Sid Caesar took his leave yesterday, at the age of 91. Like our weekend subject Jack Paar, he had one brief dazzling moment, and a temperament that made the possibility of a second act ever more remote. It's depressing to reflect that just about the last thing anyone remembers him in was Grease, in which he was entirely unfunny. But that dazzling moment had an amazing after-glow: it occurred to me just now that I could easily mark Caesar's passing simply by re-running for a week old interviews I've done over the years with various writers all of whom got their start working for Sid on Your Show Of Shows. It was an amazing agglomeration of talent, incliuding Carl Reiner, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Joseph Stein, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, etc. Which means we have Sid Caesar's famous "writers' room" to thank for The Dick Van Dyke Show, Fiddler On The Roof, The Producers, The Odd Couple, M*A*S*H, Blazing Saddles, The Goodbye Girl, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Hannah And Her Sisters...
As to why Caesar himself never got a shaft of that after-glow, here's my favorite Sid story, as told to me by the composer Cy Coleman some years ago. In 1962, Coleman, Carolyn Leigh and Neil Simon had written a Broadway musical called Little Me, and secured the services of Caesar to star. He played all seven men in the life of a lady called Belle Poitrine, who eventually takes up with a Mitteleuropean prince and gets raised to the peerage as the Countess Zaftig. That gag always gives me a chuckle, and the songs weren't bad, including "I've Got Your Number" and "(Pardon me, miss, but I've never done this with a) Real Live Girl". But Caesar wanted more - funnier songs, funnier gags, funny, funny, funny.
One difficult afternoon, Coleman & Co went to see Caesar in his dressing room and presented him with some rewrites by Simon. The star looked them over. Anxious to help, Coleman said, "There, Sid. Don't you think that's funny?"
"Funny?" said Caesar. "You want to know what's funny?" He put down the rewrites, stood up, ripped the sink off the wall, and hurled it through the window. "That's funny."
Rest in peace.
~It's an all-Canadian issue of The Spectator take this week. Okay, not really. But, aside from James Delingpole's column on me and the upcoming trial of the century, there's a review of J William Galbraith's new book on John Buchan's time as Governor-General of Canada. I had my say on Buchan here, but the Speccie's reviewer, James Buchan, has the advantage of being John Buchan's grandson. This bit is absolutely right:
On a diet of morphine and steamed fish, he crisscrossed the continent. His journey by steamer down the Mackenzie River to the Arctic Sea in 1937 gave him his last novel, Sick Heart River (1940), but probably did for him. He loved Canada as a sort of Scotland on a colossal scale and became more Canadian than the Canadians.
A Greater Scotland was as near to paradise on earth as Buchan could get. If you read only one book on a Canadian viceroy this year, make it this one.
~Thank you to all the Spectator readers who've taken Delingpole's advice and swung over to the SteynOnline bookstore to support the cause. Late yesterday, I sent to Michael Mann's Big Tobacco lawyer my responses to Mann's first discovery requests. I'll be serving my discovery requests on Mann very shortly. This thing's real and, at the usual sclerotic and expensive pace of American "justice", it's moving to trial. So the generosity of Speccie friends from Scotland, Ireland, Oz, South Africa and elsewhere is much appreciated. I've written for many publications around the world over the years, a few of which came to feel like home - The Independent in its first five years, The National Post in its first five years, and the Speccie for a decade and a half. I'm touched to find I'm not entirely forgotten there.