Sid Caesar who was born on September 8, 1922 and died on February 12, 2014, was an American comic actor and writer, best known for the pioneering 1950s live television series Your Show of Shows, a 90-minute weekly show watched by 60 million people, and its successor Caesar’s Hour, both of which influenced later generations of comedians.
He also acted in movies; he played Coach Calhoun in Grease (1978) and its sequel Grease 2 (1982), and appeared in the films It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), Silent Movie (1976), History of the World, Part I (1981), and Cannonball Run II (1984).
Impact on Television and Broadway
It has been concluded that “the Caesar shows were the crème de la crème of fifties television,” as they were “studded with satire, and their sketches sharper, edgier, more sophisticated than the other variety shows.” Likewise, it has been noted that Caesar was “…best known as one of the most intelligent and provocative innovators of television comedy.”
According to actress Nanette Fabray, who acted alongside Caesar, “He was the first original TV comedy creation.” His early shows were the “…gold standard for TV sketch comedy.” In 1951, Newsweek noted that according to “the opinion of lots of smart people, Caesar is the best that TV has to offer.” The Saturday Evening Post, had written in it that “in temperament, physique, and technique of operation, Caesar represents a new species of comedian.”
However, his positive impact on television became a negative one for Broadway. Caesar fans preferred to stay home on Saturday nights to watch his show instead of seeing live plays. “The Caesar show became such a Saturday-night must-see habit – the Saturday Night Live of its day.” “…Broadway producers begged NBC to switch the show to midweek.”
Comedy star Carol Burnett, who later had her own hit TV show, remembers winning tickets to see My Fair Lady on Broadway: “I gave the tickets to my roommate because I said, Fair Lady’s gonna be running for a hundred years, but Sid Caesar is live and I’ll never see that again.”
Pills and Alcohol
After nearly 10 years as a prime-time star of television comedy with Your Show of Shows followed by Caesar’s Hour, his stardom ended rapidly and he nearly disappeared from the spotlight. It has been described in this manner:
“Caesar slid into a personal and career abyss … [he] had no interest in movies … He would live and die by the tube. His career was short-circuited by alcohol and pills … The pressures of sudden stardom, of headlining and co-producing a weekly hit show, crushed him.”
Caesar himself felt, “It had all come too fast, was too easy, and he didn’t deserve the acclaim.” Writer Mel Brooks, who also became his close friend, said, “I know of no other comedian, including Chaplin, who could have done nearly ten years of live television. Nobody’s talent was ever more used up than Sid’s. He was one of the greatest artists ever born. But over a period of years, television ground him into sausages.”
In 1977, after blacking out during a stage performance of Neil Simon’s The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Caesar gave up alcohol “cold turkey”. In his 1982 autobiography, Where Have I Been?, and his second book, Caesar’s Hours, he chronicled his struggle to overcome his alcoholism and addiction to sleeping pills.
Not Funny All the Time
In a November 2009 article in the Toluca Lake, California, Tolucan Times, columnist Greg Crosby described a visit with Caesar and his wife Florence at their home.
Of the couple’s meeting, Florence said, “Well, I thought he was nice for the summer … I thought he would be just a nice boyfriend for the summer. He was cute-looking and tall, over six feet…. I was in my last year at Hunter College; we were still dating when Sid went into the service, the Coast Guard. Luckily he was stationed in New York so we were able to continue seeing each other, even though my parents weren’t too happy about it. They never thought he would amount to anything, that he’d never have a real career or make any money. But we were married one year after we met, in July of 1943.”
She also pointed out, “You know, he’s not funny all the time. He can be very serious.” At the time of the interview, the couple had been married for 66 years. Florence Caesar died on March 3, 2010, aged 88.
On Caesar’s death, Carl Reiner said, “He was the ultimate, he was the very best sketch artist and comedian that ever existed.”
Mel Brooks commented, “Sid Caesar was a giant, maybe the best comedian who ever practiced the trade. And I was privileged to be one of his writers and one of his friends.”
Jon Stewart and The Daily Show paid tribute to Caesar at the show’s close on February 12, 2014.
Are You Funny?
No, you don’t have to be comic genius like Sid Caesar. But you can contribute to the mirth in the world and thereby make it a better place. Passing along witty items through social media you may help the world to laugh a little more, just as an example. Help someone smile today and you will have improved your world and your own life.
Source: Wikipedia.org (Please donate to this fine resource.)