Oral Histories

Interview of Sid Caesar

Television comedian most well-known for Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour.
Interviews not in a series, part two
Film and Television
Biographical Note:
Television comedian most well-known for Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour.
Collings, Jane
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.
4.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
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.