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Sid Caesar - Pioneer of Modern TV Comedy
 
Isaac Sidney "Sid" Caesar was the youngest of three sons born to Jewish immigrants Max and Ida Ziser, living in Yonkers, New York. Max and Ida came to America from Dambrowa Tarnowska, now Poland and then - part of the Russian empire.
 
According to an urban myth, the surname "Caesar" was given to Max by an immigration official at Ellis Island. In reality, this is untrue - the name was probably taken by him . 
 
Max and Ida Caesar ran a 24-hour restaurant. By waiting on tables, the little Sid learned to mimic the accents of the ethnically diverse clientele, a technique which he termed double-talk and used extensively throughout his career. And at 14, he occasionally performed in comic sketches in the Borscht Belt - his first stand-up performances.
 
After graduating from Yonkers High School in 1939, Caesar enlisted in the United States Coast Guard, and was ordered to Palm Beach, Florida, where he performed in a service revue. When Caesar's comedy got bigger applause than the musical numbers, Max Liebman, the director of the Tars and Spars, asked him to do stand-up bits between the songs. The show toured nationally, and became Caesar's first major gig as a comedian.
 
On February 25, 1950, Caesar appeared in the first episode of Your Show of Shows, initially part of the Saturday Night Review show. By the end of the year, the immense popularity of Caesar's sketches persuaded the NBC bosses to make Your Show of Shows became its own, 90-minute program.

Unlike the slapstick comedy, which was standard on TV, his style was based on accents, expressions and mimics, which was considered avant-garde at the time. At certain points in its history, Your Show of Shows' audience reached nearly 60 million viewers!  A few months later, Caesar returned with Caesar's Hour, a one-hour sketch/variety show.
 
The sudden success had an unexpected effect on Caesar... After nearly 10 years as a prime-time star of television comedy, he practically disappeared from the spotlight, turning to alcohol and sleeping pills to release the stress. Several years later the situation became critical... 
 
In 1977, after blacking out during a stage performance, Caesar decided to take drastic measures - give up alcohol and the pills "cold turkey". The struggle against addiction was won, and the comedian was able to return on stage, creating several popular shows and starring in a couple of Hollywood films, although, according to his friends, he was partial to movies, preferring television.
 
Caesar died at his home in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of 91, after a short illness. By that time, his trophy shelf was full of awards, including two Emmies, the Television Critics Association Career Achievement Award and Television Critics Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the TV Land Pioneer Award; he also had a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
 
Sources:
Sid Caesar; Eddy Friedfeld (2004). Caesar's Hours: My Life in Comedy, with Love and Laughter.
"Sid Caesar Biography (1922–)". Filmreference.com. 
Adir, Karin (2001). The Great Clowns of American Television. McFarland & Company

 


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