TV Legend Sid Caesar Dies At 91

'Your Show Of Shows' Comic Endorsed Saran Wrap, Van de Kamp, Dutch Masters, Nytol

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Sid Caesar, the rubber-faced comic whose madcap sketches on live broadcasts in the 1950s became TV classics, has died. He was 91.

Aided and abetted by an ensemble cast headed by comedienne Imogene Coca, Mr. Caesar was hailed as the King of Comedy, figuring in almost every skit in hour-long or 90-minute programs during TV seasons that commonly ran for 39 weeks.

Sid Caesar during his
Sid Caesar during his

As the star of "Your Show of Shows" and "Caesar's Hour," he hired, inspired and goaded a legendary group of young writers. Neil Simon, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen and Larry Gelbart were among them, and all went on to greater fame later in television, movies and the stage. Among companies that sponsored his series were R. J. Reynolds' Camel cigarettes, Quaker Oats, Bab-O, American Chicle, Speidel, RCA and Helena Rubenstein.

"Your Show of Shows" debuted in 1950 and by 1954 Mr. Caesar was earning a then-astronomical $25,000 a week. Three years later, he was making more than $100,000 when NBC dropped "Caesar's Hour" as its ratings fell.

Before Mr. Caesar's decade-long run, neither he nor anyone else fully appreciated the effort needed to deliver 90 minutes of fresh material every week. "Television chewed up Sid, one of the greatest artists I've ever known," Mel Brooks commented later. "It would have turned Chaplin into sausage."

Mr. Caesar returned to the small screen with "The Sid Caesar Show" in 1963. Once again, ratings proved a disappointment, and the program was soon canceled -- this time by ABC.

Ad Age interview
In his 1982 autobiography, "Where Have I Been?" Mr. Caesar said he'd spent most of two decades in a fog of alcohol and drugs, though he snared occasional bit parts in movies and TV. In an interview with Ad Age in 1986 at NATPE, Mr. Caesar talked about being more visible then than in his 1950s-60s prime-time TV heyday. "This time I appreciate it," he told our reporter, referring to the fact that pills and liquor kept him from enjoying his initial stardom in "Your Show of Shows."

In 1976, "The Best of 'Your Show of Shows'" was put on the syndication market as a package of eight bartered 90-minute specials for late night; Mr. Caesar also edited this package, which was used by J. Walter Thompson USA, New York, to build a time bank for its client Scott Paper Co., Ad Age reported in the 1986 story. "They [JWT] buried it on purpose," Mr. Caesar said at the time. "It hurt their other shows" in the ratings.

Other endorsements
He experienced an ad revival of sorts in the mid -980s, reviving his "Professor" character for a Saran Wrap spot and appearing as himself in spots for Van de Kamp's frozen food entrees. For Saran Wrap, the Professor said the brand "protects food better . . . even in the microwave." The spot closes with him wondering: Since Saran Wrap was "invented before the microwave, how did it know?"

During the NATPE interview, Mr. Caesar said he planned to meet representatives from Dow and its then-agency, Della Femina, Travisano & Partners, to discuss the possibility of doing more spots.

Among his other endorsements were Consolidated Cigar's Dutch Masters cigars in 1962-63 (on his "As Caesar Sees It" series on ABC), a Sperry Rand corporate campaign in 1967, Block Drug Co.'s Nytol in 1979 and Dumont Consumer Products' TV sets in 1981.

Written with Bloomberg reports

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