Ethics Quote: Sid Caesar (1922-2014)

Sid Caesar

“I remember a satire we did on ‘High Noon.’ The townspeople were supposed to abandon me and return their deputy badges to me by pinning them on my chest. I was supposed to have a sponge inside my shirt. But I didn’t have time to change. So they kept coming, saying, ‘Sorry, Sheriff,’ and pinning on the badges. After it was over, I went backstage, and somebody said, ‘Hey, you did real good pain takes.’ I told him the pain was for real.”

—-Comedy great Sid Caesar, who died yesterday at the age of 91, recounting for the New York Times an example of a how he suffered for his art, which was, always, making us laugh.

Caesar’s anecdote is as perfect a description of professionalism as I have ever seen, or ever will see.

Thank you, Sid Caesar, for devoting your life, body and soul, to laughter.

Ethics Hero: Jerry Lewis

Great comedians are usually, as Sid Caesar once memorably told Larry King, “miserable sons of bitches,” and few fit that description better than Jerry Lewis. As a result, he also stands as a classic example of how not-so-nice people can still do wonderful, heroic deeds. In Lewis’s case, the deed is the  Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon. Lewis has announced that because of his failing health and advanced age (he is 86), the 2011 version will be his final telethon, and the show itself is being drastically scaled back from over 20 hours in its heyday to about 6 hours. The decline of his Labor Day telethon tradition is as good a time as ever to give Lewis—arrogant, loutish, egomaniacal, tough old bastard that he is—his due. Jerry Lewis is an Ethics Hero. There’s just no way getting around it.

For decades I thought that Jerry Lewis’s involvement with MDA was a stunt cooked up by his publicist during his decline in popularity, to ensure that he would have public visibility after studios stopped offering him movie roles. That was wrong: Lewis started doing telethons for muscular dystrophy in 1952, when his stardom was just blooming and he was still teamed with Dean Martin. his fundraising for medical research began as a series of local broadcasts and went national in 1966. By then Lewis’s career was indeed on the wane (his last hit movie had been “The Nutty Professor” in 1963), but the telethon had already been a constant in his life for 14 years. Jerry wasn’t doing it for himself. He really was doing it for “the kids.” Continue reading