Sid Caesar, Master Of Sketch Comedy Dies At 91
When certain celebrities pass away it hits me hard. Sid Caesar was always one of my favorite comedians. His death at the age of 91 in Beverly Hills, CA on February 12, 2014, closes the book on the big TV comedy stars during the golden age of prime time television of the 1950’s. Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Red Skelton, Ed Wynn, Jackie Gleason, Ernie Kovacs, Phil Silvers – they’re all gone now.
Sid Caesar’s meteoric rise at breakneck speed from 1950-1954 on Your Show of Shows and from 1955-1957 on Caesar’s Hour was offset by a steep fall into depression with drug and alcohol problems, which took him many years to recover from.
To modern audiences Caesar may be best known for his movie appearances in Grease (1978) as Coach Calhoun and It’s A Mad, Mad Mad, Mad World (1963) as one of the treasure pursuers. But I would say for most people under the age of 40, the name Sid Caesar will draw a blank stare when mentioned. That is a shame.
Here is a sketch that pre-dates the current health food craze by sixty years.
What Sid Caesar accomplished besides entertaining millions with his hilarious sketches that the common man could relate to, was to bring together a staff of talent that influences modern comedy to this day.
The writing and performing staff included Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Lucille Kallen, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Danny Simon, Mel Tolkin and Larry Gelbart. It is no exaggeration to say the annals of comedy would not have been the same without Sid Caesar.
As the New York Times pointed out in its obituary of Sid Caesar:
A list of Mr. Caesar’s writers over the years reads like a comedy all-star team. Mel Brooks (who in 1982 called him “the funniest man America has produced to date”) did some of his earliest writing for him, as did Woody Allen. So did the most successful playwright in the history of the American stage, Neil Simon. Carl Reiner created one landmark sitcom, “The Dick Van Dyke Show”; Larry Gelbart was the principal creative force behind another, “M*A*S*H.” Mel Tolkin wrote numerous scripts for “All in the Family.” The authors of the two longest-running Broadway musicals of the 1960s, Joseph Stein (“Fiddler on the Roof”) and Michael Stewart (“Hello, Dolly!”), were Caesar alumni as well.
Sketches on “Your Show of Shows” and its successor, “Caesar’s Hour” (1954-57), were as likely to skewer the minutiae of domestic life as to lampoon classic Hollywood movies, arty foreign films and even operas. Mr. Caesar won Emmys for both those shows.
One of the most memorable sketches of all time on Your Show of Shows: The Clock
To appreciate what it was like to produce a live 90 minute weekly sketch comedy variety show for about 30 weeks a year you should see My Favorite Year (1982) which is loosely based upon Sid Caesar and Your Show of Shows. It is easily one of the best movies made during the 1980’s. It stars Joseph Bologna playing King Kaiser (a thinly disguised Sid Caesar) with Mark Linn Baker as a junior staff writer (a la Mel Brooks who was the executive producer) and a great performance by Peter O’Toole as Alan Swann an Erroll Flynn-like guest star who has a slight drinking problem and stage fright.
But here are three more of the best available sketches on YouTube from the master himself Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows.
Tell me that this scenario does not happen today, the working business lunch where the meal is more important than the meeting:
Sid Caesar with Imogene Coca and Carl Reiner in the sketch At The Movies. The first three minutes containing no dialogue. Sid Caesar says about five lines in the whole nine minutes. Sheer brilliance.
And finally a hilarious takeoff of the Ralph Edwards TV Show This Is Your Life which surprised an unsuspecting guest (usually a celebrity) with a retrospective of their life. People who were important to the guest, would talk off stage and out of sight and then come out on to the stage for a reunion with the guest.