Before “Your Show of Shows”: Sid Caesar and the Coast Guard

Today’s guest blogger is Mark Mollan, a reference archivist specializing in records of the U.S. Navy and Maritime agencies.

Record Group 26 (Records of the U.S. Coast Guard), Entry 108A: Military Muster Rolls, 1941-1949, File: “Headquarters Muster Roll, Sept. 1945”

Not long ago, an Archives I reference staff member came across a Muster Roll for the USCG unit “Tars and Spars”–a touring entertainment troupe created to bolster the morale and support of World War II USCG personnel. In reviewing the document, the third name on the list was unmistakably recognized as a name synonymous with early television comedy:  Sidney Caesar.

A graduate of the Julliard School of Music, Caesar played saxophone in the 1930s with several prominent Big Bands including those led by Claude Thornhill, Charlie Spivak, and others.  In 1939 he joined the Coast Guard and was assigned to play in military shows. After routinely displaying his comic wit with other band members, “Tars and Spars” show producer Max Liebman brought Caesar out of the orchestra and put him in the limelight of the show’s comedy sketches.

The series of Military Muster Rolls 1941-1949 (entry 108A) in the Records of the US Coast Guard (Record Group 26) serve as roll call lists of the personnel assigned to units in the Coast Guard, and each “muster” or roll call was taken once a month. The Muster Roll for the “Tars and Spars” for September 1945 documents that Sidney Caesar served the Coast Guard in the rank of Seamen 2nd Class. Caesar left the Coast Guard soon after this muster and went on to star in several Broadway and Silver Screen revues based on the comedy sketches of the “Tars and Spars” shows. Later, Caesar ventured into a new medium, creating and starring in the classic TV program “Your Show of Shows.”

Other famous people have served in the US Coast Guard including actors Lloyd Bridges, Humphrey Bogart, Buddy Ebsen, and Marlene Deitrich. For Sid Caesar, however, serving in the Coast Guard proved to be his big break.

2 thoughts on “Before “Your Show of Shows”: Sid Caesar and the Coast Guard

  1. How interesting! I would never have guess Sid Caesar was a Juilliard student. Good for him. Certainly, his career took a totally divergent – and happily for America – path.

  2. During WWII my mother and uncle toured with the Tars and Spars Shows, and knew Sid Caesar well. I have many great pics from those days of Sid Caesar, Gower Champion, Vernon Duke, Victure Mature, and all of the Tars and Spars gang. Here’s a link. If the link does not work, contact me by e-mail; and I will send them to you.
    Shaun Costello

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