WE LOVED YOU, SHIRLEY; HAIL CAESAR - Content
WE LOVED YOU, SHIRLEY; HAIL CAESAR
For Hicksflicks.com, Feb. 14, 2014
Much has been written about Shirley Temple since her death Monday at age 85, and I'm not sure how much I can add at this point.
Her influence is immeasurable as the most famous child actress ever, a little girl with a sunny disposition, and a natural dancing and singing talent, which in a swath of films during the 1930s was perfect for cheering audiences and helping them forget their troubles during the bleakness of the Great Depression.
Temple retired at age 22, then returned to show business a few years later with "Shirley Temple's Storybook," an anthology television series, which she introduced each week, sometimes appearing in the show's adaptations of beloved fairy tales.
Later, as Shirley Temple Black, she became a diplomat, working for the United Nations and serving two ambassadorships, appointed by Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.
But what is perhaps most impressive about Shirley Temple is how she managed to navigate the hazards of Hollywood and childhood stardom, thanks in no small part to a loving, stable and grounded home life.
Too many show-biz kids who followed in her footsteps had — and still have — sadly different experiences.
In the late 1940s and into the 1950s, when TV began to gain a foothold as an American entertainment staple, "I Love Lucy" cemented the sitcom format, police procedurals and Westerns led dramatic series, and comedians starring in live variety shows were all the rage. Some came from radio: Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Red Skelton. And some seemed to be born to television, such as Jackie Gleason and especially Sid Caesar.
Caesar was 91 when he died Wednesday, just three weeks after he was getting attention in the press once again for his role in the Cinerama movie "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World," The film was reissued on Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection, which led to reviews by critics all around the country (including yours truly) citing Caesar's performance as a highlight.
But it was the early days of black-and-white live television where Caesar was allowed to really shine with his hilarious penchant for impersonations, double-talk routines and skits in which he often played a regular guy put-upon by the eccentrics around him. Each show featured musical and variety acts too, but it was the brilliance of the skits spoofing other TV shows, pop culture, men-women relationships, etc., that were most popular.
Caesar starred in a string of popular comedy/variety series beginning in 1949 — with his two genuine classic series right in the middle: the back-to-back 90-minute live program "Your Show of Shows" (1950-54) and "Caesar's Hour" (1954-57).
The roster of Caesar's co-stars is impressive: Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris, Nanette Fabray, Pat Carroll, Janet Blair, Beatrice Arthur. And the roster of behind-the-scenes writers is even more impressive: Reiner, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and Woody Allen, among others.
Some of these skits can be found on YouTube and are every bit as funny today as they were some 60 years ago. Caesar was a tremendous talent, the like of which we'll not likely see again.