This short, wiry, pliable, zany, and beloved revue comedienne and singer is best known for her years as the female regular on "Your Show of Shows" and for her seemingly unstoppable touring in stage performances throughout the US well into her eighties. Imogene Coca was the daughter of performers and was performing herself in vaudeville from an early age. She made her Broadway debut as a chorus girl in "When You're Smiling" in 1925 when she was 17, and in 1926, she was across the river in Brooklyn performing at Werba's in "Bubbling Over". For the next three decades, Coca appeared in one revue after another, several stage musical comedies and performed her own act at such Manhattan cabarets as The Rainbow Room (first in 1937), The Silver Slipper, The Ruban Blew, and Cafe Society Uptown. It was, therefore, almost natural that when TV began to emerge as a popular art form, a singer-comedienne like Coca would be drawn to it.
Indeed, Coca made her TV debut in 1948 in a short-lived ABC variety show called "Buzzy Wuzzy". The next year, she was hired for the "Admiral Broadway Revue" (NBC and Dumont), in whose cast was a revue artist and comedian named Sid Caesar. The next year, Max Liebman teamed Caesar and Coca in "Your Show of Shows" (NBC) which became the TV sketch comedy show against which all further shows would find themselves judged. When Caesar decided he wanted to change the cast in 1954, Coca was slotted into her own comedy-variety series which tried to blend sitcom elements, but failed. By 1958, she was back with Caesar, but the audience had moved on. In the 60s, Coca tried more conventional sitcoms, first as "Grindl" (NBC, 1963-64), a temporary worker going from home-to-home, and as a cave woman transported to modern times in "It's About Time" (CBS, 1966-67). Both shows flopped, but she continued to make occasional guest appearances on other sitcoms and, more frequently, on the variety specials of other stars, such as Bob Hope, Jackie Gleason, and Carol Burnett. In 1967, Coca, Caesar and former "Show of Shows" regulars Carl Reiner and Howard Morris teamed again for an Emmy-winning special. Coca also portrayed "Maw" in the CBS TV-movie reunion of "The Beverly Hillbillies" (1981) and was Cook in the 1985 CBS miniseries "Alice in Wonderland".
Her film appearances were far more sporadic, beginning with the comic short, "Bashful Ballerina" (1937). Coca appeared as herself in "Promises, Promises" and offered comic support to Jack Lemmon in "Under the Yum Yum Tree" (both 1963). More recently, she was daffy Aunt Edna in "National Lampoon's Vacation" (1983).
Since the early 60s, Coca has trouped across America in stage revues and productions of such hit musicals like "Once Upon a Mattress" and "Bells Are Ringing" and plays like Murray Schisgal's "Luv" and Neil Simon's "The Prisoner of Second Avenue". She returned to Broadway in 1978 in a major supporting role in the Cy Coleman-Betty Comden-Adolph Green musical "On the Twentieth Century", which earned her a Tony nomination. She later appeared in the national tour headlined by Rock Hudson. Coca also teamed with Caesar for revues in 1961, 1977, and 1991.