Sid Caesar, a television pioneer who reigned as the king of live TV sketch comedy in the 1950s with his inspired brand of mimicry, pantomime and satire on the classic comedy-variety series “Your Show of Shows” and “Caesar’s Hour,” died Wednesday. He was 91.
Caesar died at his home in Beverly Hills after a brief illness, according to his biographer and friend Eddy Friedfeld.
A two-time Emmy Award-winning performer during his TV heyday in the `50s, Caesar has been hailed as “one of the great TV clowns,” “one of television’s most inventive performers” and “a genius at making people laugh.”
“Television had its share of comedy geniuses,” Times television critic Howard Rosenberg wrote in 1994. “Yet arguably none has been as uniquely gifted and inventive as Caesar. Watching him perform, you just know light bulbs are popping continuously in his brain.”
With his flair for verbal and physical comedy honed while performing during his World War II service in the Coast Guard and in nightclubs and theaters after the war, Caesar burst on the national scene in 1949 as the star of the “Admiral Broadway Revue,” a live, hourlong show from New York that aired Friday nights simultaneously on NBC and the DuMont network.
The Max Liebman-produced show, which was built around Caesar and teamed him with comedic actress Imogene Coca for the first time, featured guest stars, comedy sketches and large production numbers.
In one of the show’s most memorable sketches, Caesar, Coca, Reiner and Morris wordlessly played the figures on a large town clock in Bavaria that appear with mechanical precision on the hour, until the clock goes on the fritz.
Caesar later said the key to the show’s success “unquestionably was the writing.”
Among the members of the “Your Show of Shows” legendary writers’ room, in addition to Brooks, were Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen, Tony Webster, Joe Stein, Neil and Danny Simon, and Reiner (a self-described “writer without portfolio”).
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