Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Ed Sullivan Show (1948 - 1971)

The ED SULLIVAN SHOW is an American TV variety show that ran from June 20, 1948 to June 6, 1971, and was hosted by entertainment columnist Ed Sullivan. It ran on CBS every Sunday night at 8 p.m., and is one of the few shows to have been run in the same time slot, weekly on the same network, for more than two decades. Virtually every type of entertainment appeared on the show: opera singers, rock stars, songwriters, comedians, ballet dancers, circus acts, Broadway showgirls, and recitations from dramatic writings--usually juxtaposed on a single telecast. The format was essentially the same as vaudeville, and although vaudeville had died a generation earlier, Sullivan presented many ex-vaudevillians on his show. THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW is longest-running variety show in television history.

Sullivan began his career as a sportswriter, and then he took over Walter Winchell’s syndicated column. He hosted Broadway specials, charity events, and through the 1940’s various war relief efforts and his own radio show. In 1948 CBS hired him to host its first variety show endeavor, a new format that combined vaudeville and television and was nicknamed “vaudeo" The show was originally titled "Toast of the Town", but was widely referred to as THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW for years before September 25, 1955, when that became its official name. In the show's June 20, 1948 debut, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis performed along with Broadway composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II previewing the score to SOUTH PACIFIC. His inaugural program also included pianist Eugene List, ballerina Kathryn Lee, a troupe of crooning firemen, a boxing referee whose next gig was the Joe Louis-Jersey Joe Wolcott match, and six of the original June Taylor Dancers, called the "Toastettes."

It became the definitive, the best, and longest running variety series on TV. The awkward, wooden, stone-faced, and fumbling former newspaperman was the improbable host for the Sunday night institution on CBS. For twenty-three years the Sullivan show fulfilled the democratic mandate of the variety genre: to entertain all of the audience at least some of the time. Many comic impersonators parodied his wooden stage presence and malapropisms, and a few actually performed their Ed Sullivan impressions on his "really big shew".

Alan King: "Ed does nothing, but he does it better that anyone else on television"

In 1965 CBS started televising the programs in color, as all three major networks began to switch to color in prime time schedules. The show was broadcast live from CBS-TV Studio 50 in New York City, which is now named The Ed Sullivan Theater and is the home of The Late Show with David Letterman. Although called "the great stone face" on screen, Sullivan was a man of intense passion off camera. He feuded with Walter Winchell, Jack Paar, and Frank Sinatra over his booking practices. He wrangled with conservative sponsors over his fondness for African American culture and openly embraced black performers throughout his career, including Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Ethel Waters, Louis Armstrong, and Diana Ross. Unfortunately, he also capitulated to the blacklisting pressures of Red Channels and denounced performers for pro-Communist sympathies.

Countless stars appeared on his show, including: Diahann Carroll, Dionne Warwick, Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Bo Diddley, The Fifth Dimension, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson, The Supremes, The Four Tops, The Miracles, Little Anthony & The Imperials, The Jackson 5, Jackie Wilson, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Temptations, Alan King, Myron Cohen, Jack Carter, Mort Sahl, Woody Allen, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster, Monica Lewis, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Peggy Lee, Irving Berlin, Bob Hope, Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, Robert Goulet, Nanette Fabray, Hope Emerson, Rudy Vallee, Luise Rainer, Jule Styne, Forrest Tucker, Skitch Henderson, Lon McCallister, Tony Martin, The Animals, Bobby Vinton, Connie Francis, The Dave Clark 5, The Everly Brothers, The Fifth Dimension, Frankie Laine, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Guy Mitchell, Jackie Wilson, Mamas and the Papas, Paul Anka, The Platters, The Rolling Stones, The Temptations, Teresa Brewer, Humphrey Bogart, Lena Horne, Dinah Shore, Albert Schweitzer, Irving Berlin, Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Eddie Fisher, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Marvin Gaye and Bob Dylan.

The Ed Sullivan Show is especially famous for airing breakthrough performances by Elvis Presley and The Beatles.

"I wouldn't have Presley on my show at any time"--Ed Sullivan, early 1956

"And now, here is Elvis Presley!"--Ed Sullivan, October 28, 1956

After Elvis sings, Sullivan addresses the audience as he stands beside Elvis, who begins shaking his legs, eliciting screams from the audience. By the time Sullivan turns his head, Elvis is standing motionless. After Presley leaves the stage, Sullivan says, "I can’t figure this darn thing out. You know. He just does this and everybody yells." For the third and final appearance on January 6, 1957, Sullivan praised Elvis at the end of the show by saying, "This is a real decent, fine boy. We've never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we've had with you.... You're thoroughly all right."

Most of the episodes aired live from New York City, although the show also aired live on occasion from other nations, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Japan. For many years, Ed Sullivan was a national event each Sunday evening, and was the first exposure for foreign performers to the American public. Sullivan was always on the lookout for novelty acts, especially for children. His interplay with the Italian mouse Topo Gigio his "Little Italian Mouse" puppet sidekick debuted April 14, 1963 with ventriloquist SeƱor Wences.

(Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby are singing "Road to Morocco", when Frank spots Bob Hope walking down the stairs at the back of the Ed Sullivan stage)
Frank: Run for the hills.
(Bob Hope walks in on Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby singing "Road to Morocco")
Bing: What's the problem?
Bob: (pointing at Frank) You're singing our song with him.
Frank: I said I was sorry.
Bob: After all, Dean wouldn't do this to Jerry.
Bing: Bob, I'll tell you what happened. I didn't know you were in town. I heard, or I figured at least, that you'd gone for a ride on the Russian moon.
Frank: (indicating Bob) Ladies and Gentlemen, here's the first man to entertain the troops in Outer Space.
Bing: You certainly get around.
Bob: I have to, with my kind of act.

In the late 1960s, Sullivan noticed that his program was waning as the decade went on. He realized that to keep viewers, the best and brightest in entertainment had to be seen, or else the viewers were going to keep on changing the channel. Along with declining viewership, Ed Sullivan attracted a higher median age for the average viewer as the seasons went on. These two factors were the reason the show was canceled by CBS after the end of the 1970-1971 season. THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW was the longest-running variety show in TV history, and an undisputed institution. However, time slot rivals The WALT DISNEY SHOW and THE F.B.I. were gaining momentum, and CBS, eager for youth-oriented programming and fearful that Sullivan was a vestige of older generations, canceled the show. Because there was no notice, Sullivan's landmark program ended without a series finale. The last ED SULLIVAN SHOW was episode # 1071, aired on March 28, 1971. Ed Sullivan continued to produce one-off specials for CBS until his death in 1974.

Many DVDs are now available including: "The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show" (volumes 1 to 4), "Ed Sullivan Presents: Topo Gigio and Friends", "The Four Complete Historic Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring The Beatles", "Ed Sullivan Presents: Rock 'N' Roll Revolution", "Ed Sullivan Presents The Beatles", "Ed Sullivan's Rock 'N' Roll Classics", "The Best of Broadway Musicals: Original Cast Performances From The Ed Sullivan Show", "Muppets Magic From the Ed Sullivan Show", "Holiday Greetings From the Ed Sullivan Show", "Elvis Presley: The Ed Sullivan Shows", "Inspirational Treasures... The Ed Sullivan Show", "Ed's Amazing Animal Acts", "The Ed Sullivan Show: A Classic Christmas", "Motown Gold on The Ed Sullivan Show", and "Great Moments In Opera from the Ed Sullivan Show".

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