In show business, a marriage is considered a success if it lasts longer than the rental on the tuxedos. That’s just one of about ninety-nine thousand show business marriage jokes. These jokes can be good for a laugh but they’re not necessarily true. Many comedians, as strange as it may seem, have extremely long-lasting marriages. Bob Hope, Don Rickles and Bob Newhart are three examples. And then there is Sid and Florence Caesar, who have been married for over 66 years and in love even longer.
I had the good fortune to talk with Florence Caesar recently at her home. She graciously consented to give me her slant on what it’s like living with a comedy genius. When I interviewed Sid several months ago, he told me how it was “love at first sight” when he first saw beautiful Florence. He knew right away that this girl was the one for him. On the dedication page of Sid’s 2003 book, Caesar’s Hours, he writes, “To my wife, Florence, who taught me how to live, how to breathe and how to dream.” That’s some dedication. I couldn’t wait to meet this woman.
I arrived a little early for our appointment and Florence wasn’t quite ready for me yet, so I spent a minute or two talking with Sid. He told me that he thought it was terrific that I was going to interview his wife and told me again how much he cares for her. He didn’t have to say it, it was obvious. His eyes lit up whenever he spoke of her. Soon Florence was ready, so she and I went into another room and our talk began.
Florence Levy was born in the Bronx, New York, and the older of two daughters. She met Sid in the Catskill Mountains at a hotel her uncle owned called the Avon Lodge. It was the summer of 1942 and she was working as a children’s counselor at the lodge when Sid came up to perform as a musician. He was not quite nineteen-years-old and had already been playing saxophone and clarinet for several big bands. I asked Florence if it was love at first sight for her, as it was for him. “Well, I thought he was nice for the summer,” she said. “I thought he would be just a nice boyfriend for the summer. He was cute-looking and tall, over six feet.
“I was in my last year at Hunter College; we were still dating when Sid went into the service, the Coast Guard. Luckily he was stationed in New York so we were able to continue seeing each other, even though my parents weren’t too happy about it. They never thought he would amount to anything, that he’d never have a real career or make any money. But we were married one year after we met, in July of 1943.”
Sid and Florence have three children: two daughters and a son—“Our son the doctor,” Florence proudly states. Michele is the oldest of the three, then Rick and Karen, the youngest. They also have one grandchild and another on the way. The Caesars are also animal lovers involved in animal rescue causes. They currently have an 11-year-old dog that they rescued.
Florence studied art in college and has maintained an appreciation of it throughout her life. A painter herself, she proudly pointed out several of her paintings to me hanging in their den. They are quite nice. Florence is talented, charming, smart and pretty. It’s no wonder Sid fell for her from the very start. Sid and Florence actually compliment each other perfectly. You might say they have a marriage made in heaven but started in the Catskills.
When I ask her what she might know about Sid that nobody else would know, she smiles and after a moment says, “Well, maybe there’s nothing. He’s written two books, you know.” But then she says, “You know, he’s not funny all the time. He can be very serious.” Actually I knew that side of Sid. I remember reading how he always admired Albert Einstein and has always had a love for science, especially physics.
It takes a very special woman to live with a talented, complicated man like Sid Caesar. Sid knows this and has said as much in his two biographies. He credits her with saving his life countless times. Florence has been able to give Sid what he needs and Sid has given Florence what she needs. For a marriage to endure as long as theirs has, it has to have a lot going for it. Sure, it has to start with love but it must include mutual respect, understanding, patience, devotion and a lot of other stuff. After more than six decades, I think I can safely say the Caesars have all the right stuff.
As I was about to leave, I went in to say goodbye to Sid. He asked me how everything went with my talk with Florence. I told him it went great and that I thought she was a wonderful lady. “Yeah, I think so, too,” he said with a wink. It’s clear to me he still adores her.
Then he said, “And we’ve been married for 66 years now! Isn’t that something?” I looked at him and said, “Yes, and what’s really remarkable is, in all that time, NOT ONE ARGUMENT. Right, Sid?” There was a pause, then Sid threw his head back and laughed. I couldn’t believe that I actually made Sid Caesar laugh, the man who has been making me laugh all my life! I knew then it was time for me to leave. I could never top that.