We have lost yet another showbiz legend with an Oz connection.
Comedian, actor writer, musician, composer, producer, director, pioneer, and genius are all words associated, and rightly so, with Isaac Sidney Caesar, or more familiarly, Sid Caesar. Through him, the world was introduced to many other luminaries of the entertainment world, such as Carl Reiner, Imogene Coca, Howard Morris, and Mel Brooks, to name but a few.
Sid was born to Max and Ida Caesar in Yonkers, New York in 1922. As a youngster waiting table in his parents’ restaurant, Sid developed a remarkable capacity for mimicking the sounds of the languages and dialects of the diverse customers. This he called “double talk,” and it became one of his signature gags when he entered show business. In these politically correct times, hackles would probably have been raised, but the customers loved the boy’s authentic-sounding gibberish.
His initial intent was to be a musician in a band, which he did as well as teaching clarinet. When the U.S. entered World War II, Sid enlisted in the Coast Guard while continuing to play gigs. It was also during the war that he met Florence Levy, who was to become his wife.
Post-war, Sid appeared in movies and on stage, now firmly established as a comic actor. When television came along, Sid was among the first to take advantage of the medium, creating Your Show of Shows, a variety series in which he and his cast presented comedy sketches, movie parodies, and musical acts. The wildly successful series, which was of course broadcast live (with everything that that entails), lasted from 1950 to 1954.
In 1980, Sid lent his voice—in fact, several voices—to an animated special initially called Thanksgiving in the Land of Oz, which was re-edited into Dorothy in the Land of Oz after direct references to that holiday were taken out (a fruitless exercise, since turkeys, Pilgrims, and approaching Christmas were major themes).
In the special, which combined elements of at least four Oz books, Dorothy is reunited with the Wizard (who, besides being voiced by Sid, was drawn to resemble him) on the eve of Aunt Em and Uncle Henry’s moving to a retirement home. The Wizard shows Dorothy his new balloon, which is in the shape of a green turkey. A wind picks up the bird, which, with Dorothy and Toto clinging to it, travels to Oz, where, with Jack Pumpkinhead, Tic-Toc, and the Hungry Tiger, Dorothy peacefully defeats the nefarious Tyrone the Terrible Toy Tinkerer. In the end, Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and the Wizard are brought to Oz by Queen Ozma.
Sid’s double talking ability was put into play as the voice of U.N. Krust, a mince pie of many dialects which Dorothy inadvertently brings along with her to Oz, where it is sprinkled with the Powder of Life.
Sid Caesar was a wizard in more ways that one, which made him eminently suited to play the Wizard of Oz.
May he rest in peace.