Archive for the ‘"Your Show of Shows" and "Caesar's Hour"’ Category

Sid Caesar Turns 90!

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

He double talks, he pantomimes, and he plays a mean saxophone. Today, Mr. Sid Caesar, the man who gave us “The Professor,” “The German General,” and “From Here to Obscurity,” turns 90!

Born Isaac Sidney Caesar on September 8, 1922, Caesar grew up in Yonkers, New York. His father owned a restaurant, and one day brought home a saxophone a patron had left behind. He asked his son if he wanted to learn to play, and young Sid answered in the affirmative. Caesar soon mastered the instrument and began to play in local bands and shows. He spent summers playing at hotels in the Catskills, where he also started honing his comedic skills. Several comics on the circuit needed additional people to assist with sketches, and with his great sense of timing and talent for sound effects, Caesar fit right in.

Caesar served in the Coast Guard during World War II, largely performing in musical revues. He was a big believer in the power of shows and dances to boost troop morale:

During one of the Coast Guard revues, Caesar met civilian director Max Liebman, who selected Caesar to perform in the “Tars and Spars” production down in Florida. Caesar subsequently toured the country with the show and appeared in the film version. He began writing with Liebman and was soon performing in clubs like the Copacabana. He appeared on Broadway, and Liebman then suggested that Caesar work in television. In 1949, the pair met with NBC’s Pat Weaver and Caesar began starring in Admiral Broadway Revue, a live sketch show. The show was cancelled within the first season, but in 1950, Caesar headlined a live, ninety-minute sketch show with fellow performers Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, and Howard MorrisYour Show of Shows:

Writers Mel Brooks, Mel Tolkin, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, Neil Simon, and Lucille Kallen produced a plethora of material, and castmates perfected memorable sketches including “The Professor,” the ever-arguing couple,”The Hickenloopers,” and skits featuring double talk, movie satires, and pantomimes:

Here’s Caesar and Coca in one of their famous pantomimes:

Caesar won his first Emmy for Your Show of Shows in 1952. In 1954 he transitioned to yet another live, sketch comedy show, Caesar’s Hour, featuring Nanette Fabray, and pal Carl Reiner.

Videotaped shows soon begun to permeate the television landscape, and after nearly a decade of live television comedy, Caesar was exhausted. Caesar’s Hour ended in 1957, but Caesar re-teamed with Imogene Coca in 1958 for the short-lived TV series, Sid Caesar Invites You. Over the next decade he appeared on Broadway and starred in several films, including the 1963 comedy, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World alongside Milton Berle, Phil Silvers, Edie Adams, and Buddy Hackett.

In 1967, Caesar reunited with the Your Show of Shows gang for the Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca and Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special. Caesar made a memorable turn as “Coach Calhoun” in 1978’s Grease, and appeared in several film and made-for-television movies throughout the 1970s and ’80s, including Silent Movie, Found Money, and 1985’s Alice in Wonderland.

Caesar published an autobiography, Where Have I Been? in 1983, and was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1985. In 1997 he made a memorable guest appearance as “Uncle Harold” on Mad About You, and in 2004 published his second autobiography, Caesar’s Hours. Caesar was given the Pioneer Award at the 2006 TV Land Awards, where he performed double talk for roughly five minutes. In truth, Caesar speaks only English and Yiddish, but the man certainly makes you believe he speaks every language out there.

Happy 90th, Sid! Here’s to many, many more!

Watch Sid Caesar’s full Archive Interview.

- by Adrienne Faillace

He’s Catching Up to The 2000 Year Old Man: Carl Reiner Turns 90!

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

He’s a boy from the Bronx who’s had a hand in some of film and television’s most memorable moments. Carl Reiner turns 90 years young today, and he’s spent over 80 of those years entertaining people in one medium or another, from stage plays, to radio, to the small screen and the large.

Born Carl Reiner on March 20, 1922, Reiner caught the acting bug early in life. After performing in school plays throughout his elementary and high school years, Reiner’s older brother encouraged him to take an acting class sponsored by the Public Works Administration during the Depression years. He enjoyed honing the craft and began acting in off-Broadway plays straight out of high school; performed in summer theater in Rochester, NY; toured with a Shakespeare company; and wrote and performed plays as part of the Special Services Unit during World War II.

After his discharge from the Army in 1946, Reiner performed in the famed Borscht Belt circuit, and began his career in television in 1948 with a spot on Maggi McNellis Crystal Room, and appearances on The Fashion Story and The Fifty-fourth Street Revue. Reiner continued to do stage work, when producer Max Liebman caught one of his performances and approached Reiner about joining the cast of a new sketch variety show he was putting together with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, Your Show of Shows. Reiner became a cast member in the 1950-51 season, memorably starring in the recurring “Professor” sketch with Caesar, and often displaying his double talk skills, mimicking foreign languages or delivering Shakespeare-esque dialogue. In his 1998 Archive Interview, Reiner discusses working with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca:

Reiner soon began writing for Your Show of Shows, alongside writers Neil Simon, Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen, and Mel Brooks, and stayed on to become a part of Sid Caesar’s next show, Caesar’s Hour, where he won his first Emmy:

Reiner and Brooks struck up an immediate friendship, which in turn led to the creation of some fantastic comedy. The pair dreamed up the now infamous “2000 Year Old Man” (which became both a record/radio and TV hit) in Max Liebman’s office in the early 1950s:

After Caesar’s Hour Reiner hosted the game show Celebrity Game, and secured dramatic parts in several Golden Age dramas including Playhouse 90, and Kraft Television Theatre. He tried his hand at writing novels and penned Enter Laughing, and even took a stab at writing a television series. He wrote what he knew, and in 1958 created thirteen episodes of Head of the Family, a show about a family man who commutes into the big city to write for a television show. Reiner starred in the pilot, which failed to get picked up, until Sheldon Leonard saw it, convinced Reiner to step out of the spotlight, re-cast Dick Van Dyke in the lead and Mary Tyler Moore as his wife, and renamed the program The Dick Van Dyke Show:

The Dick Van Dyke Show enjoyed five seasons on air (1961-66), with Reiner as creator, producer, writer, and actor on the show — on-screen he stepped out of the lead role and into that of the star’s boss, “Alan Brady”. Reiner’s movie career revved up in the 1960’s, as he starred in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. He soon began directing, too – he directed the film version of Enter Laughing in 1967, and wrote the pilot for and directed several episodes of 1971’s The New Dick Van Dyke Show. He directed Steve Martin in four films, including 1979’s The Jerk and 1984’s All of Me, and also directed 1987’s Summer School.

Reiner won several Emmys for The Dick Van Dyke Show, and added another to his mantle when he revisited his Dick Van Dyke Show character, “Alan Brady”, for a memorable guest appearance on a 1995 episode of Mad About You. Throughout the ’90s and 2000s Reiner continued to stay active in both film and television, with roles on the 1999 series Family Law, 2002’s Life With Bonnie, and as the voice of “Sarmoti” in 2004’s Father of the Pride. He also starred alongside George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon in the 2001 hit film, Ocean’s Eleven, and reprised his role of “Saul Bloom” for 2004’s Ocean’s Twelve and 2007’s Ocean’s Thirteen. He currently has recurring roles on two popular television shows: TVLand’s Hot in Cleveland and FOX’s The Cleveland Show.

A few additional Carl Reiner trivia tidbits: he has appeared on all major versions of The Tonight Show – with hosts Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, and even Conan O’Brien; he’s the father of another quite famous actor/writer/producer/director – Rob Reiner; and much like Carol Burnett, when he was starring on a variety show, he used a secret signal to communicate with family members. Son Rob shared what that signal was in his 2004 Archive Interview:

Happy 90th birthday, Carl! Here’s to many, many more!

Watch Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks do their “2000 Year Old Man” sketch:

Reiner was honored by the Television Academy in October of 2011, and several of his colleagues and friends were in attendance to pay tribute to the TV legend. You can watch the webcast of “An Evening Honoring Carl Reiner” here, and check out our full Archive interview with Reiner here.

- by Adrienne Faillace

Toasting a Legend: The Television Academy Presents “An Evening Honoring Carl Reiner”

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Congratulations to Carl Reiner, who will be honored by The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in North Hollywood this evening! Panelists paying tribute to the television legend include Mel Brooks, Jon Cryer, Ann Morgan Guilbert, Bonnie Hunt, Rose Marie, Larry Matthews, Bill Persky, Rob Reiner, Paul Reiser, Eva Marie Saint, Garry Shandling, and Dick Van Dyke. The event is sold out, but you can watch the live webcast at 7:30pm PST at

Reiner’s career in television began in the 1940s with appearances on The Fashion Story and The Fifty-fourth Street Review, and continues today with a recurring role on Hot in Cleveland. He’s won multiple Emmys, and in his Archive Interview, Reiner shares a fun fact about how his then-rules for wearing his toupee complicated his first Emmy win for The Dick Van Dyke Show:

“I didn’t wear my hair because if I had worn my hair and sat in the audience, it would be suggesting that I think I’m gonna win. I remember saying, ’should I put my hair on?’ Because my rule of thumb is if it’s national … local shows I never wore it. If I went on an interview show I never wore my hair during the day … If it’s a national show, I’ll wear it. But I decided that night, I said, ‘honey, if I put my rug on, people are gonna think I think I’m gonna win.’ So I said, ‘I’m gonna not wear it. If I win, I’ll go up there.’

In his acceptance speech, Reiner earned a huge laugh with the line, “If I’d known I was going to win, I would have worn my hair.”

He’s a winner with or without the toupee in our book.

Watch below for more memorable moments from Reiner’s career:

On creating The 2000 Year Old Man with Mel Brooks:

On working with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca:

On winning his first Emmy:

On working with the writers of The Dick Van Dyke Show:

Watch Carl Reiner’s Full interview online:

“Your Show of Shows” 60th Anniversary

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Sixty years ago today Your Show of Shows debuted, creating a blueprint for American TV sketch comedy to come. The forerunner of such shows as The Carol Burnett Show and Saturday Night Live, Your Show of Shows is a touchstone of the kind of programming for which the Golden Age of Television is known.

Following the demise of the short-lived 1949 series Admiral Broadway Revue, many of the talents from that show were assembled to make up Your Show of Shows, including producer Max Liebman, writers Mel Tolkin and Lucille Kallen; and stars Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. Additionally, such stars as Carl Reiner and Howard Morris and such writers as Mel Brooks and Neil Simon contributed to the show’s legendary behind-the-scenes and in-front-of-the camera chemistry. Memorable sketches include the Bavarian “Clock” that goes awry with the performers as mechanical figures; “This Is Your Story” a take-off of “This Is Your Life” with an unforgettable Howard Morris as “Uncle Goopy”; the recurring Professor sketch with Carl Reiner interviewing Sid Caesar’s eminent expert; and the movie parodies, such as “From Here to Obscurity” a send-up of “For Here to Eternity” in which Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca are splashed by the waves as they lay on the beach.

Not to be forgotten is that in addition to the famed comedy sketches, Your Show of Shows, as a variety series, also employed the considerable talents of such regulars as singer Bill Hayes and choreographer James Starbuck (working with such talents as Bambi Linn & Rod Alexander and Marge & Gower Champion).

“My view of comedy is you have to believe what the [performers] are doing. You have to believe it, so you can laugh. Because if it’s off the wall, you’ll laugh one time. If they can’t follow the story, and they don’t believe it, they lose interest. Even though it’s a comedy. So they have to believe you, [as if] you’re doing a drama. It’s a funny drama. You don’t know it’s funny. The fun is that you don’t know it’s funny. Let the audience find out.” — Sid Caesar

The Archive of American Television interviewed many of the contributors to Your Show of Shows including Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, and Marge Champion; and late greats Lucille Kallen, Mel Tolkin, and Howard Morris. Check out the Archive’s curated Your Show of Shows page (with links to Caesar’s other “live” series: Admiral Broadway Revue and Caesar’s Hour) to watch reminiscences of these interviewees on this classic series.

Sid Caesar on "Your Show of Shows," and "Caesar’s Hour"

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

Sid Caesar’s Archive of American Television Interview is now fully catalogued. Caesar is a seminal figure in early TV comedy and one of the first recipients of the Emmy Award for Best Actor (in 1952).

Interview description:
Sid Caesar emphasizes the challenge of doing live TV in the early days of the medium: “Doing a show live on television is a different animal altogether than doing TV today. I mean on tape, that’s like relaxing. That’s like going on vacation!” He recounts his early years as a performer, including his time writing and acting in shows for the Armed Forces. He notes how his first series, Admiral Broadway Revue was launched, that gave way to the now classic Your Show of Shows. He speaks about the phenomenon of “live” TV and the pressures and rewards of helming an hour-and-a-half weekly variety series. Caesar speaks about NBC’s decision to separate the network’s Your Show of Shows commodities by having producer Max Liebman do TV “spectaculars” and giving Caesar and co-star Imogene Coca their own shows. He expresses how surprised he was that Your Show of Shows was ending: “I said we’ve got a winning combination. What are you breaking things up for? Four years. That’s it?” Caesar then discusses his next successful venue, the variety series Caesar’s Hour, with Nanette Fabray filling the void left by Imogene Coca. From both Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour, Caesar chronicles such famous sketches as “The Professor,” “The Hickenloopers” and “The Haircuts.” He also humorously recounts many of the gaffes that occurred on “live” television, including the time he forgot the name of the guest star during the show’s introduction, when he was dressed in the wrong costume seconds before going on, and when his make-up pencil broke during his Pagliacci take-off (leading to one of his most-famous ad-libs). He then frankly discusses his bout with alcoholism and his decision to get sober. Lastly, he give his impressions of the many talented collaborators he worked with over the years, including: writers Larry Gelbart and Mel Brooks, and performers Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, and Howard Morris. Sid Caesar was interviewed in Beverly Hills, CA on March 14, 1997; Dan Pasternack conducted the three-hour interview.

Actress Beatrice Arthur Dies at 86 – Interview Online

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Bea Arthur, the Emmy-winning star of Maude and The Golden Girls, who also garnered a Tony Award for the musical Mame, died Saturday at 86. In January, one of her last public appearances, she was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. She was interviewed by the Archive in 2001. Click here for her New York Times obituary (with a reference to our interview). The entire 2-1/2 hour interview can be viewed here.

When asked in her interview how she’d like to be remembered, she responded: “As an artist. An important artist.”

Here’s a selection of clips from the Archive’s interview:

Interview Description:

Beatrice Arthur was interviewed for two hours plus in Brentwood, CA. In the interview, Arthur talked about the origins of her stage name and how she started out in plays, off and on Broadway. She then talked about her first movie roles and her appearances on The George Gobel Show and Caesar’s Hour. She described her other early appearances on television in The Seven Lively Arts, Omnibus, Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall and her role in the play and feature film Mame (with Angela Lansbury and Lucille Ball, respectively). She talked about her appearances on All in the Family as the liberal cousin Maude. She then discussed the controversial issues and topics that the series Maude tackled, (such as alcoholism, abortion, death, infidelity and feminism). Arthur also talked extensively about working with Norman Lear on All in the Family and Maude, watching the show 20 years after it first aired and why she eventually left the show. She then briefly talked about her series Amanda’s and then talked affectionately about The Golden Girls. The interview was conducted on March 15, 2001.

Writer Mel Tolkin Dies at 94 – Archive Interview Online

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

We’re sad to report that comedy writer Mel Tolkin passed away yesterday, November 26th, at his home in Century City. Mel Tolkin was interviewed for the Archive of American Television for four hours. In his interview, Mr. Tolkin discussed his long writing partnership with Lucille Kallen (also an Archive interviewee) and writing for such shows as Admiral Broadway Revue and Your Show of Shows, Caesar’s Hour, The Sid Caesar Show and The Danny Kaye Show, as well as writing for All in the Family. The interview was conducted by Bob Claster on November 4, 1997.

Link to his New York Times obituary.

From his Archive Interview:

On teaching comedy.
First I’d say that humor cannot be taught. Humor is an attitude towards life. It’s a rather cynical approach. It’s a negative approach. It’s saying people misbehave. People put on shows. People wear masks. People are proud of what they shouldn’t be. People compete unfairly. If you think life is wonderful, you don’t belong in comedy. Of course, there’s a lot that can be taught and at UCLA I taught very detailed things. Some of the things I mention here: how people recognize themselves on the screen and so on. What people are funny? And I quote the opening line of Anna Karenina by Tolstoy when she says, happy people are alike in their happiness. Only unhappy people are different from each other, and that’s all there is. Because she proceeded to have one of the unhappiest marriages of all time, Karenina. But she left him. So that’s an important lesson. Happy people are dull conversationalists — no fun to be with and probably vote Republican.

On how he would like to be remembered.
I will be remembered and that’s good enough. I speak about that subject to my son, Michael, and said if I never wrote another line, I’ve done my share. I’m pretty proud of what happened up to now.

Click here to access Mel Tolkin’s Archive of American Television Interview.

Yes, Yes, Nanette Fabray’s Archive of American Television Interview Is Now Online

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

Get set to watch tonight’s 58th Annual Emmy Awards on NBC (8 p.m.EST)! In celebration, we’ve chosen to highlight one of the medium’s most versatile performers, Nanette Fabray. Fifty Emmys-years ago, at the 1956 Emmy Awards ceremony, Fabray won an Emmy for Best Comedienne (winning out against nominees Gracie Allen, Eve Arden, Lucille Ball and Ann Sothern) AND she picked up an Emmy for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her work on Caesar’s Hour!

Her 3-hour Archive of American Television interview is available for viewing on Google Video.
Click here to access all Nanette Fabray interview segments.
Remember, if you’d like to watch the interview in chronological order, select the parts in order (1,2,3…).

About the interview:
Fabray talks about her early years in theater and in early experimental television where she served as an NBC “color girl” — where women of particular complexions were cast to calibrate the then-new color cameras. She speaks in great detail about her work with Sid Caesar on the variety series Caesar’s Hour — including some of the series most memorable comedy sketches including “Shadow Waltz” (a take-off on Your Hit Parade) and “The Commuters” (a recurring high-strung-husband and his wife sketch). She discusses her own short-lived series Yes Yes Nanette as well as guest appearances on such series as The Carol Burnett Show, The Jerry Lewis Show, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show (she played Mary’s mom). She talks about her recurring role on the CBS sitcom One Day at a Time, where she plays Ann Romano’s mother. She also discusses her passion for raising awareness of hearing impairment issues. The interview was conducted by Jennifer Howard on August 12, 2004.