Originally posted in 2012.
Isaac Sidney Caesar (born this day in 1922) came along too late to be in vaudeville proper (hence his exclusion from the “Stars of Vaudeville” series). He got his start in Catskills resorts. But he does figure heavily in my new book Chain of Fools; he was very much influenced by the great silent comedians and is a worthy heir to their art. A Yonkers native, he got his start playing saxophone and clowning around in Borscht Belt hotels. After he enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1939, the service put these skills to use, and he performed in numerous touring musical revues to bolster troop moral. On one of these Tars and Spars, the director was Max Liebman, who would later go on to help tailor his act after the war, and became his producer on television. A smash run at the Copacabana led to a William Morris contract, a national tour, a Broadway show (Make Mine Manhattan) and a booking on Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theatre. From here he got his own show The Admiral Broadway Revue in 1949, which then led to the legendary Your Show of Shows (1950-54), Caesar’s Hour (1954-57) and a succession of other shows well into the 1960s. After that he continued to act in tv and films (notably It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Silent Movie and Grease).
Caesar is of course most famous for his double-talk…he can simulate any foreign language with a hilarious accuracy, even though he is spouting absolute nonsense. I use the present tense “can” because he still walks among us at age 90! At any rate needless to say this skill would have served him well in vaudeville. Here he is as the “German General”.
To learn more about the history of show business, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc