“Television brought the war home in a way that had never been done before. I can remember the Korean War as a kid, and I didn’t see this [Vietnam War] on television that way. I mean there it was, every night in your living room. You are forced to confront the reality of what is going on there. When you would see Cronkite on Friday give the death toll for that week … I think it certainly raised questions because it provided information in a way that had never been done before. And I think that an informed public shapes opinion. I think television helped to shape that opinion by shining the light on what was going on there.” – Journalist Ed Bradley
Archive Interviewee Ed Bradley spoke eloquently on how television helped inform public opinion about the Vietnam War. He was not alone in discussing the impact of wars and television war coverage on his life and on the lives of others. Many of the Archive’s interviewees served in the United States Armed Forces, were journalists reporting alongside the troops, or were actors portraying servicemen and women on television. As we honor our veterans this November 11th, here are some selections from interviewees reflecting on times of service in the Armed Forces :
Writer/Performer Sid Caesar on organizing dances to boost troop morale during World War II:
Writer/Producer/Director Larry Gelbart on research for M*A*S*H and learning from those who served in the Korean War:
Actress Barbara Eden on Bob Hope’s unwavering energy during USO Tours:
Journalist Dan Rather on how meeting the Servicemen and Women in Vietnam shaped his news reporting:
Host Pat Sajak on serving as a DJ in the Armed Forces Radio Station in Vietnam:
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 Morris — Your 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.
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.
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