with animal cruelty. Dinky’s little body was not seen and all that was left was the leash and collar still tied to the bumper. Sadly, Edna also passed away at some point after a stop at the Grand Canyon. Instead of calling for officials, Clark wrapped up Edna’s body in a tarp, and tied her to the roof of the car. They dropped off her body at Normy’s house, only to find that he was not home. Clark insisted that they leave her body on his doorstep, in the pouring rain, and continue on to California.
Many of you are probably thinking that this story sounds very familiar. That is because my second cousin 1x removed is actually actress and comedienne, Imogene Coca, who played “Aunt Edna” in the iconic road trip movie, National Lampoon’s Vacation.
Imogene Coca was born on November 18, 1908 at 3009 North 11th Street in Philadelphia, PA. Her parents were Joseph Fernandez Coca, an orchestra conductor and Sadie C. Brady, who was a magician’s assistant and vaudeville performer. Sadie’s mother, was Mary Ann Donnelly, who was a sister of my great grandmother, Elizabeth Donnelly.
Imogene was encouraged to become a performer and took singing, dancing and piano lessons. She had her first job as a dancer at the age 11 and also sang at the Dixie Theater in Manayunk, PA. At the age of 15, she moved to New York City to try and become a singer and dancer on Broadway. She spent much of the 30s, unknown, and performing in various shows and clubs in New York. She became a comedienne by accident one night while performing in a theater where the heat did not work. She borrowed a coat from another performer in the show. She was only trying to keep warm, and began jumping up and down, dancing and performing a mock strip tease while dressed in the rather larger, woolen overcoat. The director thought it was funny and incorporated into the act. Critics also found it funny, which encouraged Imogene to continue to develop her comedy skills.
In the fall of 1950, Imogene was paired with performer Sid Caesar to star in Your Show of Shows. This was the show she was best known for. Imogene won a Best Actress Emmy for her work in 1951. The show lasted until 1954 when she and Caesar left the show to pursue individual careers. Imogene continued to work on several short-lived TV shows and many guest appearances.
Imogene was first married to music arranger, Robert Burton on January 7, 1935. They were married for 20 years, until he died in 1955. On October 17, 1960, she married actor, King Donovan.
On a foggy New Year’s Eve 1973, Imogene and her husband, King Donovan, were driving to their theater performance in Florida when her husband accidently ran a red light and crashed their car. Imogene had extensive facial injuries because the rear view mirror ended up entered her right eye and also smashed her cheekbone. She lost sight in her eye and had to undergo plastic surgery to repair the damage to her face. She also developed a huge fear of being in automobiles after that accident. This proved to be a challenge for her while filming Vacation, since most of her scenes were filmed inside a car.
Imogene had initially turned down the part of Aunt Edna, because she did not think she could play someone that mean. Eventually, did accept the part. However, even during filming, Imogene, who was actually a gentle and shy person, was concerned that she was being too mean to her fellow cast members.
During the filming of Vacation, Imogene also suffered a mild stroke. She had shot a scene during the morning. However, in the afternoon, she could not remember anything they had did. So, she went to the hospital. After being released, her husband, King Donovan, helped her re-learn her lines and soon she was back on set and finished the movie.
Imogene went on making guest appearances on several TV shows and on Broadway. In 1988, she received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series for her role as the mother of character, Agnes DiPesto, in the TV series, Moonlighting.
Imogene died on June 2, 2001 in Westhaven, Connecticut at the age of 92 after suffering from Alzheimer’s. She had requested that there would be no funeral service and her remains were cremated. She had no children. However, many performers have said that she was a huge influence on their own careers. The television series, Your Show of Shows will always be considered a television classic.