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Sid Caesar dies — ’50s TV comic genius

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Sid Caesar, the prodigiously talented pioneer of TV comedy who inspired a generation of famous writers, died on Feb. 12. He was 91.

Caesar died at his home in the Los Angeles area after a brief illness, family spokesman Eddy Friedfeld said.

In his two most important shows, “Your Show of Shows,” 1950-54, and “Caesar’s Hour,” 1954-57, Caesar displayed remarkable skill in pantomime, satire, mimicry, dialect and sketch comedy. And he gathered a stable of young writers who went on to worldwide fame,  including Neil Simon, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen.

The son of Jewish immigrants, Caesar was a wizard at spouting melting-pot gibberish that parodied German, Russian, French and other languages. His professor character was the epitome of goofy Germanic scholarship.

Isaac Sidney Caesar was born in 1922 in Yonkers, N.Y., the third son of an Austrian-born restaurant owner and his Russian-born wife. His first dream was to become a musician, and he played saxophone in bands while in his teens.

“Your Show of Shows,” and “Caesar’s Hour” reached as many as 60 million viewers weekly and earned its star $1 million annually at a time when $5, he later noted, bought a steak dinner for two.

Ratings competition from Lawrence Welk’s variety show put “Caesar’s Hour” off the air in 1957.

In 1962, Caesar starred on Broadway in Simon’s musical “Little Me,”  and was nominated for a Tony. He played seven roles, from a comically perfect young man to a tyrannical movie director to a prince of an impoverished European kingdom. — ap


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