Three months back, in a post called “SPECTATOR TIME TRAVEL,” I posed the hypothetical, “If you could be whisked backward in time, by some Dickensian spirit or H. G. Wellsian device, where and when would you go?”
I offered a grab bag of suggestions off the top of my head—attending one of Charles Dickens’ legendary readings; sneaking into Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Beverly Hills home back in the '30s and '40s to listen to the composer and his dear friend, Vladimir Horowitz, play through the “Rach 3” on dovetailed concert grands; or, maybe even more exciting, one of the legendary “cutting contests” matching stride piano players such as Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson, Count Basie, and Earl "Fatha" Hines.
It’s not that I wouldn’t want to be among the select few for the Sermon on the Mount or at the foot of Sinai when Moses came on down with the Ten Commandments; but Hollywood has already been there and done those, and the Gettysburg Address, tool.
Another notion recently popped into my brain. How about being a fly on the wall in the Writers’ Room at Sid Caesar’s old “Your Show of Shows,” which, as Wikipedia states, was “a live 90-minute variety show that was broadcast weekly in the United States on NBC (Saturdays, 9:00-10:30 p.m. Eastern Time/6:00-7:30 p.m. Pacific Time), from February 25, 1950, until June 5, 1954...”
The main comedy quartet--Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris--was brilliant in skit ensembles. But behind them was marshaled perhaps an even more awesomely talented team of comedy writers.
At various times (and, actually, on various Caesar shows), the all-star lineup of jokemeisters included Mel Tolkin, Sir Caesar, Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Danny Simon, Sheldon Keller, Mel Tolkin, Gary Belkin and Aaron Ruben.
To our great good fortune all these decades later, some Spectator Time Travel is possible in this case. You can purchase a (somewhat pricey) DVD of “Caesar’s Writers” on Amazon.
Here’s the caption:
"On January 24, 1996 at the Writers Guild Theater in Los Angeles, CA, legendary comic Sid Caesar was reunited with nine of his writers from Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour. The event was taped, and later broadcast on PBS in the United States, and the BBC in the UK as a 1 hour special, with only select portions of the full two-hour event. The full event was previously available only as a VHS, offered as a pledge premium by local PBS stations. Now, the full two-hour special CAESAR’S WRITERS is available on DVD for the first time! Be prepared to laugh non-stop as the panel, made up of head writer Mel Tolkin, Caesar, Carl Reiner, Aaron Ruben, Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Danny Simon, Sheldon Keller, and Gary Belkin share stories about their time working on Caesar’s shows and offer their insights about writing comedy..."