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Sid Caesar

Sid CaesarAKA Isaac Sidney Caesar

Born: 8-Sep-1922
Birthplace: Yonkers, NY
Died: 12-Feb-2014
Location of death: Los Angeles, CA
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Jewish
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Comic, Actor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Your Show of Shows

Military service: US Coast Guard (1939-45)

Sid Caesar's parents ran a 24-hour luncheonette in New York, where he was scolded for mimicking the customers. As a child, he took saxophone lessons, and he was good enough to study at the Juilliard School of Music. At 17 he joined the Coast Guard, and played the sax in military revues and shows, but his knack for wisecracks got bigger applause than the musical numbers, and the show's producer asked him to do stand-up between the tunes. One of the band's shows, called Tars and Spars, was filmed, marking Caesar's movie debut in 1946.

After leaving the Coast Guard, he did stand-up in the Catskills and Florida, and added a few laughs to The Guilt of Janet Ames, an otherwise dead serious movie about a grieving, mentally disturbed war widow (Rosalind Russell). He briefly played sax in Benny Goodman's band, then spent a year on Broadway, starring in the musical Make Mine Manhattan, and made his first TV appearance on an episode of Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater in 1948. Caesar's first series, Admiral Broadway Revue with Imogene Coca, was broadcast on two networks, NBC and DuMont, live from a theater on Broadway, with the biggest-name guest stars performing comedy sketches interspersed with elaborately staged production numbers. It was sponsored by the Admiral Corporation, an appliance company hoping to increase sales of its TVs, but the show was so popular Admiral's factories could not keep up -- a problem the company solved by canceling the show despite its dominant ratings.

He was not out of work for long, returning months later in Your Show of Shows, a mix of scripted and improvised comedy, movie and television satires, Caesar's inimitable double-talk monologues, and top musical guests. The program's writers and performers included Mel Brooks, Coca, Nanette Fabray, Larry Gelbart, Howard Morris, Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, and of course, Caesar himself. In a time when television was still new and the other networks were offering Lesson in Safety or Balance Your Budget as prime time entertainment, Your Show of Shows was performed live every Saturday night. In its most famous bits, Caesar did his 'Professor', a gibberish-spouting expert know-nothing, or his 'Somerset Winterset' nonsensical storyteller, and Caesar and Coca played Charlie and Doris Hickenlooper, a mis-matched married couple. Like Letterman and Leno, Caesar never matched Berle's ratings, but Caesar's comedy was funnier, better remembered, and more influential on the comedy that came after. The names were changed, but Simon's play Laughter on the 23rd Floor, starring Nathan Lane on Broadway; Reiner's backstage sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show; and My Favorite Year, a very funny 1982 film starring Peter O'Toole and Joseph Bologna, were all inspired by Caesar's Your Show of Shows.

He went on to Caesar's Hour, a one-hour sketch show with Morris, Reiner, and a young Bea Arthur, but without Coca, his ideal sparring partner on Admiral Broadway Revue and Your Show of Shows. He then starred in Sid Caesar Invites You, a half-hour sketch show with Coca, which was quickly cancelled. Caesar's best work was always opposite Coca, and on The Hollywood Palace, a late '60s weekly comedy-variety show with a different host each week, Caesar and Coca co-hosted several times. Many viewers believed they were married, but their relationship was (so far as anyone knows) entirely professional.

In 1963 he briefly starred in The Sid Caesar Show, a half-hour sketch comedy show that aired every second Thursday on ABC, alternating with Edie Adams in Here's Edie. He took occasional roles in Broadway plays, toured doing stand-up comedy, and Caesar and Adams played a bickering married couple in the all-star ensemble It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Beyond that, though, Caesar faded away into alcoholism and barbiturates, and even after recovery he spent the rest of his life out of the limelight. He took random supporting roles on TV and in feature films -- most memorably as the studio chief in Brooks' Silent Movie with Marty Feldman, the coach in Grease with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, and as Elliott Gould's uncle in Over the Brooklyn Bridge -- but Caesar never came close to recapturing his success of the 1950s, and never really tried. His autobiography, Where Have I Been?, was published in 1983, and his last film was Mark Hamill's Comic Book: The Movie, where he had a tiny role as Jonathan Winters' old army buddy.

In 1973, a collection of sketches from Your Show of Shows was released in movie theaters as Ten From Your Show Of Shows. Numerous compilation videos of Caesar's work are still available, and still funny.

Father: Max Caesar (restaurateur)
Mother: Ida Raffel Caesar
Brother: Abe Caesar
Brother: Dave Caesar
Brother: Milton Caesar
Wife: Florence Levy (m. 17-Jul-1943, two daughters, one son)
Daughter: Michele Caesar ("Shelly")
Son: Richard Caesar ("Rick", physician, b. 18-Feb-1952)
Daughter: Karen Caesar (b. 1956)

    High School: Yonkers High School, Yonkers, NY (1939)
    University: Juilliard School

    Friars Club
    Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame
    Emmy 1956
    Hollywood Walk of Fame 7014 Hollywood Blvd (television)
    Hernia Operation Los Angeles, CA (Apr-1988)
    Polish Ancestry Paternal
    Russian Ancestry Maternal
    Jewish Ancestry
    Risk Factors: Depression, Alcoholism, Smoking, Insomnia

    Your Show of Shows
    Caesar's Hour Bob Victor

    When Comedy Went to School (6-Jun-2013) · Himself
    Comic Book: The Movie (27-Jan-2004) · Julius
    The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (23-Jan-1998)
    Vegas Vacation (14-Feb-1997)
    The Great Mom Swap (23-Sep-1995)
    Freedom Fighter (11-Jan-1988)
    The Emperor's New Clothes (1987) · Emperor
    Stoogemania (Jun-1986)
    Alice in Wonderland (9-Dec-1985)
    Cannonball Run II (29-Jun-1984)
    Over the Brooklyn Bridge (2-Mar-1984)
    Grease 2 (11-Jun-1982) · Coach Calhoun
    History of the World: Part I (12-Jun-1981)
    The Munsters' Revenge (27-Feb-1981)
    The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (8-Aug-1980)
    Grease (7-Jul-1978) · Coach Calhoun
    The Cheap Detective (23-Jun-1978)
    Fire Sale (6-Jan-1978)
    Curse of the Black Widow (16-Sep-1977)
    Silent Movie (16-Jun-1976)
    Airport 1975 (18-Oct-1974) · Barney
    The Spirit Is Willing (Jul-1967)
    A Guide for the Married Man (25-May-1967)
    The Busy Body (12-Mar-1967)
    It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (7-Nov-1963) · Melville Crump
    The Guilt of Janet Ames (6-Mar-1947) · Sammy Weaver

Author of books:
Caesar's Hours: My Life in Comedy, With Love and Laughter (memoir, with Eddy Friedfeld)
Where Have I Been: An Autobiography (memoir, with Bill Davidson)

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