Sid Caesar gave up alcohol 'cold turkey'. His autobiography, Where Have I Been, published in 1983 and his second book, Caesar's Hours, both chronicle his struggle to overcome alcoholism and barbiturates.
The things I see now on TV and in movies are so outlandish. Kids doing rude things with pies! And the language that they use! It's being outrageous for the sake of being outrageous. I can't watch it. It turns me off.
Isaac Sidney "Sid" Caesar (born September 8, 1922) is an American comic actor and writer known as the leading man on the 1950s television series Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour, and to younger generations as Coach Calhoun in Grease and Grease 2.
Caesar was born in Yonkers, New York, youngest son of Max Caesar and his wife Ida (née Raphael), Jewish immigrants from the Russian Empire who ran a restaurant. Caesar would wait on tables and learned to mimic the accents, something he would use throughout his career. He first tried his double-talk with a group of Italians, his head barely reaching above the table. They enjoyed it so much that they sent him over to a group of Poles to repeat it in Polish, and so on with Russians, Hungarians, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Lithuanians and Bulgarians. Despite his apparent fluency in many languages, Caesar can actually speak only English and Yiddish. Sid's older brother David was his comic mentor and "one-man cheering section." They created their earliest family sketches from then current movies like Test Pilot and Wings.
At fourteen, Caesar went to the Catskills as a saxophonist with Mike Cifichello's Swingtime Six and would also occasionally perform in sketches at the Borscht Belt. When he graduated from high school, he left home, intent on a musical career. He arrived in New York City penniless and tried to join the musician's union (later he attended classes at the famed Juilliard School of Music). He found work at the Vacationland Hotel in Swan Lake in the Catskills. Under the tutelage of Don Appel, the resort's social director, Caesar played in the band and learned to perform comedy, doing three shows a week. In 1939, when World War II was just starting, he enlisted in the United States Coast Guard, and was assigned to play in military revues and shows in Brooklyn, New York. Vernon Duke, the famous composer of Autumn in New York, April in Paris, and Taking a Chance on Love, was also at the same base and collaborated with Caesar in musical revues.
During the summer of 1942, Caesar met his future wife Florence Levy at the Avon Lodge. After joining the musician's union, he briefly played with Shep Fields, Claude Thornhill, Charlie Spivak, and even Benny Goodman. Caesar's comedy, however, got bigger applause than the musical numbers, and the show's producer asked him to do stand-up between his numbers. While still in the service, Caesar was ordered to Palm Beach, Florida, where Vernon Duke and Howard Dietz were putting together a service revue, Tars and Spars. There he met the civilian director of the show Max Liebman, later the producer of his first hit television series. Tars and Spars toured nationally, and then a film version was made at Columbia Pictures. He also got a part in The Guilt of Janet Ames. He married Florence Levy on July 17, 1943, and has three children, Michael, Rick, and Karen.
After the war, Caesar and his wife stayed in Hollywood, but despite a few offers to play sidekick roles, Caesar decided to go back to New York, where he got a club date as the opening act for Joe E. Lewis at the Copacabana nightclub. He reunited with Max Liebman, who guided his stage material and presentation. That appearance led to a contract with the William Morris Agency and a nationwide tour. Caesar also performed in a Broadway revue Make Mine Manhattan, which featured The Five Dollar Date, one of his first original pieces in which he sang, acted, double-talked, pantomimed, and wrote the music.
Caesar began his television career when he made an appearance on Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater. In early 1949, Sid and Max met with Pat Weaver, vice president of television at NBC (and father of Sigourney Weaver), which led to Caesar's appearance in his first series The Admiral Broadway Revue with Imogene Coca. The Friday show, simultaneously broadcast on NBC and the DuMont network (in order for the show to be carried on the only TV station then operating in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania- DuMont's WDTV- the sponsor had to agree to a simulcast) was an immediate success, but its sponsor, Admiral, an appliance company, could not keep up with the demand for its new television sets, so the show was cancelled after 26 weeks on account of its runaway success. According to Sid, an Admiral executive later told him the company had the choice of building a new factory or continuing their sponsorship of the Revue for another season.
On February 23, 1950, Caesar appeared in the first episode of Your Show of Shows, a Saturday night 90-minute variety program produced by Max Liebman (who had previously produced The Admiral Broadway Revue). The premiere featured Burgess Meredith as guest host, and other musical guests Gertrude Lawrence, Lily Pons, and Robert Merrill. The show launched Caesar into instant stardom and was a mix of scripted and improvised comedy, movie and television satires, Caesar's inimitable double-talk monologues, top musical guests, and large production numbers. The impressive guest list included: Jackie Cooper, Robert Preston, Rex Harrison, Eddie Albert, Michael Redgrave, Basil Rathbone, Charlton Heston, Geraldine Page, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Pearl Bailey, Fred Allen, Benny Goodman, Lena Horne and many other big stars of the time. It was also responsible for bringing together one of the best comedy teams in television history: Sid, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, and Imogene Coca. Many prominent writers, denizens of the famed Writer's Room, also got their start creating the show's madcap sketches, including Lucille Kallen, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Michael Stewart, Mel Tolkin, Sheldon Keller and Larry Gelbart. Sid Caesar won his first Emmy in 1952. In 1951 and 1952, he was voted the United States' Best Comedian by Motion Picture Daily's TV poll. The show ended after 160 episodes on June 5, 1954. The movie, My Favorite Year was a fictional comedic account of a show similar to "Your Show of Shows" -- and the favorite year was 1954.
Just a few months later, Sid Caesar returned with Caesar's Hour, a one-hour sketch/variety show with Morris, Reiner, a young Bea Arthur, and much of the seasoned crew. Nanette Fabray replaced Imogene Coca who left to star in her own short-lived series. Ultimate creative and technical control was now totally in Caesar's hands. The show moved to the larger Century Theater, which allowed longer, more sophisticated productions and the weekly budget doubled to $125,000. The premier on September 27, 1954 featured Gina Lollobrigida.
Contemporary movies, foreign movies, theater, television shows and even opera all became targets of satire by the writing team, whose frenetic and competitive spirit produced some of the best comedy in television history. Often the publicity generated by the sketches boosted the box office of the original productions. Some notable sketches included: From Here to Obscurity (From Here to Eternity), Aggravation Boulevard (Sunset Boulevard), Hat Basterson (Bat Masterson), and No West For the Wicked (Stagecoach). Even silent movies were parodied, which showed off the impressive pantomime skills of the entire ensemble. They also performed some recurring sketches. "The Hickenloopers" were television's first bickering couple, predating The Honeymooners. As "The Professor", Caesar was the daffy expert who bluffed his way through his interviews with earnest roving reporter Carl Reiner. In its various incarnations, "The Professor" could be Gut von Fraidykat (mountain-climbing expert), Ludwig von Spacebrain (space expert), or Ludwig von Henpecked (marriage expert). Later, "The Professor" evolved into Mel Brooks' famous "The Two Thousand Year Old Man". The most prominent recurring sketch on the show was "The Commuters", featuring Caesar, Reiner and Morris involved with everyday working and suburban life situations. Years later the sketch "Sneaking through the Sound Barrier", a spoof of the British film, The Sound Barrier, was run continuously as part of a display on supersonic flight at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Everything was performed live, including the commercials, which only took up seven minutes of the one-hour show, as compared to today's shows, which average about 22 minutes of commercials per hour. Famous Hollywood movie stars (or their agents) clamored to be on the show, but in reality doing a sketch in one shot with no cue cards and minimal rehearsal time was a challenge for many of the famous stars used to languid preparation and numerous retakes.
In his book Caesar's Hours, Caesar describes the essence of his comedy as 'working both sides of the street', the deliberate blending of comedy and pathos in the tradition of the great comedians of the 1920s and 1930s—his idols Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, and W. C. Fields. His sympathetic portrayal of the follies and foibles of his characters resonated with a weekly live audience of over 60 million Americans. He was a master of impeccable timing, careful preparation, and quick-witted flexibility, relying heavily on an endless variety of rapidly changing facial expressions and a strong physical presence. Though by nature shy, Caesar reveled in his characters. The most difficult moment of the show for Caesar was the opening, when he had to say 'good evening ladies and gentlemen'.
Caesar's Hour was followed by Sid Caesar Invites You, briefly reuniting Caesar and Coca in 1958, and in 1963 with several As Caesar Sees It specials, which evolved into the 1963-'64 Sid Caesar Show, which alternated with Edie Adams in Here's Edie. Caesar also teamed up with Edie Adams in the Broadway show Little Me, a successful Neil Simon play, with choreography by Bob Fosse and music by Cy Coleman in which Sid played eight parts with 32 costume changes. Caesar and Edie Adams played a husband and wife drawn into a mad race to find buried money in the mega-movie-comedy It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Caesar continued to make occasional television and night club appearances and starred in several movies including Silent Movie, History of the World, Part I, Airport 1975 and as "Coach Calhoun" in Grease and its sequel, Grease 2, in 1982. In 1971 he starred opposite Carol Channing and a young Tommy Lee Jones in the Broadway show Four on a Garden. In 1973, Sid and Max Liebman mined their own personal kinescopes from Your Show of Shows (NBC had 'lost' the studio copies) and they produced a feature film Ten From Your Show of Shows, a hilarious compilation of some of their best sketches. In 1974, Caesar said, "I'd like to be back every week" on TV and appeared in the NBC skit-based comedy television pilot called, "Hamburgers." In 1977, after blanking out during a stage performance of Neil Simon's The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, Sid gave up alcohol 'cold turkey'. His autobiography, Where Have I Been, published in 1983 and his second book, Caesar's Hours, both chronicle his struggle to overcome alcoholism and barbiturates. In 1986 Caesar appeared as Frosh the Jailer in Die Fledermaus at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Although advancing in age, Caesar has remained active by appearing in movies, television shows, at award shows and autograph signings. In 1995 he appeared in the movie The Great Mom Swap. In 1997, he made a guest appearance in National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation and The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit in 1998 based on a Ray Bradbury novel. Also that year, Caesar joined fellow television icons Bob Hope and Milton Berle at the 50th anniversary of the Primetime Emmy Awards, where the three were greeted with a long standing ovation. He reprised his famous foreign dub skit on the November 21, 2001 episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, to which he was received with an extended standing ovation by the crowd, as well as a surprise birthday cake from the cast and crew. In 2003, he joined Edie Adams and Marvin Kaplan at a 40th anniversary celebration for It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. In 2004, Caesar's second autobiography, 'Caesar's Hours', was published, and in March 2006, Caesar was presented with the 'Pioneer Award' at the 2006 TV Land Awards. Although appearing quite frail, Caesar performed his famous double-talk for over five minutes.
Studied saxophone at the Julliard School of Music before becoming an actor.
Voted the United States' Best Comedian by Motion Picture Daily's TV poll in 1951 and 1952.
Also won Best Comedy Team (with Imogene Coca) in 1953.
Received the Sylvania Award in 1958 for his work in television.
Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy" by Ronald L. Smith. Pg. 84-86. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387
His children are Michele ("Shelly"), Rick (born February 18, 1952), and Karen (born in 1956).
His son Rick went to Yale University.
Was nominated for Broadway's 1963 Tony Award as Best Actor (Musical) for "Little Me."
Best remembered on 'Your Shows of Shows' and the movies, 'Grease' (1978) and Grease 2.
His father, Max Caesar, owned a restaurant in Yonkers, NY.
Caesar was assigned as a musician in the Coast Guard, taking part in the service show "Tars and Spars," where producer Max Liebman overheard him improvising comedy routines among the band members, and switched him over to comedy. Sid later made his film debut in the adaptation of his stage hit Tars and Spars (1946).
In his book Caesar's Hours, Sid describes the essence of his comedy as 'working both sides of the street', the deliberate blending of comedy and pathos. His idols were Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Keaton, and W. C. Fields.
Caesar's appearance in his first series "The Admiral Broadway Revue" (1949) with Imogene Coca was a huge hit with TV audiences. Simultaneously broadcast on NBC and the Dumont network, its sponsor, Admiral Corporation, an appliance company, could not keep up with the demand for its new television sets, so the show was canceled on account of its runaway success.
Made his Broadway debut performing in the 1948 revue "Make Mine Manhattan," which featured The Five Dollar Date, one of Sid's first original pieces in which he sang, acted, double-talked, pantomimed, and wrote the music.
Played at the Vacationland Hotel in Swan Lake in the Catskills during his salad days. There, under the tutelage of Don Appel, the resort's social director, Caesar played in the band and learned to perform comedy, doing three shows a week.
Arrived in New York City penniless and tried to join the musician's union (later he audited classes at the famed Juilliard School of Music).
At fourteen, Caesar first went to the Catskills as a saxophonist with Mike Cifficello's Swingtime Six and would also occasionally perform in sketches.
Despite his apparent fluency in many languages, in reality Caesar can only speak English and Yiddish.
The son of Jewish immigrants Ida (née Raphael) and Max Caesar, who ran a 24-hour luncheonette, Sid would help his parents by waiting on tables and it was during this time that he learned to mimic many of the accents he would use throughout his long career.
His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is at 7000 Hollywood Blvd.