Sid Caesar, comic actor & writer, died at 91

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8978976uygj8Dead, Isaac Sidney “Sid” Caesar on February 12, 2014, he was an American comic actor and writer, best known for the pioneering 1950s live television series Your Show of Shows, a 90-minute weekly show watched by 60 million people, and its successor Caesar’s Hour, both of which influenced later generations of comedians.

Caesar was considered a “sketch comic” and actor, as opposed to a stand-up comedian. He also relied more on body language, accents, and facial contortions than simply dialogue. Unlike the slapstick comedy, which was standard on TV, his style was considered “avant garde” in the 1950s.

He conjured up ideas and scenes, and used writers to flesh out the concept and create the dialogue.

Among the writers who wrote for Caesar early in their careers were Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner, Michael Stewart, Mel Tolkin and Woody Allen.

His father was Max Ziser and his mother was Ida (née Raphael). They likely were from Dąbrowa Tarnowska, Poland.

Reports state that the surname “Caesar” was given to Max, as a child, by an immigration official at Ellis Island.

This is an urban myth. According to Marian L. Smith, senior historian of the U.S.

Citizenship and Immigration Service, there is no known case of a name changed at Ellis Island. Max and Ida Caesar ran a restaurant, a 24-hour luncheonette.

By waiting on tables, their son learned to mimic the patois, rhythm and accents of the diverse clientele, a technique he termed double-talk, which he used throughout his career.

He first tried 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 his native-sounding patter in Polish, and so on with Russians, Hungarians, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Lithuanians, and Bulgarians.

After the war, the Caesars moved to Hollywood. In 1946, Columbia Pictures produced a film version of Tars and Spars in which Caesar reprised his role.

The next year, he acted in The Guilt of Janet Ames. He turned down the lead of The Jolson Story as he did not want to be known as an impersonator, and turned down several other offers to play sidekick roles.

He soon returned to New York, where he became the opening act for Joe E. Lewis at the Copacabana nightclub.

He reunited with Liebman, who guided his stage material and presentation.

That job 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 started out as a musician. He reportedly took up the saxophone after a customer left one behind at his parents’ restaurant.

During his years at Yonkers High School, Caesar began playing in a band. In 2003, Caesar reflected on his career in the book Caesar’s Hours: My Life in Comedy, with Love and Laughter, which he co-wrote with Eddy Friedfeld.

In 2012, he appeared in the documentary Lunch, a film chronicling a weekly get-together between Caesar and some of Hollywood’s TV veterans, including Monty Hall from the long-running game show Let’s Make a Deal and announcer Gary Owens.

 


 

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