Steven L. Smith, Bellingham, WA Home Inspector (King of the House)


Did You Ever Wonder Why Ed Sullivan?

In the middle years of the now dearly departed 20th century, one of the biggest names in show business was Ed Sullivan. He was broadcast coast to coast across the country. He was the man of women's dreams from Searcy, Arkansas to Bellingham, Washington. Okay, that might be overstating it, but he was a huge television star and host of the most powerful variety show that has ever been broadcast on American television.

Especially if you saw Ed Sullivan, you have to wonder why he became a leading icon and performer on TV. He seemed like an odd fit. As an MC, he was about as stiff on camera as Richard Nixon and a penguin combined. He had odd posture: He held his shoulders high, his neck low, and he was famous for mispronouncing the names of his guests over and over again. They say he had a toddy or two before the show. Even when Ed was hitting on all cylinders, the standing joke among viewers was that Sullivan had a really big "shoe" that night. The silver-tongued Ed could make "show" come out as "shoe" any day of the week.

So how did this awkward former pugilist become the leading force in variety show entertainment from the 1940's until the 1970's? First, you have to realize that this was the beginning of the television era. The new medium was not so glamorous in the beginning and it was relying on people from other related fields to fill the airtime. They chose many radio stars but also newspaper columnists. That is where Ed came in.

Sullivan began his media work as a newspaper sportswriter. As circumstances played out, and his full potential was discovered, he became a theater columnist in New York City -- the big apple. From there, he had a radio show, critiquing Broadway shows and dispensing entertainment gossip. Then in 1948 CBS TV hired him to do his Sunday night variety show "The Ed Sullivan Show" that was the big gorilla of television for many years. It was not so much his personality the network was buying, as much as his important connections that allowed him to acquire the top entertainers. He could make or break an act overnight. Stories about Sullivan the man, his quirky behavior and his quick temper, could fill a book.

Instead, I selected three videos. The first one is for those people who do not know Ed Sullivan from Kermit the frog. This was a commercial Sullivan did in his prime, and you can see just how stiff he was in front of the camera. It gets across his basic style and personality, or lack thereof.

One of the highlights in the history of his show was when, in 1956, he booked Elvis. The cavorting about, shimmy-shaking, had the girls worked into a dither across the country, Canada too. but especially so in Searcy, Arkansas. It was the first time that many parents out there had seen this young man Presley. They were displeased with the raw sexuality that was exuded by the future king of rock n' roll. Oh yes, those were simpler times. Check out that historic performance that many labeled as obscene.

Probably the biggest coup of Sullivan's career came in 1964 when he managed to book the new sensation from England known as the Beatles. 73 million people watched the show that night, which was the largest audience in the history of television up until that time. And, from that point on Beatlemania gripped the USA and Canada.

If you were around in the 60's this might be nostalgic. If not, you can see with your own eyes what a bunch of freaks we all were -- glued to this odd TV personality, with his mush-mouth, every Sunday night like bad religion.

For more "Stories Behind the Music" click on the guitar

Steven L. Smith

Bellingham WA Home Inspections

Steven L. Smith

If you enjoy nostalgia and music of yesteryear, click on Elvis' gold record to visit This Day In History. To explore The Stories Behind The Music blog posts click on the electric guitar. 







Comment balloon 36 commentsSteven L. Smith • July 30 2008 05:59PM
Did You Ever Wonder Why Ed Sullivan?
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