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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hail, Caesar!

Sid Caesar (with Edie Adams) in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Sid Caesar has died at the age of 91. Long live Caesar!

The New York Times called Caesar " a comedic force of nature who became one of television’s first stars in the early 1950s and influenced generations of comedians and comedy writers."

Without Sid Ceasar (a native of Yonkers, NY), it's difficult to imagine Saturday Night Live or the sketch comedy we see on contemporary tv. He was such a major influence in the world of comedy entertainment. From 1950 - '54, his tv series, Your Show of Shows, was a tremendous television hit that redefined contemporary comedy.

A list of Mr. Caesar’s writers over the years reads like a comedy all-star team. Mel Brooks (who in 1982 called him “the funniest man America has produced to date”) did some of his earliest writing for him, as did Woody Allen, wrote Mervyn Rothstein in his Times obituary.  So did the most successful playwright in the history of the American stage, Neil Simon. Carl Reiner created one landmark sitcom, “The Dick Van Dyke Show”; Larry Gelbart was the principal creative force behind another, “M*A*S*H.” Mel Tolkin wrote numerous scripts for “All in the Family.” The authors of the two longest-running Broadway musicals of the 1960s, Joseph Stein (“Fiddler on the Roof”) and Michael Stewart (“Hello, Dolly!”), were Caesar alumni as well. 

The 6'2" Sid Caesar had an athletic physique in his youth and a handsome but comically expressionistic face perfect for comedy. I best remember him (in Your Show of Show reruns) when I was in my college years. I saw him as a remarkable and impressionable talent.

The Times added: Under his manic exterior, he recalled in “Where Have I Been?,” his 1982 autobiography, he was distraught and filled with self-hatred, tormented by guilt because he did not think he deserved the acclaim he was receiving. 

He was also given to explosive rages. Mr. Caesar once dangled a terrified Mr. Brooks from an 18th-story window until colleagues restrained him. With one punch, he knocked out a horse that had thrown his wife off its back, a scene that Mr. Brooks replayed in his movie "Blazing Saddles."

R.I.P. Sid Caesar. A brilliant and seminal source of modern comedy.

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