Let’s have a look back at The Ed Sullivan Show, one of the most highly-watched variety programs during the 50s and 60s. Some of the artists such as The Beatles and Elvis Presley provided breakthrough performances on that show, and immediately gained widespread national exposure after their appearances there.
Here are some few facts about the longest-running variety show in history:
The Ed Sullivan Show ran on 24 seasons, from its debut broadcast on June 20, 1948 to its last broadcast on June 6, 1971.
In late 1963, Sullivan and his wife happened to be at the London’s Heathrow Airport when he first witnessed Beatlemania. Sullivan began to take notice at the pandemonium as the Beatles had just arrived from their tour in Stockholm, Sweden. By then, the Fab Four had already become superstars not only in England, but also the rest of Europe.
Sullivan became instantly curious about the commotion, and asked what the fuss was all about. When he was told that it was for the Beatles, he asked again, “Who the hell are the Beatles?” In less than a year, he’d be making sure that virtually all Americans would have the answer to that.
The Beatles’ lead guitarist George Harrison had been forced to skip the rehearsals as he was coming down with a bout of tonsillitis. He would have been a no-show to their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, but he was determined not to miss it. Harrison mustered himself enough to perform on their first Ed Sullivan stint, with a fever of 102. Little wonder he remained tight-lipped throughout the presscon (which followed after the show).
The name was Topo Gigio, who had been popular especially in Italy and Spain. The foamy rodent became Ed Sullivan’s sidekick and captured the hearts of many American viewers.
The Ed Sullivan Show‘s original name was The Toast of the Town. It initially brought vaudeville to the small screen in many homes across America.
It was entertainer Charles Laughton who took Ed Sullivan’s place temporarily as the latter was recovering from a near-fatal car accident. The vehicular mishap left Sullivan with broken teeth and ribs.
Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show thrice. Initially, Sullivan had reservations of having Presley on the show, saying he was “too vulgar.” But after seeing his rival Steve Allen beat him in the ratings for guesting “The King,” Sullivan changed his mind and made a deal with Presley’s manager, Colonel Parker.
Presley had already cemented his “scandalous” reputation as “Elvis the Pelvis” because of his suggestive gyrations. But due to public outcry, he was shown only from the waist up on his third and final appearance on January 6, 1957.
That historic first appearance of The Beatles on the show drew an approximately 73 million viewers!
Sullivan wasn’t exactly gracious towards many of his guests. He was known to have an ill temper, and if that certain guest didn’t follow his way, most likely he would never invite him or her back to his show. Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley, Jackie Mason and Jim Morrison were some of the guests who experienced some conflict with him.
Sometimes, Sullivan would become forgetful on the show — when The Supremes appeared one time, he affectionately referred to them as “the girls.”
After their historic first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, the Fab Four went on to appear eight more times.