February 13, 2014

Remembering: Shirley Temple, Sid Caesar

Fair warning: this post is filled with videos, so make sure you've got plenty of time before you sit down to read it; it's like eating potato chips.  One clip leads to another, and before you know it it's already tomorrow.

First, a follow-up on the passing of Shirley Temple Black. I received a very nice and informative email from Lisl Magboo, who included some wonderful clips from interviews with some of the key people involved with the production of Shirley Temple's Storybook, conducted for the Archive of American Television.  The Archive is a product of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences* Foundation, and over the years they've accumulated a phenomenal collection of interviews with the early trailblazers of television.

*In other words, the people who put on the Emmys, among many other activities.

At the Archive's page on Shirley Temple's Storybook are interviews with costume designer Ray Aghayan; directors William Asher and Kirk Browning, who discuss what it was like working on the show; and actor Robert Culp, who recalls working on Storybook the day of JFK's assassination.  I don't think too many people remember Shirley Temple for her work on television (they're probably much more familiar with her film work, which will play on TV forever), and it's good to see a place where Shirley Temple's Storybook is remembered with its proper due.


Also from Lisl is the Archive's remembrance of Sid Caesar, the brilliant comedian who died yesterday at 91. It's such a cliche to say something like "Sid Caesar was a pioneer of television comedy." Yes, but it's also true. What else can you say when the words mean exactly what you want them to mean?  Your Show of Shows was a milestone in early sketch comedy - clever, innovative, sophisticated.  Its pace might seem a bit slow today, in an era when anything lasting longer than eight or so seconds is an eternity, but back when people had actual attention spans - long enough for comedy bits to develop and blossom, long enough for people to appreciate them - one could sit back and let the situation grow until - bam! - the payoff.  And then the laughter would wash over them and everyone else, only they probably wouldn't be aware of it because they were laughing too.

I was going to add that Caesar's passing marked the death of one of the last of the television pioneers, except that two of his colleagues from Your Show of Shows - Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks - still live. Cherish them while you can, and appreciate their legacy.

Enough from me - here's Sid Caesar in his own words, from the Archive's interview series.  Here he talks about his early career:

His advice for aspiring performers:

Here he recounts a time on Your Show of Shows when things didn't quite go right...

Speaking of Reiner and Brooks, Caesar discusses his famed writing staff:

Caesar had a legendary temper, which he discusses here:

As with Shirley Temple, you can see more of these great archive interviews at the Archive's blog here, or by visiting their website. And my thanks once again to Lisl for providing these links, and to the Archive for keeping alive the ghostly memories of television's past, and making sure they don't disappear into the mists for good.


  1. That's so neat that he did that interview, capturing all those memories forever. Rest in Peace.

  2. Re The Shirley Temple Show (as it was known in 1960-61):

    Robert Culp's appearance was in an adaptation of The House Of the Seven Gables, which is available on DVD, which is how I know about it.

    So he couldn't have learned about JFK's assassination during its making, because the Temple series ended in 1961 - two years earlier.

    The show in which Culp played Sam Houston was The Great Adventure, a CBS series from 1963-64, which was that network's bid for prestige that year.
    Adventure, an anthology based on US history, was initially produced by John Houseman and narrated by Van Heflin; both were gone by the time Culp filmed his show.
    That episode was produced by Bert Granet (who had left Twilight Zone to take over after Houseman's ouster) and narrated by Russell Johnson (before he got stranded on some island ...).
    And Shirley had absolutely nothing to do with it.

    Many of these Academy interviews, while hugely entertaining to listen to, are heavily dependent on the memories of the raconteurs - which often are somewhat faulty, as Culp's is here.

    You can see this in the Sid Caesar clips, as well as his autobiographies, which are often confused in time and place sequences. It's at times like this that my TV Guide makes me my most obnoxious, because I can come up with the right name and date where the celebrity can't.
    ... which is probably just as well that I never got to meet any of these people ...


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