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Sid Caesar

(1922 - 2014)

Sid Caesar was a Jewish American all-star comedic entertainer, saxophonist, composer and actor.

He was born Isaac Sidney Caesar on September 8, 1922, in Yonkers, New York. After graduating high school, he planned on starting his music career by playing the saxophone. He studied saxophone at the Julliard School of Music before becoming an actor. Caesar began in show business by performing in the “Borscht Belt” in the Catskills, as both a musician and a stand-up comic.

During World War II, Caesar served in the Coast Guard, performing comedy and organizing entertainment for the soldiers. He became a featured performer in the service’s stage show, Tars and Stars. Following the war, Caesar moved to Los Angeles, where he starred in two films, Tars and Stars, based on the wartime comedy routine, and The Guilt of Janet Ames. By 1949, he entered a new medium of entertainment, television, hosting The Admiral Broadway Review.

Television was a natural medium for Caesar. Over the next few years he hosted such hits as Your Show of Shows (1950-1954), Caesar’s Hour (1954-1957) and Sid Caesar Invites You (1958). Many prominent comic actors and writers got their start writing the skits for Caesar’s shows, including Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, and Woody Allen.

After the cancellation of his show Sid Caesar Invites You in 1958, he never recaptured the glory of the Golden Age of Television. He did make several appearances on Broadway, starring in Little Me (nominated for Broadway's 1963 Tony Award as Best Actor (Musical)), on television (The Sid Caesar Show, 1963-1964) and in the movies, Mel Brook’s Silent Movie (1976) and as “Coach Calhoun” in 1978’s Grease.

Caesar died on February 12, 2014. His friends and colleagues remember him as "the greatest single monologist and skit comedian we ever had," as Reiner put it. Brooks said "Sid Caesar was a giant - maybe the best comedian who ever practiced the trade. I was privileged to be one of his writers and one of his friends." Larry King wrote, "[I am] sorry to learn about the passing of Sid Caesar - a dear friend, a comic genius and an American classic. There will never be another one like him."

Sources: “Sid Caesar (1922 - ).” American Jewish Historical Society, American Jewish Desk Reference, (NY: Random House, 1999). pg. 440-1, Wikipedia, IMDB, JTA (February 13, 2014).