Sunday, February 16, 2014
HAIL,CAESAR - THE PASSING OF A COMIC GENIUS - YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS/CAESAR'S HOUR - NBC-TV - 1950 TO 1957
Sid Caesar was as close to comic royalty as America could offer in the early 1950's
At the dawn of Television, Sid Caesar was ,both, the infant mediums king of sophisticated comedy and its sovereign of social satire.
Sadly, this week, so many of us have come to praise Caesar , and as his Family must bury him.
Sid Caesar, video visionary, comedian extraordinaire , actor, musician,writer , producer and two-time Emmy Award recipient ,passed away at age 91, in his Beverly Hills home.
His landmark 1950, NBC-TV series, YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, stands some 64 years later as a much-heralded, truly hilarious example of Television at its best and its funniest.
If , in life, a person is known by the company they keep, Caesar's stellar reputation is buttressed by a renowned writing staff , that was early television's equivalent of the Algonquin Round Table.
Among those superlative comedic scribes who worked in the service of Caesar were Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen and Neil Simon.
The Writer's Room, which was housed at NYC's City Center, was Sid Caesar's cauldron of comedy.
A brass plaque, placed by the TV LAND cable network, now commemorates the comedic combustion that erupted inside those offices.
It was where young writers forged brilliant careers and life-long loyalty to the demanding, but nurturing boss.
It was survival of the funniest.
Because funny was all that mattered.
Sid Caesar was a master of multi-lingual double talk, had the timing of an atomic clock and could bring life to any character written by his stellar staff.
The only persona that he was reticent to portray in public was Sid Caesar. Like many comedians, he was riddled with doubt about himself, while confident and comfortable in any other role he essayed.
His first network series... 1949's ADMIRAL BROADWAY REVIEW, seen on DUMONT AND NBC was cancelled for being too successful. The president of Admiral Corp., Russ Sirigusa, cancelled the show at the end of its first season. He told Caesar that the show was such a hit and helped to sell so many television sets, that Admiral could not keep pace with consumer demand,. It was either expand their manufacturing plant or cancel the show. He cancelled the show.
When the incomparable Sylvester "Pat" Weaver took over NBC-TV in 1950, he envisioned a Saturday night , comedy revue with music that would air LIVE from NYC, Weaver enlisted Caesar and producer Max Liebman to create what became YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS.
Caesar and Liebman had staged the kind of topical, energetic Revues that Weaver hoped to bring to NBC, and they had done it to excellent reviews and solid box office.
Liebman recruited co-stars Imogene Coco, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris.
It was a contentious , but successful partnership. Caesar guided the comedy and Liebman supervised the television production and crafted the musical elements.
YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS did smart, penetrating satire that resonated with the first generation of television viewers.
Viewers who chose to stay home on Saturday Night.
The audience was, from 1948 to 1954, comprised of early adopters who were, Eastern ( as rapidly as it grew, it took time for TV to spread across America ), educated and affluent.
You see, the first RCA television sets were monochrome receivers with a giant 12 inch screen and cost almost $300.00 in 1950.
That was the price of a used Chevy for most Americans.
Caesar helped to grow the medium, cultivate the audience , and sell a lot of Oldsmobile's ( his primary sponsor :) .
But Sid Caesar , the person and the performer, was more about comedy and culture than cash and commerce.
This meant that while other TV comedians were doing video vaudeville, Caesar and his legion of writers could target popular culture and spoof everything from America's burgeoning fascination with foreign films to the cryptic poetry of the Beat Generation, to the emerging mores of post-WWII, suburban life.
A new, LIVE show was produced 39 weeks per year. The stress on the Star led him into a spiral of alcohol and prescription drug addiction that he successfully overcame.
For all that has been written about the halcyon times when Sid Caesar ruled Saturday night TV, he required only two things of the material that his writers provided .
It had to be smart and funny.
Those are two traits that Sid Caesar also had in common with his writing staff and his audience.
Here , from the JAMES STEEBER YOU TUBE site, is one of Sid Caesar's earliest and most hilarious , television performances. It's from 1949's ADMIRAL BROADWAY REVIEW .
It is the exuberant story of a Five Dollar Date, as it is recalled from 1939 and the dour version of that night on the town as it would be repeated in 1949.