Sid Caesar in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Sid Caesar as Melville Crump, honeymooning dentist
Southern California, Summer 1962
Film: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Release Date: November 7, 1963
Director: Stanley Kramer
Costume Designer: Bill Thomas
Today would have been the 100th birthday of Sid Caesar, the pioneering comic actor whose influential variety series Your Show of Shows set a new standard during what some call the first “Golden Age of Television”, though I first knew Caesar for his part among the ensemble cast of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
This extravagant comedy holds a special place for me as one I used to watch on countless weekends spent with my grandma, putting the double-VHS set through considerable paces while following a growing number of mid-century entertainers join a madcap pursuit for $350,000. As with so many of the movies I associate with this halcyon period of childhood, it introduced me to the talents of so many great entertainers, many of whom are sadly almost forgotten today.
The movie begins with a black Ford speeding through mountainous desert roads of southern California before careening off a cliff—just sailing right out there—and bringing the four carloads of people he passed braking to a halt as the occupants spill out to check on the driver, a charismatic old crook played by Jimmy Durante who uses his last gasps to inform his limited audience of the buried proceeds of a tuna factory robbery under “a big W” before kicking the bucket.
The men—played by Caesar, Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney, Buddy Hackett, and Jonathan Winters—barely have time to mutually agree to keep the “Smiler”‘s cryptic last words to themselves before the police arrive, though their camaraderie swiftly evolves into competition as each desperately race to find the mysterious treasure first, whether by air, land, or sea, unwittingly enlisting a number of newcomers to the chase… including beleaguered Santa Rosita police captain T.G. Culpeper (Spencer Tracy).
Caesar portrays Melville Crump, a dentist on his second honeymoon with his wife Monica (Edie Adams), who may have the greatest initial advantage as far as relative smarts and abilities as well as a capable partner. Of course, the greater the dollar signs grow in his eyes, the more his judgment is clouded and the Crumps are soon clambering through World War I-era aircraft and stymied by a hardware store backroom so full of dangerous calamities that you’d think they made an enemy of Kevin McCallister.
What’d He Wear?
At least at the start, Melville Crump is the only of the treasure-hunters from Smiler’s Route 74 crash who wears a full suit and tie, evidently dressed to celebrate his second honeymoon in style. The gray suiting has tonal track stripes as well as a sheen and slubbing suggestive of dupioni silk, which makes the suit’s ultimate fate all the more tragic. Characterized by its irregular slubs and lustrous surface, the tightly plain-woven dupioni was a popular fabric for men’s tailoring through the ’50s and ’60s.
Crump’s single-breasted suit jacket is structured with straight, padded shoulders and roped sleeveheads. The edge-stitched notch lapels are moderately narrow, though the effect is somewhat reduced as the lapels end higher to accommodate the three-button front that effectively balances Sid Caesar’s 6’2″ height. The recessed black buttons on the front are echoed by three smaller buttons on each cuff. The ventless jacket has a welted breast pocket and straight flapped hip pockets.
The suit’s matching flat front trousers rise to Caesar’s natural waist, where he holds them up with a narrow belt of smooth black leather that has a silver-toned square buckle pulled off to the left side. The trousers have vertical on-seam side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms.
Crump’s shirt is a very pale blue cotton, styled with a fashionably slim button-down collar, wider front placket, breast pocket, and button cuffs. Never actually seen tightened up to the neck, Crump’s narrow black necktie is tied in a tight half-Windsor knot that manages to withstand the rigors of the dilapidated vintage flight, the fiery storage room destruction, digging under the big W, and the ultimate chase that results in the good doctor being launched through the air and crashing into a stairwell.
Crump coordinates his belt and shoe leather with a pair of simple yet handsome black calf leather derbies with short two-eyelet lace panels, which extend the appearance of the plain-toed vamp, a style that Matt Spaiser described for Bond Suits as far more common among English shoemakers than American. The degree of Dr. Crump’s unrelenting physical calamities provide plenty of opportunity for his trouser legs to pull up, showing his plain black cotton lisle socks.
Sid Caesar amassed an impressive collection of wristwatches over the course of his life, including: a distinctive 18-karat gold Audemars Piguet watch on a woven gold bracelet (Julien’s Live), a gold self-winding Bulova gifted to Caesar by Mike Todd in 1957 (Julien’s Live), a 14-karat yellow gold Concord watch presented by the Friar’s Club in 1983 (Julien’s Live), a 14-karat yellow gold LeCoultre “Wrist Alarm” (Julien’s Live), and a gold Rolex Day-Date worn later in life (Jake’s Rolex Magazine), and a pair of stainless watches made by Hamilton and SEIKO (Julien’s Live).
Caesar’s screen-worn watch in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World doesn’t receive much prominent screen time, though its appearances reveal a light gold finish on the case and expanding band and a ringed silver round dial detailed with non-numeric hour markers, an arced complication across the top, and a bubbled center window.
The Crumps had set out for their second honeymoon in a blue 1962 Plymouth Fury station wagon. Plymouth had introduced the Fury as a sub-series of the full-size Belvedere in 1956, introducing it as its own model for the 1959 model year before its first facelift only a year later for the ’60 and ’61 models.
Chrysler introduced the B-body platform for 1962, which included the now-downscaled Fury (and would eventually include classic muscle like the Dodge Charger and Plymouth Road Runner.) ’62 was also the first year that the four-year wagon as driven by the Crumps fell strictly under the Fury nameplate without being marketed as a Sport Suburban. Plymouth sold the now mid-size Fury in a range of engines from the 225 cubic-inch “Economy Six” up to the high-performing 426 cubic-inch “Wedge” V8, though the ’62 four-door wagon models were offered only in mid-range V8 engines (318 and 361 cubic-inch).
Of these, the motor powering the Crump family wagon is likely lost to history, though we can assume by what we see of the wagon—and how it’s “driven”—that said engine is mated to Chrysler’s three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission rather than the optional three-speed manual.
To my recollection, the Crumps’ station wagon is the only one of the four “original” cars from Smiler’s crash scene to never get damaged, as they leave it on the airfield—dusty but undamaged—after commissioning a vintage plane to fly to Santa Rosita.
Plymouth would continue manufacturing the venerable Fury through the late 1970s, alternating the nameplate between mid-size and full-size model, before it was rebranded “Gran Fury” for a series of boxy sedans and quietly discontinued after the 1989 model year.
How to Get the Look
Of all the male leads in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Sid Caesar scored a style “W” with his eye-catching striped silk suit that unfortunately gets increasingly mistreated over the course of Dr. Crump’s pursuit of wealth.
- Gray track-striped dupioni silk suit:
- Single-breasted 3-button jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, ventless back
- Flat-front trousers with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Pale-blue cotton shirt with button-down collar, front placket, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Black tie
- Black calf leather 2-eyelet plain-toe derby shoes
- Black cotton lisle socks
- Gold wristwatch with round silver ringed dial on gold expanding bracelet
Do Yourself A Favor And…
Check out the movie. I also recommend finding Ernest Gold’s soundtrack, which can be quite an ear-worm once you get past some of the kitschy choral verses.
What kind of a man is gonna play a practical joke on complete strangers with every bone in his body broken?
My dad’s favourite film. Saw it many times growing up. Looking back at it now, I can only say, Edie Adams was kinda hot.
My dads favorite as well. I like it too, its so crazy.