Thursday, February 13, 2014


Sid Caesar has died.  He was one of the great clowns of the 20th century, as well as one of TV's true pioneers.  I saw him a few years ago at a tribute at the Museum Of Radio And TV (used to be the Museum Of Broadcasting but then cable took over).  He moved a lot slower, but he still had the spirit.

In the first decade of TV, no one was sure what to do with the medium, but great variety clowns were in high demand--Jackie Gleason, Milton Berle, Phil Silvers and others.  And perhaps none of them had all the talents of Sid Caesar, who could do wild physical comedy, crazy double talk, and even sophisticated domestic situations.  Throughout the 50s, starting with Your Show Of Shows and continuing with Caesar's Hour and some specials, Caesar came up with hours and hours of some of the funniest things ever seen on TV.  And the fact that for many of these years he worked live, 39 weeks straight, makes it all the more amazing.

He also appreciated writers, and hired the best.  It's almost impossible to imagine American comedy in the latter half of the 20th century without the names on his staff--Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen and many others.  But they, in return, appreciated that they were writing for the man who could make their sketches sing like no other.  It's a mark of how deeply he effected them that so many would go on to create a comic tribute: second banana Carl Reiner would create The Dick Van Dyke Show about a comedy writer for a variety hour; Mel Brooks would produce My Favorite Year about a young man on the staff of a 50s comedy show based in Sid Caesar's; Neil Simon wrote Laughter On The 23rd Floor, a fictionalized version of his experience on Your Show Of Shows.

Caesar continued to work regularly in the 60s and 70s, playing multiple roles in the Neil Simon-scripted Broadway musical Little Me, appearing in films such as It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. and Mel Brooks' Silent Movie, and doing lots of TV guest shots, but it was never quite the same.  He probably couldn't have topped himself in any case, but the truth was he struggled with alcohol and drugs and could barely remember decades of his life before he finally sobered up.  There was also a theatrical release of sketches from Your Show Of Shows in 1973.  Years later, of course, much of his material is available on DVD.

He lived long enough to write two autobiographies, win numerous award, and know he'd become a legend. (He also got to hear certain anecdotes become legendary, often about his daunting physical strength.  There's the story about Caesar and Mel Brooks in Chicago at the Palmer House.  Brooks says he needs to go out, he needs to get some air.  So Caesar grabs Brooks and leans him out the window and Brooks decides that's enough air.  Then there was a to-do with a cabbie who called him a name.  Caesar walked over and the cabbie opened the vent window.  Caesar reached in, got a grip on the cabbie and started pulling, saying we're going to reenact your birth.)

This is one Caesar who deserves a tribute.


Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

Not letting Sid go without a comment.

Hail, Sid.

2:20 PM, February 13, 2014  

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