Sid Caesar, TV’s sketch comedy pioneer, died on Wednesday in his Beverly Hills home. He was 91.
Born in Yonkers, N.Y., Caesar began to make his mark at the dawn of our network television age, landing his own show in 1948 with the Admiral Broadway Revue. But it was Your Show of Shows, which starred Caesar alongside Imogene Coca and Carl Reiner — and boasted a writing staff that included young Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, Mel Tolkin, Aaron Ruben, Danny Simon, Sheldon Keller and Gary Belkin — that roared loudest on NBC from 1950 to 1954. Caesar won the Emmy for Best Actor in 1952. The show was influential in Reiner’s decision to create The Dick Van Dyke Show as a meta sitcom set in the writers room of a comedy/variety show.
Upon learning of Caesar’s death yesterday, Reiner wrote: “We’ve lost the greatest, monologist, pantomimic, sketch comedian TV has ever known! Word GENIUS is oft misused but not so here. HAIL CAESAR.” He added, “To my friend and confrere, Sid Caesar, “May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”
Caesar followed the 90-minute Your Show of Shows with Caesar’s Hour in 1954, and The Sid Caesar Show in 1958. Woody Allen wrote jokes for him on the latter program.
Due to a lack of foresight and planning, much of the original footage from Caesar’s shows were lost, tossed aside or taped over.
Here is “The Clock” sketch, featuring Caesar, Coca, Reiner and Howard Morris.
Caesar joined the massive cast on the big screen for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World. To a younger generation, he might have been recognized first as Coach Calhoun in Grease and Grease 2.
Conan O’Brien, however, reminded us last night to look for the classic comedy footage. Here is Conan on Caesar.
You can check out 80+ old press clippings about Sid Caesar on Classic Showbiz, thanks to Kliph Nesteroff.
In 1996, Caesar and his writers reunited for a special panel at The Paley Center hosted by Billy Crystal and featuring guests Mel Tolkin, Carl Reiner, Aaron Ruben, Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Danny Simon, Sheldon Keller, and Gary Belkin. Here’s a clip of Caesar from that panel.
The following year, Caesar sat down with Dan Pasternack for a three-hour interview for the Archive of American Television. Caesar recounts his life and career, from his youth writing and acting in shows for the Armed Forces, through his peak years starring in live TV, re-enacting some of his famous characters from those years, and recovering from alcoholism in his middle age.