Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: SID CAESAR & IMOGENE COCA

By Steve Crum

Sixty years ago, NBC-TV could have opened each program with "Live, from New York, it's...!" Except this was two and a half decades before Saturday Night Live. The referenced program is Your Show of Shows, which ran 160 hilarious, innovative, and ground-breaking episodes for 90 minutes each Saturday night, Feb. 25, 1950-June 5, 1954. Created by Sigourney Weaver's dad, Sylvester "Pat" Weaver, Your Show of Shows starred Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. Although called a variety show, it is now considered the ultimate sketch comedy, TV showcase, truly the first of its kind. (Note: Caesar and Coca first teamed on TV's Admiral Broadway Review, Jan.-June, 1949.)

Born Isaac Sidney Caesar on Sept. 8, 1922, SID CAESAR is particularly noted for his use of comedy dialect, timing, and body language. He has appeared in several movies, including It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, many TV shows, on Broadway, and is an author. He is fondly remembered playing Coach Calhoun in Grease and Grease 2.

IMOGENE COCA, whose birth name is the mouthful Imogene Fernandez de Coca, was born Nov. 18, 1908. Perhaps her most well known role to modern audiences is Aunt Edna, Chevy Chase's forlorn aunt (remember her leashed dog?) in National Lampoon's Vacation. Coca died June 2, 2001.

Your Show of Shows was live, directed by both Max Liebman and Nat Hiken at various times. Its writers included Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner (who also acted in the sketches), Neil Simon, Danny Simon, and Mel Tolkin. (Larry Gelbart did not write for YSOS, but did write for Caesar's Hour, 1954-57. Woody Allen only wrote for Caesar in later TV specials.)

Rounding out the cast were Howard Morris (Ernest T. Bass on The Andy Griffith Show), Nanette Fabray, and Reiner. The program greatly influenced future sketch comedy programs, particularly The Carol Burnett Show and Saturday Night Live. Your Show of Shows remains a true classic of television history. It inspired Carl Reiner to create his TV gem, The Dick Van Dyke Show. It was also the basis for 1982's My Favorite Year, and Neil Simon's play, Laughter on the 23rd Floor.
The rare still (at left) from Your Show of Shows depicts Sid Caesar in hand flailing intensity as he makes a point to Imogene Coca during one of their memorable sketches. The photo could be of a rehearsal since there is masking tape in various states on and around the floor, probably for stage blocking. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
Funny is funny for all time. Enjoy this classic "clock" bit from Your Show of Shows:

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