My friend Lee Delano called me just before Thanksgiving and told me I was invited to a party. It was an unusual party to say the least, and one I didn’t want to miss. After all, it’s not every day you get invited to a Thanksgiving dinner party the day after Thanksgiving. It’s not everyday that you get invited to a Thanksgiving dinner party that features Chinese food. And it certainly isn’t every day that you get invited to a Thanksgiving dinner party serving Chinese food given by Sid Caesar with a guest list that included Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and Theodore Bikel.
Soon after we arrived at the party that Friday evening, my wife Jane was given the honor of lighting the Shabbos candles and saying the prayer. After that, Theodore Bikel sang the prayer in Hebrew, and that was followed by Rabbi Jerry Cutler presiding over the Challah cutting and the blessings. I still can’t believe that my wife made Shabbos for Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, and about fifteen or twenty other guests! And she did it like she’s done it for this group all her life. She never missed a line, never hesitated a moment. She was perfect. But if you think about it, why wouldn’t she be? She’s been doing it for the two of us almost every Friday night for over thirty years. That’s a lot of rehearsal time.
The party was organized and arranged by Sid’s daughter, Karen, and her husband Tim with assistance from long time friends, Lou and Fran Zigman. The food was delicious, the people friendly and warm, the house comfortable, and the stories wonderful. All in all it was a great night, but the best part of the evening happened toward the end of the party.
Imagine sitting in a room with Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, and Carl Reiner and listening to them reminisce, tell jokes, and relate stories. It was all so good, really good. Then something truly magical happened. At one point someone brought up Little Me, the 1962 Broadway show that Sid starred in. It was written by Neil Simon with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, and choreographed by Bob Fosse. Sid was asked if he remembered one of the hit songs from that show. Without missing a beat he started singing:
Pardon me, miss, but I’ve never done this
With a real live girl.
Straight off the farm with an actual arm
Full of real live girl.
Pardon me if your affectionate squeeze
Fogs up my glasses and buckles my knees,
I’m simply drowned in the sight and the sound
And the scent and the feel
Of a real live girl.
He had every word, every line down pat, just as if he had performed it only last week. Mel Brooks shook his head in disbelief. “His phrasing is perfect, he’s on key, and his tempo is spot on.” When he finished we gave Sid a round of applause. Carl Reiner also sang a tune after that, and then all eyes turned to Mel who went into “High Anxiety,” the song from his picture of the same name and (the way that Mel performs it) a kind of homage to Frank Sinatra. Great stuff.
Not many people have an opportunity to sit in on three comedy giants of show business doing shtick, singing songs, and enjoying each others’ company. It was a real thrill for me, and I will always remember that one special night when I went to a day-after Thanksgiving dinner party at Sid Caesar’s home, ate Chinese food, watched my wife making Shabbos for the guests, was entertained by three of my idols, and felt totally at home. What a Thanksgiving! What a party!