the schmooze

Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York
Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner will respect the late Sid Caesar during a Beverly Hills shindig moderated by Eddy Friedfeld.  Shown below is a Yiddish Guide to Sid Caesar:

“televisye” (television)
“Caesar and company brought a distinctively New York/Jewish sensibility to television, thereby paving he way for the Seinfeldization of American comedy.”   (Source:  Dan Pine, The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California)

In 1988, Caesar performed in “Side by Side”; he was one of three elderly (“alt”) men trying to start a clothing business for seniors.

“bukh” (book)
Caesar published an autobiography titled, “Caesar’s Hours:  My Life in Comedy with Love and Laughter.”

“klezmer” (musician)
Caesar made a living as a jazz musician before discovering his own comedic talents up in the Catskills.  Jack Eagle said, “It was easier for musicians to become comedians because they were used to listening to comedy and they heard other comedians.  You all emulate, you steal a couple of jokes, and things start happening.”

“gelekhter” (laughter)
Caesar said, “If I’ve learned anything over all these years, it’s that a little laughter is good for the soul.”

“davenen” (to pray)
Caesar told The Jewish Chronicle in 2010:  “I used to see people davening in shul and they’d snap the book shut when they’d finished.  Like they’d won a race.  Then look around to see if anyone else had finished.  I used to find that very funny...Jews appreciate humor because in their life it’s not too funny.  We’ve been trodden down for a long time, thousands of years.”

“geboryn” (born)
Caesar was born in Yonkers, New York, on Sept. 8, 1922.  He was the “yingst”  (youngest) of three brothers

“nomen” (name)
Caesar’s original name was Isaac Sidney Caesar.

“loshn” (language)
Sid’s father owned a luncheonette, where he learned to mimic the languages of Italian, Russian, Polish, French, and Spanish.

“komiker” (comic)
During the summer of 1942, Caesar worked as a comic at the Avon Lodge in the Catskills.  People have said that “the cream-colored stucco, with green lawns, a lake, a swimming pool and lifeguards, was like a miniature Grossinger’s.”   On Talent Night everyone could see how talented Sid Caesar was.

Caesar was impromptu, funny, and insightful and became a headliner of the hotel. Avon Lodge used to import well-known comics for Friday and Saturday nights, but eventually Don Appell, the social director, had to put Caesar in because the demand for him was so great.  “People would leave other hotels and the acts they had paid to see and would come to Avon Lodge to get a glimpse of this brilliant young comedian... When Sid was on stage, every seat was taken.

After his show, Sid would go up to the chef, a man with some Eastern European accent. He would talk to him in what seemed to be a Slavic accent.  It sounded real, but it was all double-talk.  The chef would be both confused and in stitches. (Source:  “It Happened in the Catskills” by Myrna Katz Frommer & Harvey Frommer)

“armey” (army), navy, etc.
Caesar enlisted in the Coast Guard where he did Tars and Spars, a show that toured every army, navy, and coast guard base.  After the war, it was made into a movie.

“profesor” (professor)
Caesar’s most famous character was the Professor, who wore a squashed-in top hat, a tattered tailcoat, and an askew tie.  The Professor pretended to know “altsding” (everything), but actually knew “gornisht” (nothing).

“flig” (fly)
“aeroplan” (airplane)
Caesar did a monologue as a fly, including sound effects.
He also did an airplane routine, where it actually seemed like he became an airplane.

“more-shkhoyre” (depression/sadness)
Beginning in the 1950s and extending through his dark period (1958-78), Caesar was addicted to alcohol and pills.  He constantly battled depression.  In 1978 he joined a Beverly Hills health club and began to lift weights, do pushups, and perform other exercises.  This signaled the end of his dark period.

“zibn” (seven)
In the Broadway musical, “Little Me” (1962), Caesar played seven roles.

“khoyzek” (to ridicule)
Caesar experienced the Holocaust, like all American Jews.  After the war ended in 1945, he was repeatedly ridiculing Germans on TV.

“shraybn” (to write)
On Caesar’s early “Your Show of Shows” and later program, he surrounded himself with all-Jewish writing teams.  His head writer was Mel Tolkin (Shmuel Tolchinsky)

“yungermantshik” (male newlywed)
In this sketch, Caesar and Imogene Coca play a  newlywed couple, Charles & Doris Hickenlooper.  Doris serves Charles their first home-cooked “moltsayt” (meal) since getting married  Things don’t go so well.  The first course is presented, and Charles doesn’t know what to make of it.  It’s a grapefruit (“greypfrut”) on a plate, peel and all. Charles says, “Isn’t this just Lovely?  Isn’t this supposed to be cut in half?”  (He takes a bite out of it as she watches, approvingly.)  “I’ve never eaten grapefruit like this before!”  The next course is “grins zup”  (vegetable soup).  When Doris leaves the room, he throws it out the “fentster” (window).  The rolls are burnt to a crisp.  The meatloaf is disgusting, oameal-like sludge.  When it’s clear he doesn’t like it, she bursts into tears,  (“veynen” means to weep).  “Why don’t we go out for dinner,” she suggests.

And then there’s the story of a newly-married society girl who was determined to prove to her husband what an accomplished cook she was. On the servant’s day off she set about cooking a chicken (“hun”) for his dinner.  She plucked the fowl carefully, arranged it neatly in a small pot (“tepl”), and put it in the oven.

Two hours later she heard a loud banging on the oven door.  Investigation proved that the disturbance was being made by the chicken.  “Lady,” it cried piteously, “either give me back my feathers or turn on the gas.  I’m freezing to death in this oven.”  (Bennett Cerf story)

“zay(t) gezunt” (good-by)
Another famous Caesar sketch is a parody of post WWII French films, entitled, “Au Revoir Ma Cherie,” or “Toot Toot Tootsie, So Long.”  Caesar does his famous “double talk,” speaking in  gibberish.  Coca play Madelyn, a “yung” French maiden, who is saying goodbye to Jacques, played by Caesar, her soldier fiance, who is heading off to war.  Caesar asks for “un souvenir por le front” and she obliges by producing a pair of scissors and chopping off a large section of her hair.  He wants another souvenir (“ondenk”) and asks for one of her tears.  She states, in French, that she doesn’t need to cry.  He brushes her arm, “Cry Madeline.”  He continues to brush against her arm becoming full-on punches.  He produces a vial with which to capture a tear.  Finally, he says, “au revoir,” and another soldier (“soldat”) enters, played by Carl Reiner, who embraces Madelyn with equal passion.  He also wants some souvenirs for the front.  She cuts off another section of her hair, which he places on top of his head.  They embrace (“arumnemen”) , when Jacques step back and confronts them.

“Qu’est-cese?” says Reiner.  “Qu’est-ce what do you say?!” replies Caesar.  They begin to fight and in the process realize that they are both engaged (“farlobt”) to her. They both immediately swear off women, (until a well-dressed one catches his eye a few seconds later), and they march off to the front.

“tchotchkes” (knicknacks)
When Caesar and Coca played a married couple, so many people in “der oylem” (the audience) failed to distinguish between fantasy and reality.  Fans sent in floods of mail containing knickknacks for “di heym” (he home) and toys and trinkets for their kids...Letters would come to one or the other with “eytse” (advice) on how to handle their mate.  When some fans heard the pair weren’t really married to each other, they refused to believe it.  If Coca or Caesar were out in public with their real spouses they would often get knowing looks and sly winks from passerby.
(Source:  “Women In Comedy - The Funny Ladies from the Turn of the Century to the Present” by Linda Martin & Kerry Segrave)

“skhires” (salary)
At the close of “Your Show of Shows,” Caesar was earning $25,000 a week.  In comparison, Coca’s salary was just $10,000 a week.

“geduld” (patience)
“The remote control changed our lives..The remote control took over the timing of the world.  That’s why you have road rage.  You have people who have no patience, because you get immediate gratification (“tsufrindkayt”).  You get click, click, click. If it doesn’t explode within three seconds, click, click, click.” (Sid Caesar quote)

“gume ponIm” (rubber face)
One of the memorable skits performed in pantomime with Caesar reinforce Imogene Coca’s image of rubber face.   Caesar was a photographer who was trying to rearrange the features of his model, Coca, to make them more photogenic.  He pushed, pulled, and kneaded her feature and they stayed wherever he put them. He pulled her “moyl” (mouth) down and there it stayed.  He twisted her “noz” (nose) which “sags like an overwarm candle”), and it remained out of kilter.  For Imogene the whole rubber face thing was accidental, something that just occurred. (Source:  “Women in Comedy”)

In January, 1958, Caesar and Coca were reunited on a half hour ABC comedy series, “Sid Caesar Invites You.”  The show was cancelled just four months after it began.  What happened?  “VER VAIST?”  (WHO KNOWS?)


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Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
two books:
yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

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