Before there was Saturday Night Live, there was “Your Show of Shows,” and Sid Caesar was its featured star. With writers like Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, and Carl Reiner, Caesar had the best material to entertain American television audiences every Saturday evening.
Caesar died Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 91 years old. A family spokesman, the AP reported, confirmed the comedian and actor’s death.
He was born Isaac Sidney Caesar on Sept. 8, 1922 in Yonkers, N.Y., to immigrant parents. If fate had taken a different turn, he may have become a musician. During his youth, he studied saxophone and clarinet and attended Julliard School of Music.
Caesar enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II and would entertain his friends with musical revues and sketches. Upon discharge, he was cast in his first film and began performing comedy in New York City.
In 1950, he was cast opposite Imogene Coca as the co-star of the variety show that would launch his career. “Your Show of Shows” was one of the most popular TV shows during the 50s. At its peak, the program had 60 million viewers at a time, when only 44 million American households had televisions.
Caesar said that the key to his success as a comedian depended upon keeping his material close to real life.
“When I did comedy I made fun of myself. If there was a buffoon, I played the buffoon. And people looked at me and said, ‘Gee, that’s like Uncle David,’ or ‘That’s like a friend of mine.’ And they related through that. I didn’t make fun of them. I made fun of me.”
The show’s life was short lived, broadcast from 1950-54. After being re-named, “Caesar’s Hour” in 1954, the show was taken off the air in 1957 because of declining ratings and competition from other TV variety shows.
Still, Caesar’s legacy and contributions to American comedy will be remembered. Mel Brooks said, “I know of no other comedian, including Chaplin, who could have done nearly 10 years of live television.”