Manny P. here…
For a third time in the past couple of months, we lost two legends in a row; Peter O’Toole and Joan Fontaine… Maximiliam Schell and Philip Seymour Hoffman… and now, Shirley Temple Black and Sid Caesar are gone.
<—— SID CAESAR was more than a genius in the field of comedy. He was a pioneer of live television, who had a keen eye for writing talent. He hired the likes of Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart, and Howard Morris to be part of his creative team; and he influenced the back stories of the Dick Van Dyke Show, and 1982 movie My Favorite Year. Though his cinematic career was brief, Sid was a giant in the early days of the small screen. He displayed remarkable skill in mimicry, pantomime, satire, dialect, and sketch comedy. He was compared to Chaplin for success at combining humor with moments of pathos. His comic view of life served him well, until his retirement from live television at 34.
His talent for comedy was discovered when he was serving in the Coast Guard during World War II, and got a part in a musical Tars and Spars. He also appeared in the movie version. His publicity led to a few other film roles, nightclub engagements, and then his breakthrough hit, a 1948 Broadway revue, Make Mine Manhattan.
Caesar’s official career began in earnest with a stint on Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater. In early 1949, Sid met with Pat Weaver, Vice President of Television at NBC (and father of Sigourney Weaver), which led to The Admiral Broadway Revue with Imogene Coca. On February 23rd, 1950, Caesar presented the first episode of Your Show of Shows, a Saturday night 90-minute variety program. His first guests were Burgess Meredith, Gertrude Lawrence, Lily Pons, and Robert Merrill. Guest stars included Eddie Albert, Fred Allen, Jackie Cooper, Michael Redgrave, Rex Harrison, Basil Rathbone, Charlton Heston, Benny Goodman, Robert Preston, Geraldine Page, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Lena Horne, Pearl Bailey, Jose Ferrer, and many others. Sid won his first Emmy in 1952. He was voted Best Comedian by Motion Picture Daily’s television poll later that year. His program ended after 160 episodes in 1954. SID CAESAR —–>
After a few months, he returned on Caesar’s Hour with Morris, Reiner, Bea Arthur, and much of his former crew. Woody Allen and Larry Gelbart joined this well-established team. Nanette Fabray replaced Coca, who left to star in her own series. Superior ratings from Lawrence Welk’s champagne music put Caesar’s Hour off the air in 1957.
He starred with Virginia Martin in the Broadway musical Little Me, which was written by Neil Simon, choreographed by Bob Fosse, with music by Cy Coleman. Sid was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor (Musical). On film, Caesar and Edie Adams portrayed a husband and wife drawn into a race to find buried loot in the 1963 screwball comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Other screen appearances included History of the World Part I, Airport 1975, Silent Movie, and the Grease series of movie musicals.
On the downside, the unforgiving cycle of weekly television had taken its toll. He relied on booze and pills to sleep every evening, so he could create comedy the following day. It took decades for him to overcome his addiction of alcohol and barbiturates. Caesar spent the final portion of his life attending career-related panel discussions chatting about the Golden Age of Television. Many of these events were recorded for posterity. Sid was presented the Pioneer Award at the TV Land Awards in 2006.
Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, Carol Burnett, Flip Wilson, Dean Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, and many generations of Saturday Night Live cast members owe this legend their collective appreciation for what he created. A bonafide survivor, Sid Caesar was 91.
Until next time> “never forget”