The Ed Sullivan Show was the essential American variety show back in the day. It was a long-running and ground-breaking that appealed to almost all ages. Whether it was Broadway for the parents, rock ‘n’ roll for the teenagers or puppet acts for the kids, the show had something for everyone.
The Ed Sullivan Show aired from 1948 until 1971 and changed the layout of American television. His stage was home to iconic performances by big artists from rock ‘n’ roll, comedy, novelty, pop music, politics, sports, opera and more. He was considered as a starmaker and performers wanted an appearance on his program as a guarantee of stardom, although it’s not always the case.
In 2002, The Ed Sullivan Show was ranked #15 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time and in 2013, the series finished No. 31 in TV Guide Magazine’s 60 Best Series of All Time. Here are some other Unbelievable Facts About The Ed Sullivan Show.
12. Not Your Typical Host
While most TV hosts are confident and charming by nature, Ed Sullivan was the exact opposite. He was awkward, kind of scheming, and notorious for clumsy introductions and monologs throughout the program on several occasions. Although it was this type of rawness and free style hosting that made Ed Sullivan so entertaining.
His awkwardness made him endearing to the audiences. There was just something unique about an awkward host, and instead of looking way, people just couldn’t resist this charm. Off camera, Sullivan was a brilliant tracker and arranger of talent. A variety show always has variety, but nothing was as diverse as the mishmash that Sullivan put together, from puppet shows to opera, the show had it all. Who could resist that?
11. A Rough Start Gave Way to a Huge Hit, Largely Thanks to Elvis
The critics were tough on Sullivan, they attacked him for his poor hosting style and the random tone of his guest collections. But the show did well anyway. In 1955, its name changed to The Ed Sullivan Show and it broke all of TVs single night rating counts when a young Elvis Presley performed on Sullivan’s stage. Elvis made three appearances on the show throughout 1956 and 1957.
Many stars were born on The Ed Sullivan show including, historic rock ‘n’ roll performances by The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Rolling Stones and The Doors. Also acts by The Jackson 5, Supremes and Temptations. Hilarious stand-up comedy acts and unforgettable Broadway performances by the stars of musicals like My Fair Lady and West Side Story. This list goes on and on.
10. Many Stars Debuted on The Ed Sullivan Show
A few of the people who made their American TV debuts on Sullivan’s show includes, Bob Hope, Lena Horne, Martin and Lewis, Dinah Shore, Albert Schweitzer, Irving Berlin, Fred Astaire and Jane Powell, Eddie Fisher, and most famously, The Beatles.
Ed Sullivan was known for years as the “king maker” for his ability to predict the stars of the future. For over four decades, landing a spot on his show was considered taking the first step on the surefire path to stardom.
9. Even The Muppets Got Some of the Spotlight
Between 1966 and 1971, Jim Henson performed some of his Muppet characters on the show. Henson’s Muppets were introduced on The Ed Sullivan Show and Sullivan introduced the characters as “Jim, uh … Newsom’s puppets.”
The act featured a small ball of fur growing into the Rock and Roll Monster (performed by Jim Henson, Jerry Nelson, and Frank Oz) with three heads and six arms lip-syncing to the song “Rock It to Me” by The Bruthers. The Muppets then made 25 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show.
8. He Gave Equal Opportunity for African American Performers
In a time when few opportunities existed for African American performers on national TV, Sullivan was a champion of black talent. He launched the careers of many performers by presenting them to a nationwide TV audience and ignored the criticism. In an interview, Sullivan commented:
“The most important thing [during the first ten years of the program] is that we’ve put on everything but bigotry. When the show first started in ’48, I had a meeting with the sponsors. There were some Southern dealers present and they asked if I intended to put on Negroes. I said yes. They said I shouldn’t, but I convinced them I wasn’t going to change my mind. And you know something? We’ve gone over very well in the South. Never had a bit of trouble.”
The Supremes were a special act for The Ed Sullivan Show. In addition to 14 appearances, they were a personal favorite of Sullivan, whom he affectionately called “The Girls”. Over the five years they performed on the program.
7. Ed Wanted The Beatles on His Show From the Moment He Saw Them
Ed Sullivan caught his first look of The Beatles and the craze that surrounded them at Heathrow Airport on October 31, 1963. No stranger to booking the latest entertainment sensations, Sullivan met with Beatles manager Brian Epstein to book a guest spot. Performers were usually eager to appear for free on the show for the publicity, but The Beatles demanded $10,000 plus travel expenses. Sullivan agreed on the condition and they signed a three episode deal.
He got on stage and said: “Now yesterday and today our theater’s been jammed with newspapermen and hundreds of photographers from all over the nation, and these veterans agreed with me that the city never has the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool who call themselves The Beatles. Now tonight, you’re gonna twice be entertained by them. Right now and again in the second half of our show. Ladies and gentlemen, The Beatles! Let’s bring them on.”
6. The Show Started The Beatles Craze in America
Most Americans got their first look of The Beatles from that historic Ed Sullivan Show broadcast on February 9, 1964. That episode remains one of the most highly watched single show in TV history. Following which, the “Beatlemania” phenomenon started, and the floodgates for other British bands coming to America were opened.
5. The Three Stooges Had a Hard Time Working With Him
Moe Howard of the Three Stooges remembered in 1975 that Sullivan had a memory problem of sorts: “Ed was a very nice man, but for a showman, quite forgetful. On our first appearance, he introduced us as the Three Ritz Brothers. He got out of it by adding, ‘who look more like the Three Stooges to me’.” Joe DeRita, who worked with the Stooges after 1959, had commented that Sullivan had a personality “like the bottom of a bird cage.”
4. His Theater Was Named After Him and Has Since Featured Big Stars
Maxine Elliott Theater moved into Studio 50 in 1953. The studio went on to become the home of The Ed Sullivan Show for the rest of the variety show’s 23-year run. On December 10, 1967, to mark The Ed Sullivan Show’s 20th year, the studio was named The Ed Sullivan Theater in honor of the great host.
Like its signature, The Ed Sullivan Theater has endured the test of time and to this day remains the studio’s name. It hosted the Late Show with David Letterman for over 20 years and now hosts the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
3. Ed Sullivan Was Known For Quiet Acts of Generosity
Although Ed Sullivan had a lousy temper and could hold a grudge, he still had a sensitive side, too. He paid out of his own pocket for the funeral of dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who died penniless despite being the highest earning black entertainer of the time. Much of his wealth went to charities in Harlem and beyond before his death. It was one of many acts of quiet personal generosity for which Ed was known among his friends.
Much of his wealth went to charities in Harlem and beyond before his death. It was one of many acts of quiet personal generosity for which Ed was known among his friends. He had a soft spot for African Americans.
2. The Doors Were Rebellious and Were Never Invited Back But..
The Doors were infamous for their Sept. 17, 1967, appearance on the show. CBS network censors demanded singer Jim Morrison change the lyrics of their hit song “Light My Fire” by changing the line, “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher.” But Morrison sang the original line, on live television with no delay. The group was never invited back.
In contrast, The Rolling Stones turned over when they were told to change the title of their song “Let’s Spend the Night Together” for their Jan. 15, 1967, appearance. The band caved, with Mick Jagger and bassist Bill Wyman rolling their eyes whenever they reached the changed refrain, “Let’s spend some time together.” Mick wouldn’t wear a jacket on their first appearance on the show, which annoyed Sullivan. When they appeared again in 1965, however, the band members wore jackets. The Stones then performed on The Ed Sullivan Show six times.
1. A Long-Running and Ground Breaking Show
The Ed Sullivan Show aired from 1948 until 1971 and changed the landscape of American television. Sullivan’s stage was home to iconic performances by groundbreaking artists from rock ‘n’ roll, comedy, novelty, pop music, politics, sports, opera and more.
But his variety show went through several incarnations. In 1948, CBS hired Sullivan to host its first variety show endeavor, a new format that combined vaudeville with television and was nicknamed “vaudeo.” The show was called The Toast of the Town. For his inaugural program, Sullivan assembled Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Rodgers and Hammerstein, a pianist, a ballerina, a troupe of crooning firemen and a boxing referee whose next gig was the Joe Louis-Jersey Joe Wolcott match. If you wanted to see the phrase ‘something for everyone’ incarnate, there it was.
For his debut program, Sullivan called Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Rodgers and Hammerstein, a pianist, a ballerina, a troop of crooning firemen and a boxing referee whose next gig was the Joe Louis-Jersey Joe Wolcott match. If you wanted to see the phrase ‘something for everyone’ this was definitely it.
Now we know why The Ed Sullivan Show became one of the longest-running variety show in TV history. It was fun, unpredictable and unscripted. People always want to watch unscripted shows. It just has a different appeal.
Aside from his totally entertaining and addicting show, he also had a kind heart giving his wealth to the unprivileged instead of buying mansion and luxuries money can buy. Ed Sullivan is truly an icon and a legendary host.