Today's Classical Music Video

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sid Caesar (1922-2014): In Memoriam

Like so many kids growing up in North America in the 1950s, my life was hugely enriched by Sid Caesar's comedy on television. He was a genius at what he did, and in my book there is greater gift than being able to make people laugh.

 Sid Caesar had a remarkable gift for sketch comedy, the kind of thing we celebrate today on "Saturday Night Live." While we are at it, let's not forget the contribution to this genre made by so many Canadian comic actors on SCTV. Caesar had a Chaplinesque talent for physical comedy. He had a rubber face, he could contort his body into the most amazing configurations, he was a master of double-talk, and he had energy - boy did he have energy. He also had some of the best comedy writers ever assembled including Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart and Neil Simon.

Unfortunately, his career as the leading comic of his day was short-lived. After ten or twelve glory years in the 1950s and early 1960s he was all but burned out. He was so addicted to painkillers and alcohol he could hardly function. From his late 30s into his 90s he lived mostly in obscurity, barely eking out a living. A sad story.

This old video (c. 1955) captures one of his classic routines. Caesar and Nanette Fabray argue to the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The concept was brilliant but actually doing it was something else. As you watch you will see that each move from Caesar and Fabray has been carefully choreographed to fit the music; it is not simply angry faces and flailing arms. It is as precisely choreographed as any ballet, and perfectly executed. And all this on live television in the 1950s. Bravos too for the director and the camera operators for what they were able to do in these early days of television. If he did nothing else Sid Caesar would be remembered for this remarkable performance.

Paul E. Robinson



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