Apologies to the ghost of the great Sid Caesar for not posting sooner about his passing, which happened earlier today. (Or yesterday if you’re in Prague, where it’s currently 5:10 am on Thursday.) A comic genius of live television who peaked between ’50 and ’57 (or from the ages of 28 to 35), Ceasar was a mountain, a creative collossus and a reflector and definer of the Eisenhower zeitgeist. “In the’50s Caesar was to comedy what Marlon Brando was to drama,” it says on a blurb of Ceasar’s 2004 autobiography. Ceasar was “the ultimate…the very best sketch artist and comedian that ever existed,” said Carl Reiner. Mel Brooks, who worked as one of Caesar’s sketch writers, called him “a giant…maybe the best comedian who ever practiced the trade.”
Caesar obviously lived a rich and bountiful life…love, respect, tributes, friends, fame, laurels. Most if not all of this stemming from those amazing, historic, revolutionary years when Caesar was the star of and senior creative engine behind Your Show of Shows (’50 to ’54) and Ceasar’s Hour (’54 to ’57).
It goes without saying that comedic geniuses are no day at the beach. Certainly not if you’re living or working with them. In his heyday the colorful Ceasar had, like Jackie Gleason during his wonder years, a glint of madness in his method. He used to swagger around and live right on the edge, which of course is what made him exciting as a performer and gave his comic performances that extra oomph. He was living an unhealthy life at the time, but nothing matters when the torch is burning brightly. Caesar was quite the drinker in his day (scotch), and he had a serious pill problem. In his 1982 autobiography “Where Have I Been?” Caesar wrote that he’d suffered a “20-year blackout” during the ’60s and ’70s.
I remember watching the 54 year-old Caesar do a funny bit as a studio chief in Mel Brooks‘ Silent Movie (’76) and thinking to myself, “He’s still good, still funny…but it must be tough to have peaked 20 or 25 years ago.” Tougher still, I would think, to lope along for over 50 years after your most profound creative period ended at age 35 (in ’57). But it’s obviously better to have at least been there and know what it’s like to hit nothing but doubles, triples and homers than to never have tasted that, to have never known that kind of power and reach and satisfaction.