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Remembering Ed Sullivan

Ken Foote

Every morning on my Facebook page, I post three items: some words of wisdom to get us through the day, a song, and then a link to a story of interest. Thanks to my colleagues at WCBS-FM 101.1 in New York City….THE greatest radio station on the planet….today's blog remembers Ed Sullivan.

Sullivan was a talent scout and newspaper columnist before he caught the attention of CBS executives, who were just beginning to launch the CBS Television Network. CBS signed Sullivan to host a weekly variety show. Originally known as The Toast Of The Town, the show premiered on Sunday, June 20, 1948. In 1955, the show was renamed The Ed Sullivan Show and became the longest running variety show until its final broadcast on June 6, 1971.

Sullivan had a keen eye for talent and for that day and time in history he was considered a risk taker as to who was signed to perform. Stars that appeared on the show included Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Doors, The Jackson 5, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, Pearl Bailey, Janis Joplin, and a host of others. The Doors with lead singer Jim Morrison performed their 1967 hit "Light My Fire" with a request from the producers that Morrison delete the word "higher" from the lyrics (referring to drugs). Morrison, in fine fashion, ignored that request and sang the song as written. Sullivan also signed the Beatles to multiple performances in 1964 that helped launch their first #1 hit, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand". Both the Beatles and The Doors performances were seen by over 50 million people each.

Rich Little, the famous comedian and impersonator, recalled a story to me when I met him several years ago. Sullivan, like a lot of hosts in that day, was a tough taskmaster. On the evening that Rich was supposed to be on the show, there was a huge snowstorm in the New York area. Since the show was live each week, people and acts that were booked were expected to show up on time (which meant show up early!). Well, as the story, the weather prevented Rich from getting there when he was supposed to (he made it on the air on time). When he arrived, Sullivan admonished him…"You're late!!!!!" Rich replied, "But Ed, there's a massive snowstorm out there! No planes or trains flying and hard to get here by car. What did you expect?" Sullivan replied, "You should have planned better!" Ok, Ed!

Ed Sullivan
(credit: WCBS-FM)

Sullivan wasn't like the hosts of today's versions of variety/realty shows who are handsome or drop dead gorgeous. He was a bit awkward on the air and the brunt of jokes as to how he spoke. But for having over 1000 shows over 23 years to his legacy, that's darn good. The show was cancelled in 1971 as CBS was making way for the upcoming social comedies like All In The Family and prime time movies. Ed always put on a realllly big show!!!

See you next time.

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