LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Comic showman Sid Caesar, a pioneer of American television sketch comedy as the star and creative force of “Your Show of Shows,” during the 1950s, died on Wednesday at age 91, according to his friend and former collaborator, Carl Reiner.
Reiner told Reuters he learned of Caesar’s death from a mutual friend, actor and writer Rudy De Luca, who had recently been visiting with Caesar. He said the veteran entertainer had been ill for at least the past year.
While he enjoyed a lengthy, if uneven, career in TV and film spanning six decades, Caesar may be best remembered for his work with comedienne Imogene Coca on the landmark “Your Show of Shows,” which aired on NBC from February 1950 to June 1954.
One of most ambitious and demanding of all TV enterprises, “Your Show of Shows” was 90 minutes of live, original sketch comedy airing every Saturday night, 39 weeks a year. It is widely considered the prototype for every U.S. TV sketch comedy series that followed, including “Saturday Night Live.”
The show and its successor series, “Caesar’s Hour,” became an incubator for some of the greatest comic minds in U.S. show business, with a roster of writers that included Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Reiner (who also co-starred on the show) and Larry Gelbart.
Some of Caesar’s most popular bits were built around pompous or outlandish characters – such as Professor von Votsisnehm – in which he spoke in a thick accent or mimicked foreign languages in comic but convincing gibberish.
“He was the ultimate, he was the very best sketch artist and comedian that ever existed,” Reiner said of his friend. “His ability to double talk every language known to man was impeccable.”
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, writing by Steve Gorman, editing by G Crosse)