All Hail Sid Caesar: Conquering Hero Comedy of Television Comedy

Posted by Michael Pinto on Sep 8, 2009 in Television |

Sid Caesar

I come not to bury Caesar but to praise him, because he’s still very much alive! Today legendary comedian, actor and all about television genius Sid Caesar will celebrate his 87th birthday today. Isaac Sidney “Sid” Caesar started life intent on a musical career and audited classes at the famous Juilliard School in New York City. His early music gig were in the Catskills where on the side he tried his hand at comedy before joining the Coast Guard in 1939. During the war that followed he was assigned to play in military revues, where in between sets he would do comedy numbers that started to outshine his musical skills.

Above: Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca

Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca

Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca

After the war and spending a short stint in Hollywood Sid Caesar moved back to New York City for what would become the start of the golden age of television. At first he got started on Broadway but before long he made it to the small screen making his first appearance on Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater. His first try at his own series was The Admiral Broadway Revue with Imogene Coca. However sadly after 26 weeks the series was killed even though it was a success because the sponsor of the show Admiral couldn’t keep up with the demand to keep making TV sets.

Above: The Boardroom Lunch skit from the Your Show of Shows.

Sid CaesarAnd what happened next is television history: In 1950 Sid appeared in the first episode of Your Show of Shows which turned him into a star. This 90 minute variety show ran on Saturday night and had a guest list that become the stuff of legends. Everyone who was anyone during that era was on the show from Hollywood stars like Douglas Fairbanks Jr. to musical talent from Benny Goodman to Lena Horne. In fact the appearance of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. would go on to inspire the making of the film My Favorite Year in 1982.

Above: Argument to Beethoven’s 5th skit from the Your Show of Shows.

But the genius of the show was in fact its comedy. In addition to Sid the show featured Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, and Imogene Coca in front of the camera. Behind the camera in the writer’s room were the likes of Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Woody Allen. For his work Caesar would win an Emmy award in 1952, but the impact of the show would be felt for generations to come as many comedians got ther start there.

Above: Saturday Night skit from the Your Show of Shows.

Sid Caesar as Coach Calhoun

Sid Caesar as Coach Calhoun

As the 50s went on Sid Caesar would headline several other shows in a career that would span decades in an industry that’s rather fickle to say the latest. His exploits weren’t limited to TV as he also did film work, the mega-comedy 1963 It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World comes to mind first. Although kids from my generation also got to him as Coach Calhoun in the 1978 film Grease (not to mention several other films from the 70s like Silent Movie and Airport 1975). And in additional to his film work he’s also kept up his live performances most notably the 1962 Broadway musical Little Me which was written by Neil Simon where Sid played eight parts with 32 costume changes.

Above: Guest star Sid Caesar on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Of course Sid has slowed down these past few years, but it’s never too late to pay homage to a conquering hero of comedy. I’d recommend getting started looking at his early television work, and the film It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World is required viewing for any comedy fanboy (the cast is nothing short of amazing and even includes a touching performance by Spencer Tracy in addition to the rest of the comedy talent).

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