If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. –Sir Isaac Newton
Comedian Sid Caesar, in his autobiography, CAESAR’S HOURS, quotes the above and adds, “I too stand on the shoulders of giants. Nobody does anything alone.”
To me, to call Sid Caesar (born 9/8/22) a comedian is akin to calling Newton a physicist — accurate, yes, but hardly adequate. In a down-to-earth way, I might even say that what Newton was to gravity in the 1680s, Caesar was to levity in the 1950s. The bottom line is, I was in my teens then (the 1950s, not the 1680s), and still reasonably sentient at the time; thus I can bear witness to the comic genius that I, as a geezer, still see in Caesar.
And just who were those giants on whose shoulders Caesar stood? He tells us in his book: “I always wanted to be Charlie Chaplin. He was one of my earliest comedic heroes, along with Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and W.C. Fields. Most of their comedy came from their character. They each believed in what they did, and I believed them.”
Caesar was an up-and-coming comic performing mainly in the so-called Borscht Belt in New York’s Catskill Mountains when this opportunity arose in the infancy of network TV:
It was called YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, and what an innovative show it was. It premiered live on 2/25/50 with writers like Mel Brooks, Max Liebman (who also produced) and (later) Woody Allen. Said Caesar: “For nine years, I presided over what was arguably the best collection of comedy writers ever assembled in the history of television, and possibly in the history of the written word — unless you think the U.S. Constitution is funny.”
Add co-stars Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris, and the show was both a commercial and artistic success from Hour One. Here, they show you why:
Again quoting Caesar: “Until that time, the only big things on television were bowling, wrestling and Charlie Chan. [Max Liebman] wasn’t interested in the American public’s lowest common denominator. He wasn’t going to dumb down. His goal was that the quality of the show would drive its popularity and ultimately elevate taste.”
As Charlie Chan might say: Noble goal like chasing rainbow — beautiful while it lasts.
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Originally, I came to this post with the idea of making it a birthday (9/8/1896) tribute to Howard Dietz, one of my favorite lyricists, whose autobiography (titled DANCING IN THE DARK) I also commend. Then I learned that Sept. 8 is the birthday of Sid Caesar as well as Howard Dietz, and I thought I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN.
Hold on — it wouldn’t be right not to dance with the dude what brung me, so rather than ditch Dietz, I’ll sing his praises here too….starting with his first big hit (above), then an excerpt from early in the book, closing with a realization of the song which titles his story.
The following is quoted from the book’s forward by Alan Jay Lerner: As for that quality of life known as charm, I can only shrug sadly and chalk it up as another victim of that creeping nastiness called modern civilization. I think about the man whose reminiscences are contained in this book. They come to mind because of that special gift of charm that is so characteristic of his lyrics. Howard [Dietz] is the Fred Astaire, the Chevalier, the Molnar, the Lubitsch of lyric writers.
Dancing in the dark
Till the tune ends
We’re dancing in the dark
And it soon ends
We’re waltzing in the wonder
Of why we’re here
Time hurries by we’re here