Acknowledged to be one of the premier comedians of the last half of the twentieth century, Sid Caesar has been hailed as a genius for his pioneering television series of the 1950’s. Using his multitude of talents for mimicry, inventiveness and satire, they are still considered among the best comedy shows ever aired.
Born in 1922 to a New York City-area family, Caesar began his rise to fame, modestly enough, playing the saxophone in various bands. Like many of his contemporaries, he honed his talents in the Catskill Mountain resorts—the so-called Borscht Belt—where he began adding comedy bits to his playing. There he was noticed by the would-be impresario Max Liebman who recognized the potential of the shy young man.
Even though his budding career was seemingly interrupted by World War II, his service in the Coast Guard turned out to be a further boost to Caesar. There he was cast in a show that toured the country and was made into a Hollywood film in which he was cast. Broadway followed and then his television debut in 1949. Shortly thereafter, the legendary Your Show of Shows, a live hour-and-a-half weekly revue, made him a major star.
Fortunate to have a large staff of super-talented writers and a great supporting cast, the show quickly became a major hit. However, the demands of doing this week after week took its toll on Caesar, who resorted to heavy drinking to get him through. A second hit, Caesar’s Hour, followed, but his personal demons continued to plague him for much of his life.
Thereafter, Sid Caesar did other Broadway shows and many films but it is fair to say that he never topped his work of the 1950’s. His story is indeed a fascinating one but, unfortunately, Caesar’s Hours: My Life in Comedy, With Love and Laughter has not done it sufficient justice. Its earnest, even plodding, style almost makes his life seem dull and he resolutely reveals very little of his innermost thoughts and feelings. It remains for a more insightful book to be written about this tortured funnyman.