Oral Histories

Interview of Sid Caesar

Television comedian most well-known for Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour.
Topic:
Film and Television
Interviewer:
Collings, Jane
Interviewee:
Caesar,Sid
Persons Present:
Caesar and Collings. Mrs. Caesar was briefly present at the beginning of session three.
Place Conducted:
Caesar’s home in Beverly Hills, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Jane Collings, interviewer and senior editor, Center for Oral History Research. B.A., Communications, Antioch College; M.A., Communications, University of Iowa; Ph.D., Critical Studies, UCLA. Collings prepared for the interview by reviewing the literature on Sid Caesar and by viewing episodes of Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Caesar did not review the transcript, and therefore some proper names may remain unverified.
Length:
4.5 hrs.
Language:
English
Copyright:
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Audio:
Family background; Early life; Listens to radio; More on early life; Studies music; Plays music in the Catskills; The family restaurant; Family finances; An early comic performance; More on early life; Early music career; Favorite comedic performances; Harry Ritz; Inducted into Coast Guard; Relieved not to be shipped overseas; Coast Guard life; Stages a show while in the Coast Guard; Caesar’s comedic style; Appears with Buster Keaton in Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; Stages Tars and Spars with Vernon Duke;The “five-dollar number”; Gets good reviews on preview cards; Appears at the Copacabana on New Year’s night; Presents a lecture on live television production; Learns quickly once Your Show of Shows (YSOS) begins; The popularity of YSOS; The writer’s room; The pacing of YSOS; Imogene Coca; A home sketch; Improvisation on camera; Coca leaves YSOS; Reconstitutes writing team when Coca leaves; A restaurant sketch; Nanette Fabray; Janet Blair; The show’s broad appeal; Inspiration for sketches; Differences between YSOS and Caesar’s Hour; The brain sketch; Almost meets Albert Einstein; Meets Robert Oppenheimer.
The pressures inherent in shooting live television; The stagecraft employed for the show; Fewer musical production numbers in Caesar’s Hour as compared to Your Show of Shows; The writing staff for Caesar’s Hour; Working with a live audience lets you know if a joke is working; Examples of “home sketches”; Writers Lucille Kallen and Thelma Diamond provide a woman’s point of view; The characters of the Professor, the General, and Progress Hornsby; The sketch Win a Date With Gina Lollobrigida; A sketch that depicts the actions of the brain; Imogene Coca; Nanette Fabray; The class status of the Hickenloopers as compared to the Commuters; Janet Blair; Max Liebman; A pantomime that centers around Grieg’s Piano Concerto; The “People to People” sketch.
YSOS as family programming; Writing team for YSOS; The home sketch; Caesar’s inspiration for one particular sketch; Charlie Chaplin’s technique; The Neil Simon adaptations of the Caesar TV years; Acting technique on the Caesar shows; Caesar’s expectation for television in its earliest days; A typical day in the writer’s room; The production schedule; The importance of having a woman’s perspective on the writing team; The importance of having a good straight man; A sketch spoofing an animal behavior program; The importance of having a story at the heart of a sketch; More on a sketch involving a spoof on an animal program; Progress Hornsby; Caesar’s favorite personas on the show; Talks with Clara Bow; Larry Gelbart presents Caesar with a large armchair; More on the writers; The last episodes of Caesar’s Hour; The Dancing Towers; The skit “Table for One.”
Works in a movie theater as an usher as a young man; Inflation; Lives in a musician’s boarding house; More on working as an usher; The Production Code; Caesar’s Hour movie satires; The art of producing live television; Spoofs on movies; A satire of On the Waterfront boosts box office for the Broadway adaptation; Censorship; Ratings; Cancellation of the show; Performance style and running order; The Dancing Towers; Sid Caesar Invites You; Broadway career; Broadcast in England.
More on Bridge Over the River Kwai sequence; Bargaining with the censors; Show loses ratings; The impact of the advent of tape on TV production; Pacing live TV; The pressure of producing a live show; Favorite sketches; Sid Caesar Invites You; Appears in Little Me; Works with David Burns; Works in England.
Working with Imogene Coca; The pressures of writing a weekly show; The professor character; A change in American entertainment culture in the sixties; The NBC attitude toward talent; Does fifteen weeks of television in England; Appears in Little Me; The Sid Caesar Show; High level of professional activity in 1963; Buster Keaton in Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; The importance of performative styles; More on Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World; Harry Ritz; Comics Caesar admires; Appears in Silent Movie.
The differing styles of writers working for Caesar; The timing of comedy when Caesar was working as compared to today; TV programs and movies that Caesar watches today; Differences between comedy of Caesar’s day and today; More on Your Show of Shows; Comics Caesar appreciates; Learning from conversations with other comedians and writers; Imogene Coca; Difference between YSOS and Caesar’s Hour; Reason Caesar did not release the shows for syndication; Appears in Grease; Use of music in YSOS and Caesar’s Hour; Uses music by Irving Berlin; Works with Vernon Duke; Meets Toscanini; Works with Lucille Ball; Sees Charlie Chaplin at a party; Meets W.C. Fields and Laurel and Hardy; Caesar’s ideas for a contemporary TV program; Social problems of today; Caesar’s continued interest in the quotidian; A fascinating science program on the speed of the universe; Observational nature of Caesar’s programs; Reality television programs; Seminal comedians.