Skip to comments.Sid Caesar, Comedian of Comedians From TVís Early Days, Dies at 91
Posted on 02/12/2014 10:51:14 PM PST by nickcarraway
Sid Caesar, a comedic force of nature who became one of televisions first stars in the early 1950s and influenced generations of comedians and comedy writers, died on Wednesday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 91.
His death was announced by Eddy Friedfeld, a family spokesman.
Mr. Caesar largely faded from the public eye in his middle years as he struggled with crippling self-doubt and addiction to alcohol and pills. But from 1950 to 1954, he and his co-stars on the live 90-minute comedy-variety extravaganza Your Show of Shows dominated the Saturday night viewing habits of millions of Americans. In New York, a group of Broadway theater owners tried to persuade NBC to switch the show to the middle of the week because, they said, it was ruining their Saturday business.
Albert Einstein was a Caesar fan. Alfred Hitchcock called Mr. Caesar the funniest performer since Charlie Chaplin.
Television comedy in its early days was dominated by boisterous veterans of vaudeville and radio who specialized in broad slapstick and snappy one-liners. Mr. Caesar introduced a different kind of humor to the small screen, at once more intimate and more absurd, based less on jokes or pratfalls than on characters and situations. It left an indelible mark on American comedy.
Mr. Caesar and Imogene Coca on Your Show of Shows in 1953. NBC-TV, via Associated Press If you want to find the ur-texts of The Producers and Blazing Saddles, of Sleeper and Annie Hall, of All in the Family and M*A*S*H and Saturday Night Live, Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times when he was its chief theater critic, check out the old kinescopes of Sid Caesar.''
(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com ...
I have nice memories of Sid and Imogene during his TV show, even though I was preteen then. My parents were obviously fans.
He was a television pioneer & a true legend.
Sid Caesar was hilarious in the old shtick style of slapstick, facial contortions, and just plain old fun. If I remember accurately, he had as both actors and writers Rose Marie, Howie Morris, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, (Woody Allen, he’s in the photo), and maybe Morrie Amsterdam (I might be confusing Rose Marie and Amsterdam from another show, not including Hollywood Squares etc).
Imogene Coca. One funny lady, the Joanne Worley of the 50’s, and the “Aunt” in National Lampoon’s “Vacation” to Wallyworld.
If you wrote a book entitled “When Comedy Was King” (different than the movie) it would included such royalty as the Sid Caesar Show, Milton Berle, Red Buttons, Red Skelton, Sam Levinson, Groucho Marx ( and the Marx Brothers), Buddy Hackett Show; Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, George Gobbels, etc.
The humor was clean, sharp, and very funny. It was laughs for the whole family. It was, also, America. The great humorists got together to make the country laugh by being Americans, made from a melting pot of immigration and hard times, WW2, and TV.
My son, daughter and now granddaughter all laughed their young heads off at the Three Stooges, Abbot and Costello, and Laurel and Hardy (as repeats on TV). I’m sad that they never got to see those comedians I’ve listed above. Hopefully they will, in the future.
Meanwhile, a new crop of comedians came in and actually did homage to the old guys and gals by incorporating a lot of their style and acts into their 1980’s and 90’s shows, esp. “Seinfeld”.
I can also see a lot of that in Rodney Dangerfield, Jackie Mason, Flip Wilson (Uncle Milty’s cross-dressing, nu!), Red Foxx, Slappy White, Jay Leno, Johnny Carson, and the early works of Roseanne Barr, Rita Rudner, and Phyllis Diller (and Selma Diamond if you remember Mrs. Gravelly Voice who was one helluva comedian).
If you are old enough to remember Sam Levenson, the NY City teacher turned TV comedian, raconteur, and writer, you can see him reincarnated in Glenn Beck’s use of the blackboard and exhibits to teach America about what is going on in the world.
Norman Lear had it right when he created “Those Were The Days” but I’m not sure he knew it in the context of the “Sid Caesars” of the past, who made us laugh until we cried.
There is one helluva joke-telling session going on in Heaven right now. Oh to be a fly on the wall with a videocamera!
From a kid of the fifties, RIP Sid.
My high school friend is/was a fan. She posted this video on her FB page tonight:
I guess Lucille Ball didn’t make the cut.
I completely forgot about her. My wife liked her more than Idid. However, she and “Ethel Mertz” had some very funny scenes, esp. in the candy factory/assembly line, and the grape stomping/wine making scene.
I should have also included Carol Burnett as one of the funniest women comedians alive, or ever. With the Mel Brooks/Harvey Korman/Tim Considine/ Vicki Lawrence combination, you had some of the best comedy ever.
How about picking up my theme and naming some other comedians I left out. I can’t remember them all and I’m tired of brushing away 8 inches of snow to let my cats in. As Bill Paxton would say, “But it’s a dry snow”, thank God.
...it would included such royalty as the Sid Caesar Show, Milton Berle, Red Buttons, Red Skelton, Sam Levinson, Groucho Marx ( and the Marx Brothers), Buddy Hackett Show; Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, George Gobbels, etc.
Plus, Rowan and Martin’s “TWTWTW”, Ernie Kovacs, Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, Carol Burnett and Tim Conway. All were ‘visual’ comics that weren’t subtle.
Jonathan Winters, Phil Silvers
I became a fan of Ernie Kovacs. There was one hour-long show in which there was no speaking. Its opening scene was an overhead shot of a pair of tympani spotlighted on a darkened stage (like Lux Video Theater). The tympanist’s mallets poised high for a thunderous strike against the stark-white drum heads...instead of a sonorous boom, we heard a “plop” as we saw the mallets striking tympani filled with pancake batter.
Well said...very well said...Thanks and RIP Mr. Caesar.
Definitely. The Phil Silvers Show. Jonathan Winters (Ma Fricket) was a one man comedy wrecking crew. If you hadn’t cried your eyes out with laughter, or wet you pants, you hadn’t listen carefully enough.
He was the one comedian who always broke up Johnny Carson, often by just making a face. I also suspect that the was the idol of Robin Williams and was used to develop Williams’ comedy routines.
Thanks for listing them.
That brings us to the newer comedians, Williams, Billy Crystal, Ellen DeGeneres, Sam Kinnison (the wild man of comedy), Louie Anderson, John Candy (a comedic actor if there ever was one) and others.
Let’s not forget the record comedians/showmen - George Carlin (downright hilarious), Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby (from my old university, the class ahead of me), and later on, Jeff Foxworthy.
All quality people and quality performers. Worthy of being the successors to the greats of the 50’s and 60’s.
Ernie Kovacs and the Nairobi Trio. And remember his moustached character, a mousy little guy. or his professorial one?
He was a “master” of the art.
I’ll also add in Jackie Carson, Shecky Green, Alan King, and those who came up in the 60’s with them. Anyone remember big Sheldon Leonard (Ed Sullivan Show), or Myron Cohen?
Alan King joke: He was a member of a large family and for years he thought that he was Chinese, not Jewish. When asked why, he said that his father forgot the names of some of his children after the fifth one so when he wanted something, he would call one and say, “Hey You”, get me my paper.
I don’t recall any of those listed in this discussion as ever having used cuss words to make their work funny before public audiences. They let their intelligent humor speak for itself.
Look at what we have now.
Your Show of Shows is on DVD. We have them - they include the Imogene Coca episodes as well as Nanette Fabray (who is fabulous). It’s well worth buying if you can afford it. Some of the Abbott & Costello Shows are available as well. These are great too - and an obvious influence on Seinfeld.
As for the others you mentioned...they were all great. I recently saw Jack Carson play in a noir crime movie, and he was superb.
Bob and Ray
One of my favorite sketches from "Show of Shows". Brilliant.
Jonathan Winters is in a class by himself
But its a dry snow
LOL, now that is funny!
RIP Sid Cesar, one of the best and you will be missed.
I would add Ernie Kovacs to the list
And of course Winters was the comedy father of Robin Williams.
No question, Williamas has said as much. That’s how Winters got the recurring part on Mork and Mindy
Henny Youngman was one of my favorites. “My wife said, take me somewhere I've never been. So I took her into the kitchen.”
Or Rodney Dangerfield. “When I was a boy, my parents never took me to the zoo. My father said, if the zoo wants you, it will come and get you.”
Or Phyllis Diller and her numerous jokes about her husband, “Fang.”
I miss the older comedians. The ones like Roseanne will never come close.
I think I will watch IAMMMMW tonight in his honor.
“It’s only a possibility now, it’s only a possibility that this man was telling the truth. And if it was the truth, then it is a fact that this place is almost 200 miles away. Now I suggest that we quietly get into our cars and drive down there at a safe, sound speed, keeping each other in sight of each other. And then when we get down there, we dig up the money - providing there is some money there. And if we do find it, we share it amongst us in a simple manner. “
“I guess Lucille Ball didnt make the cut.”
And let’s not forget George Burns and Gracie Allen. Not much in the way of slapstick, but brilliant in comic timing and style . Of course we then have to throw in Jack Benny, Victor Borge and Henny Youngman. Boy, Jews dominate this field.
In the case of Lucille Ball. She was a true superstar. Oddly, the word is that she wasn’t naturally funny in real life (unlike, say, Harpo Marx). She was smart, a hard worker, and could make body movements and facial expressions like you wouldn’t believe.
Here’s a nice Burns and Allen clip.
Sid Caesar was a giant among men, in his early TV days.
Sid Caesar, can still be seen, in the Mel Brooks movie, “The History of the World, Part 1”, as the caveman whom the others laugh at, as he hurts hmself, in the demonstration of man’s first recorded bouts of humor.
Not sure if they were with Sid Caesar, but Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie were definitely with The Dick Van Dyke Show. Carl Reiner said that the Rob Petrie (Dick Van Dyke) character was modeled after Sid Caesar.
One of the ironic turn of events from the article was when Admiral TV ( sponsor of Caesar’s first show ) had to cancel their sponsorship because Caesar’s show was so popular that there was such a demand for TVs that the Admiral company had to use the sponsorship monies to build a new production plant.
Sid Caesar’s next show, The Show of Shows, was the first show on TV without a corporate sponsor. Lesson learned.
Sid Caesar was a genius.
Sid Caesar’s best movie was It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.
Glad you added Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, Victor Borge and Henry Youngman (Now, take my wife, please).
I had forgotten them (I can’t remember them all, can I?) which is why I called in Freepers as knowledgeable reinforcments. And you did well.
The one thing that distinguised Burns and Allen, per se, was that they were a TV show as opposed to their vaudeville/stage acts. Also, Burns was possibly the first major comedian to address the audience in the old Greek play style.
Harry Von Zell was very funny as a straight man, just as Eddy Rochester often stole the show when answering Jack Benny.
Youngman was a stand-up comedian and had a rapier wit. You had to know the English language very well in order to catch his mixing of words and meanings.
If I remember correctly, Sheldon Leonard also spoke this way.
Victor Borge was unique, combining humor and music, the latter for audio-effect. A real genius.
Other comedians I didn’t mention for various reasons included Mort Sahl (too nasty), Lenny Bruce (edgy, sharp but often very dark - Sahl was Bruce times 5 in this area), and Oscar Levant (dark humor and a master pianist)
Their successor, with more humor and less darkness/nastiness, was George Karlin. His routine against golf courses is a classic.
America became the pioneer of comedy/humor in the 1900’s and gave the world so many laughs. Other than Benny Hill (last name Levin), I can’t think of the name of another British comedian. The same for the French, the Germans, and the Italians except Roberto Begnino? the actor/mime.
At least Russia gave us, by way of anti-semitism and immigration, Yakov Schmirnov. His department store scene describing American products was side-splitting in “Moscow on the Hudson”.
There were a lot more “second bananas” who could be added to this list, and I hope that others contribute their names.
I’ve left one of the greats for last, Bob Hope. His brand of humor was contagious, in any language. So were his facial expressions (only matched by his longtime sidekick Jerry Cologna). Hope was also a tremendous patriot and his devotion to our troops, sailors and airmen is legendary. I know guys who saw him in Vietnam and they loved it.
His reply to Richard Carlson in a movie roughly entitled “Ghostchasers” or something like that is still very appropriate today.
Carlson: (paraphased after seeing the living dead).
They had soul-less eyes, walked stiffly, and had no expressions on their faces.
Hope: Oh, like Democrats!
Somebody find this line, please!
Also a hats off to “The Mouth” Martha Raye, another funny comedian in her own right, and a patriot who actually worked as a medical aide in Vietnam (she pulled some kind of reserve rank in order to help in a hospital near where she was doing one of Hope’s USO shows).
I believe it was Harry Golden (humorist and columnist), wrote a book entitled “Only In America” (or was it Sam Levenson, another humorist)?
In the world of comedy/humor and laughter, it was because of our freedoms, our sense of what was funny in life, and our ability to make fun of ourselves in a positive way, that America became and still remains the leader of the world in making people laugh.
Not bad for a bunch of refugees, immigrants or descendants of slaves, from all over the world,who often landed here (or their parents did), without a penny in their pocket but a great sense of humor in their heads.
And we are better for it.