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Sid Caesar

CAESAR, SID (1922– ), U.S. stage and television comedian. Born in New York, Caesar was the son of a Yonkers restaurant owner. In his formative years he was exposed to a variety of dialects and accents, which would serve him well as a mimic and comedian. Caesar first wanted to be a musician. He studied saxophone at Julliard, and later played with well-known bandleaders such as Charlie Spivak, Claude Thornhill, Shep Fields, and Art Mooney. During World War II, as a musician in the Coast Guard, he took part in the service show Tars and Spars. When the show's producer, Max Liebman, overheard Caesar improvising comedy routines among the band members, he switched him over to comedy. Caesar performed his routine in the stage and movie versions of the review, and continued to work with Liebman after the war, appearing in theatrical revues in the Catskills and Florida.

Liebman cast Caesar in the Broadway revue Make Mine Manhattan in 1948, and in 1949 brought him to star on television in the variety show the Admiral Broadway Revue. Caesar became a great success, starring with comedienne Imogene Coca. Lasting, however, only 17 weeks, it was followed by Caesar's Your Show of Shows. A 90-minute showcase for Caesar's unbridled talent, it became the viewing audience's Saturday night favorite for four years (1950–54). Caesar and Coca teamed up with Carl *Reiner and Howard Morris, performing material by them and their team of soon-to-be famous writers, such as Mel Tolkin, Mel *Brooks, Neil *Simon, and Larry Gelbart. Performing some 160 live, original comedy skits, the foursome combined revue and sketch comedy with satire and parody. The irrepressible Caesar, often deviating from the script, was a master at mime, dialects, monologues, foreign language double-talk, and all-round comedic acting. In 1954, Caesar launched Caesar's Hour (1954–57), with Nanette Fabray replacing Coca.

In 1972 Liebman compiled routines of several programs from the 1950–54 shows into a feature film entitled Ten from Your Show of Shows (1973). NBC had thrown away its copies of the program, but Caesar and Liebman had retained their kinescopes made during the original run. A series of 90-minute TV specials anthologized from the original shows were syndicated in 1976.

Not confining his multi-talents to television, Caesar appeared in a number of films as well, including The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947); It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963); The Busy Body (1966); The Spirit Is Willing (1966); A Guide for the Married Man (1967); Airport (1975); Silent Movie (1976); Fire Sale (1977); Barnaby and Me (1977); Grease (1978); The Cheap Detective (1978); The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980); History of the World, Part I (1981); Grease 2 (1982); Over the Brooklyn Bridge (1983); Cannonball Run II (1983); Stooge-mania (1985); The Emperor's New Clothes (1987); The South Pacific Story (1991); Vegas Vacation (1997); and The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (1998).

In addition to his stage debut in Make Mine Manhattan in 1948, Caesar also took to the stage in the Broadway musical comedy Little Me (1962–63), in which he played seven leading parts; Four on a Garden (1971), a set of four original oneact plays; the opera Die Fledermaus (1987); and Does Anybody Know What I'm Talking About? (1989).

Caesar has won an Emmy for Best Actor (1952); a Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy from the American Comedy Awards (1987); and a Career Achievement Award from the Television Critics Association (2001). He wrote an autobiography called Where Have I Been? (1983).


T. Sennett, Your Show of Shows (1977); K. Adir, The Great Clowns of American Television (1988)

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.