Sid Caesar

Active - 1946 - 2013  |   Born - Sep 8, 1922 in Yonkers, New York, United States  |   Died - Feb 12, 2014   |   Genres - Comedy

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The son of a Yonkers restaurant owner, Sid Caesar first discovered he could get laughs by imitating the colorful dialects of his multinational classmates. But Caesar actually wanted to be a musician and to that end studied diligently at Juilliard. He paid for his education by working in various Catskills resorts as a saxophone player, dancer, and comedian. While serving in WWII, Caesar was engaged to perform in a touring musical revue staged by Coast Guard personnel called Tars and Spars. When the show was transformed into a motion picture by Columbia Pictures, Caesar went along for the ride, performing his classic war film monologue intact before the cameras. This led to a brief Columbia contract, which came to an end with Caesar's three-minute cameo appearance in The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947). While appearing in the Broadway revue Make Mine Manhattan in 1949, he was hired to co-star with Imogene Coca in a weekly TV variety series, The Admiral Broadway Revue. This in turn led to Your Show of Shows, one of the true landmarks of television's Golden Age. For five inspired seasons, Caesar and his cohorts Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, and Howard Morris kept America laughing with an unending stream of brilliant monologues, movie parodies, and various sundry other sketches. Throughout the '50s and early '60s Caesar continued to star on TV in several Show of Shows spinoffs, and in 1963 returned to Broadway in the musical comedy Little Me, playing no fewer than eight roles within the play's two-hour running time. During this period he also returned to films, first as a member of the all-star ensemble in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), then as star of The Busy Body (1967) and The Spirit is Willing (1968). Unfortunately, the pressures of show business, combined with an overabundance of personal problems, led to a dangerous dependency upon alcohol and prescription drugs. So far gone was Caesar during the 1960s and 1970s that, according to his 1982 autobiography Where Have I Been?, there were times that he'd wander on-stage or before the cameras with no idea where he was or what he was saying. He hit rock bottom in 1978, suffering a total nervous breakdown while appearing in a Toronto dinner theater production of The Last of the Red Hot Lovers. Slowly and painfully, Caesar overcame his addictions and a multitude of psychological difficulties and made a near-complete recovery. Modern audiences, to whom Your Show of Shows is but a dim and distant memory, remember Sid Caesar best for his supporting appearances in such films as Silent Movie (1976) (directed by Caesar's onetime gag writer Mel Brooks), Fire Sale (1978), Grease (1982), and National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation (1997). Caesar died in 2014 at age 91.

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  • Started career as a musician; played clarinet and saxophone in small bands and later in the orchestras of Charlie Spivak, Shep Fields and Charlie Thornhill.
  • Turned to acting while serving in the Coast Guard during WWII; first stage performance was in the military musical Tars and Spars.
  • His signature double-talk routines were inspired by listening to customers speak foreign languages in his father's restaurant as a child.
  • His hit variety show, Your Show of Shows, helped launch the careers of comedy writers Mel Brooks, Neil and Danny Simon, and Carl Reiner in the 1950s.
  • Inducted into the TV Academy Hall of Fame in 1985.
  • Published two autobiographies: Where Have I Been? (1982) and Caesar's Hours: My Life in Comedy, With Love and Laughter (2003).
  • Married to wife, Florence, for 67 years; she died in March 2010.