In honor of the birthday of Edward “Ed” Sullivan (born: September 28, 1901 died: October 13, 1974) birthday, this post will discuss both his personal and profession life. Sullivan started as a sports and entertainment reporter with a syndicated column in the New York Daily News. He created and hosted “The Toast of the Town” television variety show, it was later renamed “The Ed Sullivan Show” that ran on CBS for 23 years. Sullivan became known as the “star maker” because many of the featured guests on his show went on to be entertainment stars, such as Elvis Presley and the Beatles. (Special Note: As I was writing this post I had a lot of fun watching all the performances by Elvis and the Beatles … I suggest that you search the internet for the videos and do the same after you are done reading this!!)
The Ed Sullivan Show
The Ed Sullivan Show was “must watch” television on Sunday nights for almost three decades; it ran on CBS from June 20, 1948 to June 6, 1971. The Ed Sullivan Show was an hour of great entertainment featuring a variety of popular singers and bands, opera singers, ballet dancers, Broadway shows, comedians, and sometimes jugglers, plate spinners and acrobats. People of the baby boomer generation will remember the show for the first performances of the most popular musical acts of the 1950s to 1970s such as Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Supremes and the Jackson 5.
The “Toast of the Town” show was originally created and produced by Marlo Lewis and Ed Sullivan was hired as the host of the show in 1948. The show was filmed and broadcasted live from the Maxine Elliott Theatre and in a few years the show’s name changed to “The Ed Sullivan Show”. In 1953 the show moved to the CBS TV Studio 50 and later the building’s name was changed to the Ed Sullivan Theater in 1967. (Special Note: Several years later “The Late Show with David Letterman” filmed there from August 1993 until May 2015 and now the new “The Late Show with Steven Colbert” started filming there in September 2015)
The show was arranged in six segments which allowed each act almost ten minutes for each guest performance, the commercials were done live at the beginning. At the start of each segment, Sullivan would introduce the act, they would perform and then afterwards he would briefly talk to them. The show was very popular and it was great entertainment for the whole family to watch together.
Over the years the show’s format remained basically unchanged. At first the show was filmed in black and white and then with technological advancements the show started filming in color. To keep the show relevant, Sullivan made sure to schedule the best and most current entertainment but by the late 1960s the show’s ratings began to decline. Finally in 1971, the Ed Sullivan Show was canceled and Sullivan went on to produce a few television specials for CBS until his death in 1974.
Listed below are three of the most famous acts to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show:
Elvis Presley –
Elvis Presley made his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on September 9, 1956. Presley was causing a sensation with his music, good looks and wild stage presence especially with teenage girls. A few months earlier, Presley’s performances on the Dorsey Brothers, Milton Berle and Steve Allen shows were highly criticized for being too sexually suggestive. Initially, Sullivan declined to put Presley on his show because he thought it would be inappropriate because of the show’s family audience. Later, Sullivan reconsider and agreed to have Presley on the show with the stipulation that his performance only to be shot from the waist up to avoid any offending gyrations been seen.
On the night of the broadcast, Presley was in Hollywood filming his first movie, “Love Me Tender” and his performance on The Ed Sullivan Show would be telecast from the CBS Studios in Los Angeles. Also Sullivan had recently been in an almost fatal car accident and Charles Laughton was the guest host. For the first segment, Presley sang “Don’t Be Cruel” his current record and “Love Me Tender” the title song from his new movie. The second segment featured the song “Ready Teddy” and a brief message from Presley to Sullivan wishing him a speedy recovery and return to TV and then he gave a short rendition of “Hound Dog”. Presley gave a great performance on the show that night, he was extremely professional in his manner and maybe even a little bit subdued. The show that night was seen by 60 million television viewers.
A few months later, Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show for the second time on October 28, 1956. This time Sullivan was back hosting the show and for his first segment Presley performed the same song as before, “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Love Me Tender”. Then, as Sullivan spoke to the audience, Presley standing behind him playfully started shaking his leg and the studio audience screamed. By the time Sullivan turned to look at Presley he was innocently standing still. For his second segment, Presley sang “Love Me” and then a full version of “Hound Dog”.
The next year Presley made his third and final appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on January 6, 1957. For the first segment Presley performed a medley of “Hound Dog”, “Love Me Tender” and “Heartbreak Hotel” and a full version of “Don’t Be Cruel”. For the second segment Presley sang “Too Much and “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again”. The last song he sang was the ballad, “Peace in the Valley” with the Jordanaires as the back-up singers. For this final appearance on the show, Presley wore an unusual outfit with a shiny shirt, vest and baggy pants. Before the show closed that evening Sullivan praised Presley as a good, decent guy and a consummate professional.
Years later, Sullivan tried to book Presley for another appearance on the show and Colonel Tom Parker, his manager, who wanted an outrageous fee and had a long list of conditions … Sullivan declined and Presley never appeared on the show again.
The Beatles –
While Sullivan happened to be at Heathrow Airport in 1963 as the Beatles were returning from a performance in Stockholm, Sweden and their fans greeted them with mass hysteria. Sullivan took note and he immediately called their manager, Brian Epstein, to book them on his show. It took a few months until Sullivan and Epstein could reach an agreement and the band was signed to three consecutive appearances on the show.
The Beatles made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. Prior to their arrival in America the Beatles new single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, had been released and was already climbing the record charts. Teenage girls were anxiously anticipating the “Fab Four” arrival from England and the excitement was building for the British invasion … Beatlemania was about to hit the United States!
The Beatles arrived at JFK Airport in New York on February 7, 1964 and they were greeted by a crowd of screaming fans. A brief press conference was held at the airport by Capitol Records before the Beatles left for The Plaza Hotel to prepare for their appearance on The Ed Sullivan show. The scene at the hotel was crazy with teenage girls camping outside and some even trying to sneak inside. Meanwhile, the demand for tickets to the show had reached 50,000 requests for a theater that only held about 700.
On February 9, 1964 Sullivan opened the show by reading a telegram from Elvis Presley congratulating the Beatles. The band opened with “All My Loving” and the audience of mostly teenage girls started screaming! The next song was a slower ballad, “Till There Was You”. During the song the camera focused on each individual Beatle with their name flashed on the screen and when they got to John the television screen read “Sorry girls, he’s married”. To finish the segment the Beatles sang “She Loves You” and then walked over to Sullivan for a quick hello and wave to the audience. For the Beatles’ second segment, which concluded the show, they sang “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. The show that night was watched by 73 million people and it went down in history as one of the most important rock and roll performances.
Then a week later the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show for the second time on February 16, 1964. Their segments were shot live from the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida because everyone was in town for the Cassisus Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali) and Sonny Liston boxing match. Much like the craziest of their stay at the Plaza Hotel the previous week, teenage fans were crowded outside the hotel and some made their way into the lobby and were blocking the Beatles from entering the ballroom for their performance. Sullivan had to quickly go to a commercial break and with the help of the security guards the Beatles made their way into the ballroom for their delayed introduction. The Beatles started the first segment with “She Loves You”, followed by the ballad “This Boy” and closed the set with “All My Loving”. For the second segment, the Beatles once again closed the show with “I Saw Her Standing There”, “From Me to You” and end with “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.
The Beatles third appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast on February 23, 1964; their performance was actually taped back at the beginning of February. The Beatles sang “Twist and Shout”, “Please Please Me” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.
The Beatles did appear on The Ed Sullivan Show one more time a year later on September 12, 1965. The band performed “I Feel Fine”, “I’m Down”, “Act Naturally”, “Ticket to Ride”, “Yesterday” and “Help!” This appearance on the show was actually taped on August 14, 1965 the day after the Beatles started their first North American Tour with a sold-out concert at Shea Stadium in New York City.
(Personal Note: The Beatles’ performance on The Ed Sullivan Show is one of those days that people remember exactly what they were doing when it happened. For me, my memory is being an almost six year old sitting on the living room floor watching the program in black and white on TV with my family and quite frankly all I remember is the Beatles shaking their heads … yeah, yeah, yeah!!!)
Topo Gigio –
Topo Gigio was a mouse puppet that performed on Italian and Spanish children’s televisions shows in the early 1960s. The character had originally debuted in 1959 and he was created by artist Maria Perego and voiced by Giuseppe Mazzullo. Topo Gigio first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on December 9, 1962.
Topo Gigio was a 10” tall mouse with large eyes made of foam and it took four people to “operate” the puppet, three to move the puppet and one to voice the character. To help create the illusion, the puppet was set on a special-made small black portable stage with black velvet curtains to hide the puppeteers who were completely dressed in black. The puppeteers operated three different parts of Topo Gigio’s body by wooden dowel rods that were also painted black to create the illusion that the mouse was moving independently. The illusion worked remarkably well and Topo Gigio appeared to actually walk on his feet, gesture with his hands and move his mouth to talk and sing. After one of the puppet’s appearances on the show, Sullivan asked the puppeteers to come out and take a bow. Topo Gigio appeared on more than fifty Ed Sullivan shows and he had the honor of closing the final show to be broadcast in 1971.
The personal and professional life of Ed Sullivan
Ed Sullivan was born in Harlem, New York City on September 28, 1901; his parents were Peter Sullivan and Elizabeth Smith. Sullivan had a twin brother named Daniel and a sister named Elizabeth, both died as children. Eventually, the family moved to Port Chester, New York and Sullivan attended St. Mary’s Catholic School and later Port Chester High School where he excelled at sports.
After Sullivan graduated he went to work for the New York Evening Mail until it closed in 1923. He then went to work for the Associated Press and his articles appeared in several prominent newspapers on the East Coast. In 1927 Sullivan took a job at The Evening Graphic as a sports writer and soon became the sports editor. Then when a fellow reporter, Walter Winchell, left to join the Hearst newspaper syndicate Sullivan became the Evening Graphic’s entertainment columnist specializing on Broadway shows and gossip which was a big departure from reporting on sports. In the years that followed Sullivan and Winchell became competing rivals.
During the 1920s and 1930s, while Sullivan worked for the newspaper he began producing vaudeville shows; he also served as the master of ceremonies for the shows. Then, during World War II, he directed a local radio program at WABC and organized special variety shows that raised money for several war-related causes.
After the war, Sullivan was the master of ceremonies for an annual event called the Harvest Moon Ball. The event was broadcast on a local television which led to Sullivan being hired as the host of the CBS TV show, “Toast of the Town” which debuted in June 1948 at the Maxine Elliott Theatre. It proved to be so successful and Sullivan did such a great job that the name of the show was soon changed to “The Ed Sullivan Show” and in 1953 it moved to the CBS TV Studio 50. The building’s name was later changed to the Ed Sullivan Theater in 1967 and it filmed there until 1971.
Throughout the years, Sullivan also had an uncanny ability for spotting rising talent and during the show’s long 23 year run it featured a wide variety of performances by comedians, Broadway musicals and some of the biggest musical acts in the entertainment business.
The only criticism that Sullivan received about the show was directed at him personally. The comments stated that Sullivan showed no personality when announcing his guests and that he appeared stiff, slightly awkward and his speaking voice was sometimes garbled. In fact, Sullivan had such a good sense of humor that he even had comedian impersonators such as Frank Gorshin and Rich Little on the show that would imitate him … and he loved it!
In regards to Sullivan’s personal life, he married Sylvia Weinstein on April 28, 1930. They had one daughter, Betty, who was born on December 22, 1930, many years later she married Bob Precht, a producer of “The Ed Sullivan Show”. Sullivan and his wife were so devoted to each other that he would call her immediately after every show to get her opinion; the show was seen live on the East Coast and taped for airing on the West Coast.
In September 1974, about three years after the show ended, Sullivan was diagnosed with esophageal cancer with only a short time to live. In discussions with the doctor, the family decided not to tell him and he believed his illness was due to complication from gastric ulcers. It has also been speculated the Sullivan struggled with Alzheimer’s disease during his last years. Sadly, Sullivan died five weeks later on October 13, 1974. Sullivan is buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.