Sid Caesar died today at 91, after a brief illness. The ground-breaking saxophonist-turned-comedian and television performer had been almost completely out of the limelight for around 15 years. His primary personal contributions to our entertainment world are highly concentrated in the “Golden Age” of television when he was a superstar, but his influence is still strongly felt today in the observational-yet physical comedy of the likes of Jerry Seinfeld. The work of Caesar’s writers and co-performers is legendary and has included Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H*) and Imogene Coca.
Here is TV Mix’s list of his 7 most essential performances:
Your Show of Shows (1953-54): With co-stars Coca and later Reiner and Howard Morris, Caesar created a number of indelible characters and skits, and here is also where he fostered the writing skills of Reiner, Allen and Gelbart. Subsequent superstardom would send Caesar into the rarified world of occasional guest starring roles and his own show in 1957, while also propelling him into alcoholism and barbiturate addiction that would haunt him for decades.
It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963): Caesar is in top form as one of the four primary treasure-seeking supports (along with Milton Berle/Ethel Merman, Jonathan Winters and Mickey Rooney/Buddy Hackett) of this massive all-star filmic tableaux of comedy, and this is how many who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s remember him. His routine recounting the division of “shares,” the hardware store scene and the bi-plane scene are all-time classics.
Playboy After Dark (1969): Caesar’s two appearances at Hugh Hefner’s polymath penthouse party alongside the likes of The Grateful Dead, Noel Harrison, Mort Sahl and Linda Ronstadt are understated yet fascinating on many levels. You see the genius and the demons under the surface.
When Things Were Rotten (TV — 1975) and Silent Movie (1976): Again Sid is in his element, working with Brooks, his old employee and colleague. When Things… unfortunately could not take hold in its attempt to capitalize on Brooks’ post Blazing Saddles popularity to compete with Monty Python. Not long after Silent Movie Caesar would check into rehab and go cold turkey.
The Cheap Detective (1978): Sid again working with an old writing friend, this time Simon.
Grease (1978) and Grease II (1982): A new generation saw in his Coach Calhoun a mere shadow, but still potent and surprisingly understated.
The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (1998): In one of his final roles, Sid shows he still has it as he plays an East L.A. Tailor interacting with Joe Mantegna, Edward James Olmos, Gregory Sierra and Esai Morales in this Ray Bradbury film adaptation
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