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:
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