The Ed Sullivan Show

The Ed Sullivan Show

Ed Sullivan
Also known as ''Toast of the Town''
Genre Variety
Sketch Comedy
Presented by Ed Sullivan
Narrated by
  • Bern Bennett (1948–1949)
  • Art Hannes (1949–1959 & 1961–1964)
  • Ralph Paul (1959–1961 & 1964–1971)


Theme music composer Ray Bloch
Opening theme "Toast of the Town"
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 24
No. of episodes 1068
Executive producer(s) Ed Sullivan
Location(s) Ed Sullivan Theater
New York
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 48–50 minutes
Original network CBS
Picture format
Audio format Monaural
Original release June 20, 1948 (1948-06-20) – June 6, 1971 (1971-06-06) (22 years, 11 months, and 17 days)

The Ed Sullivan Show is an American TV variety show that ran on CBS from Sunday June 20, 1948, to Sunday June 6, 1971, and was hosted by New York entertainment columnist Ed Sullivan.[1] It was replaced in September 1971 by the CBS Sunday Night Movie, a single season failure. [2]

In 2002, The Ed Sullivan Show was ranked #15 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.[3] In 2013, the series finished No. 31 in TV Guide Magazine's 60 Best Series of All Time.[4]


Carmen Miranda and Ed Sullivan on Toast of the Town, 1953.

From 1948 until its cancellation in 1971, the show ran on CBS every Sunday night from 8–9 p.m. E.T., and is one of the few entertainment shows to have run in the same weekly time slot on the same network for more than two decades. (During its first season, it ran from 9 to 10 p.m. E.T.) Virtually every type of entertainment appeared on the show; opera singers, popular artists, songwriters, comedians, ballet dancers, dramatic actors performing monologues from plays, and circus acts were regularly featured. The format was essentially the same as vaudeville, and although vaudeville had died a generation earlier, Sullivan presented many ex-vaudevillians on his show.[5]

Originally co-created and produced by Marlo Lewis, the show was first 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 singer Monica Lewis and Broadway composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II previewing the score to their then-new show South Pacific, which opened on Broadway in 1949.

From 1948 through 1962, the program's primary sponsor was the Lincoln-Mercury Division of the Ford Motor Company; Sullivan read many commercials for Mercury vehicles live on the air during this period.

The Ed Sullivan Show was originally broadcast via live television from CBS-TV studio 51, the Maxine Elliott Theatre, at Broadway and 39th St. before moving to its permanent home at CBS-TV Studio 50 in New York City (1697 Broadway, at 53rd Street), which was renamed The Ed Sullivan Theater[6] on the occasion of the program's 20th anniversary in June 1968. The last original Sullivan show telecast (#1068) was on March 28, 1971 with guests Melanie, Joanna Simon, Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass, and Sandler and Young. Repeats were scheduled through June 6, 1971.


Along with the new talent Sullivan booked each week, he also had recurring characters appear many times a season, such as his "Little Italian Mouse" puppet sidekick Topo Gigio, who debuted December 9, 1962,[7] and ventriloquist Señor Wences debuted December 31, 1950.[8] While most of the episodes aired live from New York City, the show also aired live on occasion from other nations, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, 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. On the occasion of the show's tenth anniversary telecast, Sullivan commented on how the show had changed during a June 1958 interview syndicated by the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA):

The chief difference is mostly one of pace. In those days, we had maybe six acts. Now we have 11 or 12. Then, each of our acts would do a leisurely ten minutes or so. Now they do two or three minutes. And in those early days I talked too much. Watching these kines I cringe. I look up at me talking away and I say "You fool! Keep quiet!" But I just keep on talking. I've learned how to keep my mouth shut.

The show enjoyed phenomenal popularity in the 1950s and early 1960s. As had occurred with the annual telecasts of The Wizard of Oz in the 1960s and '70s, the family ritual of gathering around the television set to watch Ed Sullivan became almost a U.S. cultural universal. He was regarded as a kingmaker, and performers considered an appearance on his program as a guarantee of stardom, although this sometimes did not turn out to be the case. The show's iconic status is illustrated by the song "Hymn for a Sunday Evening" from the 1960 musical Bye Bye Birdie. In the song, a family of viewers expresses their regard for the program in worshipful tones.

In September 1965, CBS started televising the program in compatible color, as all three major networks began to switch to 100 percent color prime time schedules. CBS had once backed its own color system, developed by Peter Goldmark, and resisted using RCA's compatible process until 1954. At that time, it built its first New York City color TV studio, Studio 72, in a former RKO movie theater at 2248 Broadway (81st Street). One Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast on August 22, 1954 from the new studio, but it was mostly used for one-time-only specials such as Rodgers and Hammerstein's March 31, 1957 Cinderella. (The facility was later acquired by TeleTape Productions and notably became the first studio where the PBS children's program Sesame Street was produced.) CBS Studio 72 was demolished in 1986 and replaced by an apartment house. CBS Studio 50 was finally "colorized" in 1965. The 1965-66 season premiere starred the Beatles in an episode airing on September 12, which was the last episode to air in black and white. This occurred because the episode was taped at the Beatles' convenience on August 14, the eve of their Shea Stadium performance and a two-week tour of North America, slightly before the program was ready for color transmission.

In the late 1960s, Sullivan remarked 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 (which most sponsors found undesirable) as the seasons went on. These two factors were the reason the show was canceled by CBS as part of a mass cancellation of advertiser-averse programming after the end of the 1970–1971 season. Because there was no notice of cancellation, Sullivan's landmark program ended without a proper finale. Sullivan would produce one-off specials for CBS until his death in 1974.

In 1990, television documentary producer Andrew Solt formed SOFA Entertainment, Inc. and purchased the exclusive rights to the complete library of The Ed Sullivan Show from Ed Sullivan's daughter Elizabeth and her husband Bob Precht.[9][10] The collection consists of 1,087 hours of kinescopes and videotapes broadcast by CBS on Sunday nights from 1948 to 1971.

Since acquiring the rights to The Ed Sullivan Show library, SOFA Entertainment has catalogued, organized and cleared performance rights for the original shows. Starting in 1991, SOFA Entertainment has re-introduced The Ed Sullivan Show to the American public by producing numerous network specials, half-hour series (airing on TV Land, PBS and VH1), and home video compilations.[11] Some of these compilations include The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles, All 6 Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Rolling Stones, Elvis: The Ed Sullivan Shows, Motown Gold from the Ed Sullivan Show, Ed Sullivan's Rock 'n Roll Classics, and 115 half-hour The Best of The Ed Sullivan Show specials, among others.[12][13][14][15] The legendary performances of this show are also available as video and audio downloads and an app on iTunes."[16]

The Ed Sullivan Show Orchestra

In the early years of television, both CBS and NBC networks had their own symphony orchestras. NBC's was conducted by Arturo Toscanini and CBS's by Alfredo Antonini. The Ed Sullivan Show was basically a musical variety show, and thus members of the CBS orchestra were folded into the Ed Sullivan Show Orchestra, conducted by Ray Bloch. During the early days of television, the demands on studio musicians were many-tiered. They needed to be proficient in all genres of music, from classical, to jazz and to rock and roll. The Ed Sullivan Show would regularly feature singers from the Metropolitan Opera and the staff orchestra would accompany divas such as Eileen Farrell, Maria Callas or Joan Sutherland. The musicians needed to be prepared to switch gears for Ella Fitzgerald, Diahann Carroll or Sammy Davis, Jr. and then onto The Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder or Tom Jones or Itzhak Perlman. They also needed to perform with some of the greatest dancers and ballerinas of the time, from Gregory Hines, Juliet Prowse or Margo Fonteyn to the Peter Genarro dancers. Few musicians are capable of crossing over from one genre to another. However, each member of the Ed Sullivan Show Orchestra was a specialist and more than capable of covering the complete spectrum of music. Music Hall Of Fame inductee Gordon Chris Griffin (formerly with the trumpet section of Harry James, Ziggy Elman and Chris Griffin of The Benny Goodman Band) was Ray Bloch's lead trumpet player for the many radio and television shows that he conducted including the Ed Sullivan Show. "Chris" remained the lead trumpet player with The Ed Sullivan show from the first show in 1948 to the last show in 1971. Unlike "The Tonight Show" of NBC, which celebrated the notoriety of their musicians in Skitch Henderson's or Doc Severinsen's Band, the CBS producers of The Ed Sullivan show decided to hide their famed musicians behind a curtain. Occasionally, CBS would broadcast "Specials" and they would call upon the orchestra to perform. When Robert Kennedy was assassinated, music was hastily composed for the orchestra in a special tribute that also featured Bill Evans, who had recently composed an Elegy To His Father. In 1971, The Ed Sullivan Show came to an abrupt end. The CBS Board of Directors chose this occasion to terminate any and all contracts with their musicians as they were unceremoniously shown the door.

Famous performances/notable guest stars

Sullivan and The Beatles, February 1964

The Ed Sullivan Show is especially known to the World War II and baby boomer generations for introducing acts and airing breakthrough performances by popular 1950s and 1960s musicians such as Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Supremes, The Dave Clark Five, The Beach Boys, The Jackson 5, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, The Mamas & the Papas, The Lovin' Spoonful, Herman's Hermits, The Doors, and The Band. The Canadian comedy duo Wayne and Shuster appeared on the program 58 times, a record for any performer.[17]

Itzhak Perlman

The American public's first exposure to Itzhak Perlman was on the show in 1958, when he was just 13. This performance was a breakthrough not only for classical music, but also for Perlman, who rode the waves of admiration that came with performing on the show to new heights of fame and has remained one of the most famous violinists for decades.

Elvis Presley

Initial appearance

On September 9, 1956, Presley made his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (after earlier appearances on shows hosted by the Dorsey Brothers, Milton Berle, and Steve Allen), even though Sullivan had previously vowed never to allow Presley on the show.[18] According to biographer Michael David Harris, "Sullivan signed Presley when the host was having an intense Sunday-night rivalry with Steve Allen. Allen had the singer on July 1 and trounced Sullivan in the ratings. When asked to comment, the CBS star said that he wouldn't consider presenting Presley before a family audience. Less than two weeks later he changed his mind and signed a contract. The newspapers asked him to explain his reversal. 'What I said then was off the reports I'd heard. I hadn't even seen the guy. Seeing the kinescopes, I don't know what the fuss was all about. For instance, the business about rubbing the thighs. He rubbed one hand on his hip to dry off the perspiration from playing his guitar.' "[19]

Sullivan's reaction to Presley's performance on The Milton Berle Show was, "I don't know why everybody picked on Presley, I thought the whole show was dirty and vulgar."[20]

Elvis mythology states that Sullivan censored Presley by only shooting him from the waist up. Sullivan may have helped create the myth when he told TV Guide, "as for his gyrations, the whole thing can be controlled with camera shots." In truth Presley's whole body was shown in the first and second shows.[20]

At the time, Presley was filming Love Me Tender, so Sullivan's producer, Marlo Lewis, flew to Los Angeles to supervise the two segments telecast that night from CBS Television City in Hollywood. Sullivan, however, was not able to host his show in New York City because he was recovering from a near fatal automobile accident. Charles Laughton guest-hosted in Sullivan's place. Laughton appeared in front of plaques with gold records and stated, "These gold records, four of them... are a tribute to the fact that four of his recordings have sold, each sold, more than a million copies. And this, by the way, is the first time in record-making history that a singer has hit such a mark in such a short time. ... And now, away to Hollywood to meet Elvis Presley."[21]

However, according to Greil Marcus, Laughton was the main act of Sullivan's show. "Presley was the headliner, and a Sullivan headliner normally opened the show, but Sullivan was burying him. Laughton had to make the moment invisible: to act as if nobody was actually waiting for anything. He did it instantly, with complete command, with the sort of television presence that some have and some—Steve Allen, or Ed Sullivan himself—don't."[22]

Host Laughton introduced the singer from New York. Once on camera, Elvis cleared his throat and said, "Thank you, Mr. Laughton, ladies and gentlemen. Wow", and wiped his brow. "This is probably the greatest honor I've ever had in my life. Ah. There's not much I can say except, it really makes you feel good. We want to thank you from the bottom of our heart. And now ..." "Don't Be Cruel", which was, after a short introduction by Elvis, followed by "Love Me Tender".[21] According to Elaine Dundy, Presley sang "Love Me Tender" "straight, subdued and tender ... —a very different Elvis from the one on The Steve Allen Show three months before".[23]

When the camera returned to Laughton, he stated, "Well, well, well well well. Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis Presley. And Mr. Presley, if you are watching this in Hollywood, and I may address myself to you. It has been many a year since any young performer has captured such a wide, and, as we heard tonight, devoted audience."[21]

Elvis Presley performing "Ready Teddy"

Elvis's second set in the show consisted of "Ready Teddy" and a short on-air comment to Sullivan, "Ah, Mr. Sullivan. We know that somewhere out there you are looking in, and, ah, all the boys and myself, and everybody out here, are looking forward to seeing you back on television." Next, Elvis declared, "Friends, as a great philosopher once said, 'You ain't nothin' but a Hound Dog ...,' " as he launched into a short (1:07) version of the song.[21]

According to Marcus, "For the first of his two appearances that night, as a performer Elvis had come on dressed in grandma's nightgown and nightcap." Concerning the singer's second set in the show, the author adds that there were "Elvis, Scotty Moore on guitar, Bill Black on stand-up bass, D. J. Fontana on drums, three Jordanaires on their feet, one at a piano. They were shown from behind; the camera pulled all the way back. They went into 'Ready Teddy.' It was Little Richard's most thrilling record", however, "there was no way Elvis was going to catch him, but he didn’t have to—the song is a wave and he rode it. Compared to moments on the Dorsey shows, on the Berle show, it was ice cream—Elvis's face unthreatening, his legs as if in casts ..."[22] When "he sang Little Richard's 'Reddy Teddy' and began to move and dance, the camera pulled in, so that the television audience saw him from the waist up only."[24]

Although Laughton was the main star and there were seven other acts on the show, Elvis was on camera for more than a quarter of the time allotted to all acts.[25] The show was viewed by a record 60 million people which at the time was 82.6 percent of the television audience, and the largest single audience in television history. "In the New York Times", however, "Jack Gould began his review indignantly: Elvis Presley had 'injected movements of his tongue and indulged in wordless singing that were singularly distasteful.' Overstimulating the physical impulses of the teenagers was 'a gross national disservice.'"[26]

Second and third appearances

"Hound Dog", October 28, 1956

Sullivan hosted a second appearance by Presley on October 28, 1956. Elvis performed "Don't Be Cruel", then "Love Me Tender". Sullivan then addressed the audience as he stood beside Elvis, who began shaking his legs, eliciting screams from the audience. By the time Sullivan turned his head, Elvis was standing motionless. After Presley left the stage, Sullivan stated, "I can’t figure this darn thing out. You know. He just does this [Ed shakes his legs] and everybody yells." Elvis appeared a second time in the show and sang "Love Me". Later on, he sang a nearly four-minute long version of "Hound Dog" and was shown in full the entire song.

For the third and final appearance on January 6, 1957, Presley performed a medley of "Hound Dog", "Love Me Tender", and "Heartbreak Hotel", followed by a full version of "Don't Be Cruel". For a second set later in the show he did "Too Much" and "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again". For his last set he sang "Peace in the Valley". According to Sullivan's co-producer Marlo Lewis, the rumor had it that "Elvis has been hanging a small soft-drink bottle from his groin underneath his pants, and when he wiggles his leg it looks as though his pecker reaches down to his knee!"[27] It was decided to shoot the singer only from the waist while he performed. Although much has been made of the fact that Elvis was shown only from the waist up, except for the short section of "Hound Dog", all of the songs on this show were ballads. "Leaving behind the bland clothes he had worn on the first two shows", Greil Marcus says, Elvis "stepped out in the outlandish costume of a pasha, if not a harem girl. From the make-up over his eyes, the hair falling in his face, the overwhelmingly sexual cast of his mouth, he was playing Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik, with all stops out. That he did so in front of the Jordanaires, who this night appeared as the four squarest-looking men on the planet, made the performance even more potent."[28]

Sullivan praised Elvis at the end of the show, 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"[29]—a remark that could either be interpreted as a "ringing endorsement" that "legitimized the singer with an adult audience"[30] or as "a somewhat hypocritical statement considering what the CBS censors had just done to his performance on that show."[31] Eyewitness Jerry Schilling writes, "The way Elvis looked out at us at that moment, I thought I could see a mix of hurt over the attacks he’d been subjected to in the press, and a deep pride in who he was and what he was doing."[32] (According to historian Tim Parrish, Presley's manager, Colonel Parker, "had threatened to remove Elvis from the show if Sullivan did not apologize for telling the press that Elvis's 'gyrations' were immoral."[33]) Reflecting on the event in 1969, Presley claimed that Sullivan had expressed a very different opinion off-camera: "So they arranged to put me on television. At that particular time there was a lot of controversy—you didn't see people moving—out in public. They were gettin' it on in the back rooms, but you didn't see it out in public too much. So there was a lot of controversy ... and I went to the Ed Sullivan Show. They photographed me from the waist up. And Sullivan's standing over there saying, 'Sumbitch.' I said, 'Thank you, Ed, thank you.' I didn't know what he was calling me, at the time."[34]

Years later, Sullivan "tried to sign the singer up again... He phoned Presley's manager, Col. Tom Parker, and asked about a price. Parker came up with a list of instructions and conditions and after hearing the demands Sullivan said, 'Give Elvis my best—and my sympathy,' and he hung up."[19] The singer never again appeared in Sullivan's show, although in February 1964 at the start of the first of three broadcasts featuring the Beatles (see below), Sullivan announced that a telegram had been received from Presley and Parker wishing the British group luck.

The Beatles

The Beatles performing "Help!" in August 1965.

In late 1963, Sullivan and his entourage happened also to be passing through Heathrow and witnessed how The Beatles' fans greeted the group on their return from Stockholm, where they had performed a television show as warmup band to local star Lill Babs. Sullivan was intrigued, telling his entourage it was the same thing as Elvis all over again. He initially offered Beatles manager Brian Epstein top dollar for a single show but the Beatles manager had a better idea—he wanted exposure for his clients: the Beatles would instead appear three times on the show, at bottom dollar, but receive top billing and two spots (opening and closing) on each show.[35]

The Beatles appeared on three consecutive Sundays in February 1964 to great anticipation and fanfare as "I Want to Hold Your Hand" had swiftly risen to No. 1 in the charts. Their first appearance on February 9 is considered a milestone in American pop culture and the beginning of the British Invasion in music. The broadcast drew an estimated 73 million viewers, at the time a record for US television. The Beatles followed Ed's show opening intro, performing "All My Loving"; "Till There Was You", which featured the names of the group members superimposed on closeup shots, including the famous "SORRY GIRLS, HE'S MARRIED" caption on John Lennon; and "She Loves You". The act that followed Beatles in the broadcast was pre-recorded, rather than having someone perform live on stage amidst the pandemonium that occurred in the studio after the Beatles performed their first songs. The group returned later in the program to perform "I Saw Her Standing There" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand".

The following week's show was broadcast from Miami Beach where Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) was in training for his first title bout with Sonny Liston. The occasion was used by both camps for publicity. On the evening of the television show (February 16) a crush of people nearly prevented the band from making it onstage. A wedge of policemen were needed and the band began playing "She Loves You" only seconds after reaching their instruments. They continued with "This Boy", and "All My Loving" and returned later to close the show with "I Saw Her Standing There", "From Me to You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand".

They were shown on tape February 23 (this appearance had been taped earlier in the day on February 9 before their first live appearance). They followed Ed's intro with "Twist and Shout" and "Please Please Me" and closed the show once again with "I Want to Hold Your Hand".

The Beatles appeared live for the final time on August 14, 1965. The show was broadcast September 12, 1965, and earned Sullivan a 60-percent share of the nighttime audience for one of the appearances. This time they followed three acts before coming out to perform "I Feel Fine", "I'm Down", and "Act Naturally" and then closed the show with "Ticket to Ride", "Yesterday", and "Help!" Although this was their final live appearance on the show, the group would, for several years, provide filmed promotional clips of songs to air exclusively on Sullivan's program such as the 1966 and 1967 clips of "Paperback Writer", "Rain", "Penny Lane", and "Strawberry Fields Forever".

Although the appearances by The Beatles, Elvis and The Supremes are considered the most famous rock and roll performances on Ed Sullivan, several months before Elvis debuted, Sullivan invited Bill Haley & His Comets to perform their then-current hit "Rock Around the Clock" in early August 1955. This was later recognized by CBS and others (including music historian Jim Dawson in his book on "Rock Around the Clock") as the first performance of a rock and roll song on a national television program.

African-American artists

The Supremes

The Supremes performing "The Happening" live from Expo 67.

The Supremes were a special act for The Ed Sullivan Show. In addition to 14 appearances,[36] they were a personal favorite of Sullivan, whom he affectionately called "The Girls".[37] Over the five years they performed on the program, the Supremes performed 15 of their hit singles, and numerous Broadway showtunes and other non-Motown songs. The group featuring the most popular lineup of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard appeared 15 times from December 1964 through May 1967.

The group reappeared on the series in October 1967 as the newly rebilled "Diana Ross & the Supremes", with Ballard replacement Cindy Birdsong and Ross more prominently featured. The Supremes' final appearance on the show, shortly before it ended, served as the platform to introduce America to Ross's replacement, Jean Terrell, in March 1970.

Like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, there is a DVD of some of their appearances, "The Best of The Supremes on the Ed Sullivan Show".


In an era when few opportunities existed for African American performers on national television, 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 NEA 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.[38] 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 show included entertainers such as Frankie Lymon, The Supremes, Marian Anderson, Louis Armstrong, Pearl Bailey, LaVern Baker, Harry Belafonte, James Brown (and The Famous Flames),[39] Cab Calloway, Godfrey Cambridge, Diahann Carroll, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Bill Cosby, Count Basie, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis, Jr., Bo Diddley, Duke Ellington, Lola Falana, The 5th Dimension, Ella Fitzgerald, The Four Tops, Dick Gregory, W. C. Handy, Lena Horne, The Jackson 5, Mahalia Jackson, Bill Kenny, George Kirby, Eartha Kitt, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Moms Mabley, Johnny Mathis, The Miracles, Melba Moore, The Platters, Leontyne Price, Richard Pryor, Lou Rawls, Della Reese, Nipsey Russell, Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, The Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas, Ike & Tina Turner, Leslie Uggams, Sarah Vaughan, William Warfield, Dionne Warwick, Dinah Washington, Ethel Waters, Flip Wilson, Jackie Wilson, Nancy Wilson, and Stevie Wonder.

Before his death in a plane crash in December 1967, soul singer Otis Redding had been booked to appear on the show the following year. One telecast included African-American bass-baritone Andrew Frierson singing "Ol' Man River" from Kern and Hammerstein's Show Boat, a song that, at that time, was usually sung on television by white singers, although it was written for a black character in the musical.

However, Sullivan featured "rockers", and gave prominence to black musicians "not without censorship". For instance, he scheduled Fats Domino "at the show's end in case he had to cancel a guest". He presented Domino alone at his piano singing as if he were a young Nat 'King' Cole or Fats Waller, as he performed "Blueberry Hill".[40][41] On March 4, 1962 Sullivan presented Domino and his band, who did "Jambalaya", Hank Williams' "You Win Again", and "Let the Four Winds Blow". All seven of Domino's band members were visible to millions of viewers.[42] On December 1, 1957, Sam Cooke performed a complete version of "For Sentimental Reasons".[43] Cooke had been cut off four weeks earlier during a live performance of "You Send Me" as the show's allotted time expired, leading Sullivan to rebook Cooke for the December 1 show.[44]

The Muppets

Between 1966 and 1971, Jim Henson performed some of his Muppet characters on the show. The characters made a total of 25 appearances.

Henson's Muppets were introduced on The Ed Sullivan Show on September 18, 1966. 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. After the act was done, the Rock and Roll Monster shrunk back into the ball of fur which is then eaten by Sour Bird (who was previously used in a commercial for Royal Crown Cola).

Over the next few years, Henson's Muppets would make more appearances, with performances including:

Later performances by the Muppets include:


The show is also noteworthy for showcasing performances from numerous classic Broadway musicals of the era, often featuring members of the original Broadway casts. These include:

Most of these artists performed in the same makeup and costumes that they wore in the shows, often providing the only visual recordings of these legendary performances by the original cast members, since there were no network telecasts of the Tony Awards until 1967. (There are traditionally no Broadway performances on Sunday nights, allowing the actors to perform without impacting the Broadway show.) Many performances have been compiled and released on DVD as The Best of Broadway Musicals—Original Cast Performances from The Ed Sullivan Show.

Mental illness program

In that same 1958 NEA interview, Sullivan noted his pride about the role that the show had had in improving the public's understanding of mental illness. Sullivan considered his May 17, 1953, telecast to be the single most important episode in the show's first decade. During that show, a salute to the popular Broadway director Joshua Logan, the two men were watching in the wings, and Sullivan asked Logan how he thought the show was doing. According to Sullivan, Logan told him that the show was dreadfully becoming "another one of those and-then-I-wrote shows"; Sullivan asked him what he should do about it, and Logan volunteered to talk about his experiences in a mental institution.[47]

Sullivan took him up on the offer, and in retrospect believed that several advances in the treatment of mental illness could be attributed to the resulting publicity, including the repeal of a Pennsylvania law about the treatment of the mentally ill and the granting of funds for the construction of new psychiatric hospitals.

Film clips

Occasionally Sullivan would feature a Hollywood actor introducing a clip from a film in which he or she currently starred. Burt Lancaster made an appearance in 1962, speaking about Robert Stroud, the character he portrayed in Birdman of Alcatraz, and introducing a clip from the film. And although Olivier personally did not appear on the show, in 1966 Sullivan showed a clip from the Laurence Olivier Othello, the film version of which was then currently showing in New York.[48]


Bo Diddley

On November 20, 1955, African-American rock 'n' roll singer and guitarist Bo Diddley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, only to infuriate Sullivan ("I did two songs and he got mad"). Diddley had been asked to sing Tennessee Ernie Ford's hit "Sixteen Tons". But when he appeared on stage, he sang his #1 R&B hit song that bears his name. Diddley later recalls, "Ed Sullivan says to me in plain words: 'You are the first black boy—quote—that ever double crossed me!' I was ready to fight, because I was a little young dude off the streets of Chicago, an' him callin' me 'black' in them days was as bad as sayin' 'nigger'. My manager says to me 'That's Mr. Sullivan!' I said: 'I don’t give a shit about Mr. Sullivan, [h]e don't talk to me like that!' An' so he told me, he says, 'I'll see that you never work no more in show business. You'll never get another TV show in your life!'"[49] Indeed, Diddley seems to have been banned from further appearances, as "the guitarist never did appear on The Ed Sullivan Show again."[50]

Buddy Holly and the Crickets

On January 26, 1958, for their second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, Buddy Holly and the Crickets were scheduled to perform two songs. Sullivan wanted the band to substitute a different song for their record hit "Oh, Boy!", which he felt was too raucous. Holly had already told his hometown friends in Texas that he would be singing "Oh, Boy!" for them, and told Sullivan as much. During the afternoon the Crickets were summoned to rehearsal at short notice, but only Holly was in their dressing room. When asked where the others were, Holly replied, "I don't know. No telling." Sullivan then turned to Holly and said "I guess The Crickets are not too excited to be on The Ed Sullivan Show" to which Holly caustically replied, "I hope they're damn more excited than I am."

Sullivan, already bothered by the choice of songs, was now even angrier. He cut the Crickets' act from two songs to one, and when introducing them mispronounced Holly's name, so it came out vaguely as "Hollered" or "Holland." In addition, Sullivan saw to it that the microphone for Holly's electric guitar was turned off. Holly tried to compensate by singing as loudly as he could, and repeatedly trying to turn up the volume on his guitar. For the instrumental break he cut loose with a dramatic solo, making clear to the audience that the technical fault wasn't his. The band was received so well that Sullivan was forced to invite them back for a third appearance. Holly's response was that Sullivan did not have enough money. Film of the performance survives; photographs taken that day show Sullivan looking angry and Holly smirking and perhaps ignoring Sullivan.

Jackie Mason

On October 18, 1964, Jackie Mason allegedly gave Sullivan the finger on air. A tape of the incident shows Mason doing his stand-up comedy act and then looking toward Sullivan, commenting that Sullivan was signaling him. Sullivan was reportedly letting Mason know (by pointing two fingers) that he had only two minutes left, as CBS was about to cut away to show a speech by President Lyndon Johnson. Mason began working his own fingers into his act and pointed toward Sullivan with his middle finger slightly separated. After Mason left the stage, the camera then cut to a visibly angry Sullivan. Sullivan argued with Mason backstage, then terminated his contract. Mason denied knowingly giving Sullivan the middle finger, and Mason later claimed that he had never even heard of the gesture at that time. In retaliation, to protect the perceived threat to his career, Mason filed a libel suit at the New York Supreme Court, which he won.[51] Sullivan publicly apologized to Mason when he appeared on the show two years later, in 1966. At that time, Mason opened his monologue by saying, "It's a great thrill and a fantastic opportunity to see me in person again," and impersonated Sullivan during his act.[52] Mason never appeared on the show again.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan was slated to make his first nationwide television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on May 12, 1963, and intended to perform "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues", a song he wrote lampooning the John Birch Society and the red-hunting paranoia associated with it. During the afternoon rehearsal that day, CBS officials told Dylan they had deemed the song unacceptable for broadcast and wanted him to substitute another. "No; this is what I want to do," Dylan responded. "If I can't play my song, I'd rather not appear on the show." He then left the studio, rather than altering the act.

The Doors

The Doors performing "Light My Fire", September 17, 1967.

The Doors were notorious for their appearance on the show. CBS network censors demanded that lead singer Jim Morrison change the lyrics to their hit single "Light My Fire" by altering the line, "Girl, we couldn't get much higher", before the band performed the song live on September 17, 1967. However, Morrison sang the original line, and on live television with no delay, CBS was powerless to stop it.[53] They were never invited back to the show. According to Ray Manzarek, the band was told, "Mr. Sullivan liked you boys. He wanted you on six more times. ... You'll never do the Sullivan show again." Morrison replied with glee, "Hey man, we just did the Sullivan show."[54]—at the time, an appearance was a hallmark of success. Manzarek has given differing accounts of what happened. He has said that the band only pretended to agree to change the line but also that Morrison was nervous and simply forgot to change the line. The performance and incident was re-enacted in the 1991 biographical film, The Doors.

Sullivan apparently felt the damage had been done and relented on bands using the word "higher". The following year, Sly & the Family Stone sang a medley where Sly repeated the lyric "Wanna take you higher!"[55]

The Rolling Stones

In contrast, the Rolling Stones were instructed to change the title of their "Let's Spend the Night Together" single for the band's January 15, 1967, appearance. The band complied, with Mick Jagger and Bill Wyman ostentatiously rolling their eyes heavenward whenever they reached the song's one-night-only, clean refrain, "Let's spend some time together". Mick Jagger did not wear a jacket on their first appearance on the show (October 25, 1964) and this annoyed Sullivan. They were asked to appear again, but they were asked to wear jackets for their 1965 appearance. The Stones would ultimately play on the Ed Sullivan Show six times.[56]

In this context, it should be mentioned that Diana Ross & the Supremes, frequent guests on Sullivan's show, debuted their then-release and eventually controversial #1 hit song "Love Child" on Sullivan's show, but nothing about its title or its content about a woman in poverty having a child out of wedlock (which was exceptionally taboo to even mention on television at the time) seemed to faze Sullivan, the show's producers, or the network.[57]

Ratings history


9/09/1956: Elvis Presley's first appearance yielding a 82.6 percentage share, the highest in television history for any program and up to this date (2015). Viewers: 60.2 million Source: Trendex, the precursor of Nielsen.

2/09/1964: The Beatles's first appearance yielding a 45.3 rating. Viewers: 73.7 million Source: Nielsen.

Other noteworthy ratings

02/16/1964: 43.8 rating The Beatles's second appearance. Source: Nielsen.

09/09/1956: 43.2 rating Elvis Presley's first appearance. Source: Trendex.

Primetime specials

Date Title Network Rating Length
2/02/1975 The Sullivan Years: A Tribute To Ed CBS
2/17/1991 The Very Best of Ed Sullivan CBS 21.3 9–11pm (Competition: Love, Lies and Murder: Part 1 got a 15.5 rating)
11/24/1991 The Very Best of Ed Sullivan 2 CBS 17.1 9–11pm
8/07/1992 The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show CBS 9.4 9–11pm (The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The 20th Anniversary Show got a 6.1 rating at 8pm)
12/20/1992 Holiday Greetings from the Ed Sullivan Show CBS 14.3 9–11pm
5/19/1995 The Ed Sullivan All-Star Comedy Special CBS 8.2 9–11pm
7/14/1995 The Very Best of Ed Sullivan CBS 7.5 9–11pm
5/18/1998 Ed Sullivan's 50th Anniversary CBS 9.3 10–11pm


The show's immense popularity has been the target of numerous parodies. These include:


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  10. "Who Owns the Live Music of Days Gone By?". Retrieved 2007-03-12.
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  13. "Motown Gold From The Ed Sullivan Show". Retrieved 2011-09-13.
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  18. 1 2 Harris, Michael David (1968). Always on Sunday: Ed Sullivan, An Inside View. New York: Meredith Press. p. 116.
  19. 1 2 TV A-Go-Go: Rock on TV from American Bandstand to American Idol. Jake Austen. 2005. Chicago Review Press, Inc. ISBN 1-55652-572-9. page 16
  20. 1 2 3 4 Paul Mavis (Director) (2006). Elvis Presley – Ed Sullivan Shows (DVD). Image Entertainment.
  21. 1 2 "Official Press Release – Elvis Presley: The Ed Sullivan Shows". Elvis Australia. October 6, 2006. References DVD liner notes by Greil Marcus.
  22. Dundy, Elaine, Elvis and Gladys (University Press of Mississippi, 2004), p. 259.
  23. Altschuler, Glenn C. (2003). All Shook Up: How Rock 'n' Roll Changed America. Oxford University Press. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-19-517749-7.
  24. Content Elvis Episodes Of 'The Ed Sullivan Show' DVD Box By: Elvis Australia – Aug 9, 2006 Source: EPE. Retrieved October 18, 2007
  25. Altschuler, p.91.
  26. See Marlo Lewis and Mina Beth Lewis, Prime Time (1979), p.146.
  27. Marcus, "Elvis Presley: The Ed Sullivan Shows".
  28. "Content Elvis Episodes Of 'The Ed Sullivan Show' DVD Box". 2006-08-09. Retrieved 2011-09-24.
  29. See Altschuler, Glenn C., All Shook Up: How Rock 'n' Roll Changed America (2003), p.91.
  30. See Susan Doll, Understanding Elvis: Southern Roots vs. Star Image (1998), p.82.
  31. Jerry Schilling, Me and a Guy Named Elvis: My Lifelong Friendship with Elvis Presley (2006), p.45.
  32. Tim Parrish, Walking Blues: Making Americans from Emerson to Elvis (2001), p.214.
  33. "Elvis Talks About His Career", on "Live in Las Vegas" (RCA), cited by Greil Marcus, "Real Life Rock Top 10",, August 26, 2002.
  34. "Products Page | Ed Sullivan Show". Retrieved 2016-10-28.
  35. Kooijman, Jaap (2002). "From Elegance to Extravaganza: The Supremes on The Ed Sullivan Show as a Presentation of Beauty". The Velvet Light Trap.
  36. "Products Page | Ed Sullivan Show". Retrieved 2016-10-28.
  37. "Negroes" was the commonly accepted reference to African Americans at the time.
  38. "JAMES BROWN "Please Please Please" on The Ed Sullivan Show". October 30, 1966.
  39. "1956 Fats Domino - Blueberry Hill - Sullivan Show".
  40. Rick Coleman, Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock 'n' Roll (2007), p. 138.
  41. Rick Coleman, Blue Monday: Fats Domino and the Lost Dawn of Rock 'n' Roll (2007), p. 217, 218.
  42. "Sam Cooke-For Sentimental Reasons' The Ed Sullivan Show 12 01 1957". Retrieved January 12, 2016.
  43. "Top 5 Most Controversial Performances From The Ed Sullivan Show". Retrieved January 13, 2016.
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  45. Smith, Nathan (February 7, 2014). "10 Fun Facts About the Beatles' Ed Sullivan Debut". Houston Press. Retrieved 2014-02-10.
  46. "Big As All Outdoors" Time, 17 October 1955.
  47. "The Ed Sullivan Show (1948–1971) : Episode #19.20". Retrieved 2016-10-28.
  48. See Jake Austen, TV A-Go-Go: Rock on TV from American Bandstand to American Idol (2005), p.15.
  49. Austen, p.15.
  50. "Ed Sullivan Biography". Retrieved 2016-10-28.
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  53. "When the Doors Went on Sullivan". CNN. October 3, 2002. Retrieved 2009-05-22.
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  55. Uslan, Michael and Bruce Solomon. Dick Clark's The First 25 Years of Rock and Roll. New York: Dell, 1981. p. 181
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