After enlisting in the U.S. Coast Guard prior to WWII, Sid Caesar wrote sketches for “Six on, Twelve Off,” a Coast Guard musical revue. Then Coast Guard officer Vernon Duke heard Caesar perform one of his foreign-language double-talk monologues (a later Caesar trademark) for the amusement of his fellow mates and hired him for a comic role in another Coast Guard musical, “Tars and Spars.” It was while performing this show that he befriended producer Max Liebman, who cast him in the Columbia Pictures film version of the musical. Caesar then performed in nightclubs and on Broadway before making his television debut in Liebman’s “Admiral Broadway Revue.”
NBC’s “Your Show of Shows” launched in 1950 and was an immediate success, launching the careers of Carl Reiner and Howard Morris (pictured at right with Sid Caesar). “Your Show of Shows” would become one of the most influential programs of TV’s golden era, with writers including Neil Simon, Mel Brooks and Larry Gelbart.
Sid Caesar in a 1952 skit of “Your Show of Shows” with Imogene Coca and Carl Reiner
Sid Caesar behind the scenes of “Your Show of Shows.” In 1954, when the ratings began to slip, the program was trimmed and renamed “Caesar’s Hour.” Caesar was nominated for Emmys every year from 1951 to 1958 and won two. “I know of no other comedian, including Chaplin, who could have done nearly 10 years of live television,” said Brooks. “Nobody’s talent was ever more used up than Sid’s.” Over the years, “Television ground him into sausages … until finally there was little of the muse left.”
Sid Caesar and Edie Adams played husband and wife in 1963’s “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”
Younger audiences may remember Sid Caesar as Coach Calhoun in “Grease.”
Sid Caesar, partnered with Imogene Coca, is credited with breaking ripe comedic ground with the 90-minute live program: It didn’t rely on vaudeville or standup-inspired material but rather on long skits and sketches.
“Your Show of Shows” pals Howard Morris, Imogene Coca, Sid Caesar and Carl Reiner reunite in 1994 for Comic Relief.
During the 1980s, Sid Caesar made supporting and guest appearances on film and TV, including hosting “Saturday Night Live.” (Pictured: Sid Caesar having a little fun at the Golden Key Foundation Burlesque ’80 Show)
Sid Caesar with Neil Simon at the 1993 opening of “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” The play was inspired by Simon’s time in the writers’ room on Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.”
Sid Caesar paid tribute to Imogene Coca in 1995 at the second annual Women in Film Lucy Awards. Coca once observed, “I’m tired of talking about ‘Your Show of Shows.’ But deep inside, I know I’ve done nothing as good since.”
Television vets Milton Berle and Sid Caesar drew a long ovation at the 50th Emmy Awards in 1998.
Sid Caesar with his wife and daughter during “Sid Caesar Celebrates 50 Years In Television” at the Friar’s Club.