Sid Caesar was a comic pioneer on television, anchoring “Your Show of Shows” with his irreverent, often physical comedy.
But the actor, who died Wednesday at 91, also made his presence felt in a hit movie several decades later. In 1982’s “My Favorite Year,” the character Stan “King” Kaiser (Joseph Bologna) is based on Caesar, a tough-minded actor on the movie’s fictional variety show.
Richard Benjamin’s film looks at the arrival of a swashbuckling alcoholic actor named Allan Swann (Peter O’Toole, channeling the spirit of Errol Flynn) to be a guest on the 1950s-era series that stars Kaiser.
Like Caesar, Kaiser is a brilliant comedian and a brook-no-nonsense guy. When Kaiser rejects the idea of having a drunk Swann on the show, the narrator and young writer Benjy Stone (Mark-Linn Baker) pleads with Kaiser for another shot, volunteering to look after him for the week of rehearsals.
The movie offers Bologna a chance to showcase his — that is, Caesar’s — comedy skills and famously tough demeanor. “Who are you to talk to me like that, you little Jiminy Cricket pest bastard?” Kaiser tells Stone when the young writer simperingly asks for a chance to let him keep Swann on, before giving it to him. (You can watch the scene above.)
Written by Dennis Palumbo, the movie’s inspiration came in part from executive producer Mel Brooks, himself a writer on Caesar’s “Show of Shows.” (Flynn was, in fact, a guest on the show one time but didn’t have the elaborate interactions with the writers the movie suggests.)
Brooks’ experience was clearly formative -- on Wednesday the actor released a statement that read in part, “Sid Caesar was a giant — maybe the best comedian who every practiced the trade.”
Incidentally, the Caesar connection to Linn-Baker didn’t end with this film. The actor played Val Slotsky in both the Broadway original and TV movie adaptation of “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” Neil Simon’s stage piece inspired by his work on Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.” Slotsky is based on the fussy writer Mel Tolkin, who also worked on Caesar productions back in the 1950s.
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