His name may not be as well known in the UK, but to comedy aficionados around the world Sid Caesar had a ground-breaking, career-making and long-lasting effect on his chosen profession. He has died at the age of 91.
Born in New York in 1922, Caesar initially studied music, heading to Julliard to perfect his sax technique and becoming sufficiently proficient to play with jazz and swing legends such as Benny Goodman. It was while performing at shows that Caesar was exposed to stand-up, and realised that comedy was his true calling. Following work in a skit, his military career in the Coast Guard during World War II initially threatened to delay his chance to perform, but he ended up forming a band and made his true debut on stage while still serving, creating Tars And Stars, which later formed the basis for a musical comedy film.
Upon his return to New York, he landed gigs in clubs and began to evolve his own comedy creations. Television beckoned, and Caesar joined The Admiral Broadway Revue, which saw him paired for the first time with Imogene Coca, who would become one of his regular colleagues. After the show was cancelled, NBC approached them about the possibility of a sketch show, and in 1950, Your Show Of Shows, a 90-minute live variety show launched. With a work ethic that would put today’s TV performers to shame, the Show gang created 39 shows a season for four years, working without cue cards or Teleprompters.
But if there were to be one part of his career that stands as his legacy, it would be his eye for talent. Caesar helped to nurture a wealth of writers and performers, including Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Carl Reiner and Larry Gelbart. He developed other shows such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, Caesar’s Hour and a variety of others.
His film career was more limited, but he gave memorable performances in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie and History Of The World (Part 1) and both Grease movies, in which he played Coach Calhoun.
"Inarguably he was the greatest single monologist and skit comedian we ever had," Carl Reiner said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. "Television owes him a debt of gratitude for his pioneering work and the great shows he gave us all. Render onto Caesar what is his due. He deserves real applause from the American people."
It's not just the American people who will applaud him – it’s the world. Caesar was married to his wife, Florence, for 67 years; she died in 2010. He’s survived by his three children.