Sid Caesar’s Lasting Impact on the World of Comedy

Sid Caesar in 1995, with Woody Allen and Mel Brooks
Sid Caesar in 1995, with Woody Allen and Mel Brooks

Hollywood legend Isaac Sidney 'Sid' Caesar passed away today at the age 91.

While Caesar himself was a successful comic actor, published author, and even saxophonist, he also helped launch the careers of several of his writing and performing colleagues thanks to starting-out gigs on his successful television endeavors, most notably "Your Show of Shows," a 90-minute live Saturday night variety show (sound familiar?) that aired on NBC from February 23, 1950 until June 5, 1954; and "Caesar's Hour," an hour-long sketch comedy show that aired on NBC from September 27, 1954 through May 25, 1957. He went on to appear in many movies throughout the decades, including "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," "Silent Movie," "Grease," and "Vegas Vacation."

[Related: Sid Caesar, Ringmaster of Iconic 'Your Show of Shows,' Dead at 91]

Here are a few of those writing and performing personalities who first made their mark with Caesar and went on to create unforgettable comedies of their own.

Mel Brooks (b. 1926)

Mel Brooks was a staff writer for "Your Show of Shows" and later formed a comedy duo with co-writer Carl Reiner. He went on to become one of the most successful comedy film directors of the 1970s with hits like "Blazing Saddles" (1974), "Young Frankenstein" (1974) and "High Anxiety" (1977) and today is one of very few entertainers who have the distinction of having won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony.

Neil Simon (b. 1927)

Neil Simon was a staff writer on "Your Show of Shows" along with his brother Danny, and he went on to become one of the most successful playwrights of the 20th century, penning such stage hits as "Come Blow Your Horn" (1961), "Barefoot in the Park" (1963), "The Odd Couple" (1965), "The Sunshine Boys" (1972), "Brighton Beach Memoirs" (1983), "Rumors" (1988) and "The Goodbye Girl" (1993). He's also penned several of the TV and big-screen adaptations of his plays, with his original screenplays including "The Out-of-Towners" (1970), "Last of the Red Hot Lovers" (1972) and "Max Dugan Returns" (1983).

Carl Reiner (b. 1922)

Carl Reiner served as both a writer and performer on "Your Show of Shows" and later performed the famous "2000-Year-Old Man" routine with fellow staff writer Mel Brooks, which spawned five comedy albums and a 1975 animated TV special. Reiner went on to create and occasionally appear on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (1961-1966), and he directed four feature films starring Steve Martin: "The Jerk" (1979), "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" (1982), "The Man with Two Brains" (1983) and "All of Me" (1984). He was also part of Danny Ocean's crew of con men and thieves in "Ocean's Eleven" (2001), "Ocean's Twelve" (2004) and "Ocean's Thirteen" (2007).

Imogene Coca (1908-2001)

Imogene Coca first worked with Sid Caesar on his first series, "The Admiral Broadway Revue" (January 28 to June 3, 1949), but she was best known for her work on "Your Show of Shows," which featured the comedy team of Coca, Caesar, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris. Her rubbery face was capable of countless expressions, which inspired Life magazine to compare her to Charlie Chaplin and describe her many characterizations as taking "people or situations suspended in their own precarious balance between dignity and absurdity, and push(ing) them over the cliff with one single, pointed gesture." She's best known to modern audiences as Aunt Edna in "National Lampoon's Vacation."

Larry Gelbart (1928-2009)

Larry Gelbart began his writing career at the age of 16 with a gig on Danny Thomas' radio show, though he graduated to big-league television in the 1950s as a staff writer for "Your Show of Shows." Gelbart was also a co-writer on two Sid Caesar TV specials (including "Sid Caesar's Chevy Show," co-written with Woody Allen), though arguably his biggest achievement in the medium was being one of the creative forces behind "M*A*S*H" (1972-1983), for which he wrote the pilot and wrote, produced and directed several episodes during the first four seasons. Gelbart also had a successful film writing career, earning Oscar nominations for the screenplays for "Oh, God" and "Tootsie."

Mel Tolkin (1913-2007)

Mel Tolkin was the head writer on "Your Shows of Shows," presiding over a staff that included Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks and Neil Simon. It was Tolkin's writers' room that inspired the film "My Favorite Year" (1982), which was produced by Brooks, and Neil Simon's 1993 Broadway play, "Laughter on the 23rd Floor." In the 1970s, Tolkin was a writer and story editor on the groundbreaking CBS sitcom "All in the Family" and wrote for the sequel series, "Archie Bunker's Place."

Woody Allen (b. 1935)

When he was first starting out in New York City as a teenager, future Oscar-winning filmmaker Woody Allen sent letters of introduction to top comics like Phil Silvers, Peter Lind Hayes and, of course, Sid Caesar. "Writing for Caesar was the highest thing you could aspire to — at least as a TV comedy writer," said Allen.

Contrary to popular belief, Allen didn't write for either "Your Show of Shows" or "Caesar's Hour." He and Larry Gelbert co-wrote a special, "Sid Caesar's Chevy Show" (1958), an experience that exhausted Allen, who found the legendary funnyman to be too intense. "You'll see people [working] on a comedy with long faces ... When I was writing for ... Sid Caesar it was a mass of hostilities and jealousies."