Sid Caesar biography
Sid Caesar was born in 1922 in Yonkers, New York. The son of immigrants, Caesar worked as a musician during the Great Depression. At the start of World War II, he joined the Coast Guard and was stationed in Brooklyn, playing military revues. In the 1940s, Caesar developed a nightclub act on Broadway, which he turned into the popular and Emmy Award-winning television program Your Show of Shows. He also appeared in the Grease film musicals.
Born in Yonkers, New York, on September 8, 1922, comedian Sid Caesar is the youngest of three brothers. Both of his parents immigrated to the United States as children—his father from Poland and his mother from Russia. His last name was given to his father by an immigration officer at Ellis Island. The Caesar family ran a restaurant in Yonkers.
Caesar started out as a musician. He reportedly took up the saxophone after a customer left one behind at his parents' restaurant. During his years at Yonkers High School, Caesar started playing in a band. After graduating in 1939, he found work in the summer resorts in the Catskill Mountains. Caesar was hired as a musician, but he also started doing some comedy as well.
During World War II, Caesar served with the U.S. Coast Guard. His famous sense of humor was discovered by a producer who put him in a Coast Guard revue called Tars and Stars as a comedian. Caesar also appeared in a film version of the production released in 1946.
Caesar made his way to Broadway two years later in Make Mine Manhattan. This popular revue helped him make the leap into an emerging medium—television—the following year. Caesar starred in the variety show The Admiral Broadway Revue alongside Imogene Coca and Marge and Gower Champion. While this program didn't last long, Caesar's next effort would make television history.
TV's Top Funny Man
In 1950, Sid Caesar quickly became a Saturday night favorite with Your Show of Shows, a sketch comedy program co-starring Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and others. He created a beloved array of characters, from the Professor to cool musician Progress Hornsby. Caesar was a gifted mine and mimic, earning himself comparisons to Charlie Chaplin. His talents were greatly enhanced by a stellar writing staff that included Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and Larry Gelbart during the show's four-year run. Behind the scenes, however, Caesar battled with problems with alcohol.
After Your Show of Shows ended in 1954, Caesar moved on to his next successful television project: Caesar's Hour. He won his second Emmy Award for his work on this variety show in 1957. Reuniting with Imogene Coca, he starred in another entertainment program, Sid Caesar Invites You. Sadly, this show proved to be short-lived.
In the early 1960s, Caesar returned to Broadway in the musical comedy Little Me. He received much praise for his performance, including a Tony Award nomination. Caesar made another attempt to recapture his earlier TV success with The Sid Caesar Show in 1963, but the program failed to catch on with viewers.
In the 1970s and '80s, Caesar made a number of television and film appearances. He took on small parts in such popular movies as the disaster drama Airport 1975, and the 1978 musical Grease with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Caesar also had a memorable turn as a caveman in the Mel Brooks comedy History of the World: Part I (1981).
Long plagued by personal demons, Caesar shared the story of his struggles and his recovery in his 1983 autobiography, Where Have I Been?. Two years later, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.
In 2003, Caesar reflected on his career in Caesar's Hours: My Life in Comedy, with Love and Laughter, a book that he co-wrote with Eddy Friedfeld. He also appeared in the 2012 documentary Lunch, a film chronicling a weekly get together between Caesar and some of Hollywood's TV veterans, including Monty Hall from the long-running game show Let's Make a Deal and announcer Gary Owens.
Now in his 90s, Caesar is considered one of the great pioneers of TV comedy. His comic characters have left a permanent impression on generations of audiences, and his work has inspired countless other comedians, including Billy Crystal and Richard Lewis.