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I used to watch this program sometimes when I was growing up.
Technically,of course, it is light years out of date--no flashy special
effects, no elaborate staging, nothing except a host that acts like
either a marble statue come to life, or a cold fish (take your
choice!), and singers(pop and otherwise), actors, dancers, comedians,
classical music virtuosos (such as then 13-year old Itzhak Perlman) and
acrobats simply "doing their thing".
I took it for granted then. I didn't realize that we were sometimes seeing rare, priceless footage that we would seldom, if ever, see again in the future, and that it contained such gems as original cast performers singing the hit songs from legendary Broadway classics such as "My Fair Lady", "West Side Story", "Camelot", and "Man of La Mancha"-in full costume, yet. I always thought, "Well,we have the albums,and there's no reason these segments wouldn't be rerun someday. Besides,we'll have the film versions of the shows,so who needs to be so eager to catch the Broadway performers?"
How wrong I was.
Because, up until the advent of video remastering and restoration, and the invention of the VCR, these shows disappeared, apparently gathering dust in the CBS archives because modern-day programming and technology had made them seem so old-fashioned. Now they are back. Some years ago,Disney had the foresight to issue a video called "The Best of Broadway Musicals from the Ed Sullivan Show", and this priceless tape, which has since been transferred to DVD, contained Julie Andrews singing "Wouldn't It Be Loverly?", Andrews and Richard Burton singing "What Do The Simple Folk Do?", Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert singing "Tonight",Richard Kiley singing "The Impossible Dream",etc. And recently, when Ed Sullivan was broadcast on Nick-At-Nite,not only was Kiley shown singing this song, but we were also given the rare treat of seeing the original Aldonza/Dulcinea, Joan Diener, singing the lovely "What Does He Want of Me", a song omitted from the film version of "Man of La Mancha".
That is the kind of program this was.
"THE TOAST OF THE TOWN"-aka-"THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW"-Produced by CBS-TV.
First Telecast of the Series: June 20, 1948; Last Telecast of the
Series: June 6, 1971 The Black and White Episodes: 1948-1965; The Color
Episodes(Telecast): 1965-1971. *** This was television's
longest-running variety show that was in fact a Sunday Night
institution for the 23 years that it ran for the CBS Television
Network. This was a hugely successful variety program that really put
the spotlight on some of the greatest entertainment acts of the 20th
Century. In other words,the ultimate variety show and this was the show
that set the standard for other variety-oriented shows that were to
follow,and to put it bluntly,Ed Sullivan was one of the founding
forefathers of the variety show concept,and he was not only the master
of his craft,but a living legend in the history of television. This was
the program that was the family get-together every Sunday evening and
this was a show that had it all....where you saw a mixture of variety
acts which consisted of comedy,music,drama,and animal acts and not to
mention poetry,all in one brilliant hour-long show. From its premiere
episode on June 20,1948,Ed Sullivan's first television program
consisted a headliner-which featured the comedy duo of Jerry Lewis and
Dean Martin(making their television debut)along with composers Richard
Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. The format for the show was soon
established and it would set the standard for his show for the next
three decades. Sullivan would tried to present something to please
everyone each week. Thus a typical evening's fare might include an
"acrobatic act","a couple of comics","a recording star","an aria by an
operatic performer",and "the best of Broadway" not to mention ballet
and folk tunes from other countries.
In perspective,Ed Sullivan knew talent when he saw it and did his best to promote it that is if you made a big impression and if you did that,he would have you on his own show. From some of the thousands of performers who would make their mark on his show that would appear from time to time,ranging from Bob Hope to Frank Sinatra to Albert Schweitzer and other notables making their television debuts on The Ed Sullivan Show were Irving Berlin,Cab Calloway,Louis Armstrong,Nat King Cole, Victor Borge,Hedy Lamarr,Walt Disney,Fred Astaire and Jane Powell not to mention Hollywood greats like Peter O'Toole,Clark Gable,and John Wayne. Two acts however,deserve special attention,for they attracted some of the largest television audiences of the time:Elvis Presley and The Beatles. Elvis Presley made three appearances on Ed Sullivan's show and the ratings were the highest ever recorded for a weekly variety show in the history of television. His first appearance on September 9,1956,featured Presley singing the hits,"Don't Be Cruel","Love Me Tender",and "Hound Dog". He appeared again in two more shows on October 28,1956 and his last appearance on the show was January 6, 1957. Also it should be noted that Ed Sullivan was the first television host to feature African-American performers on his program,which at a time when network programming would not allow. It was during the decade of the 1950's and throughout the 1960's that Ed Sullivan introduced a lot of African-American talent on his show,especially during the early years of his show where he brought on such greats as Louis Armstrong,Cab Calloway,Nat King Cole,and such great rock and roll legends as Fats Domino,Little Richard,Chuck Berry,and not to mention some of the greatest groups of all time like The Five Satins, The Platters featuring Tony Williams,and newcomers at the time like Sam Cooke,Jackie("Mr. Excitement")Wilson,and Frankie Lymon. But the most famous of all of the talented African-American groups came from Motown,and Ed Sullivan during the 1960's had a lot of them on his show. The most successful of the Motown groups of the era consisted of Diana Ross and The Supremes,whom by the way made four appearances on Ed's show not to mention others like The Temptations,Stevie Wonder,The Jackson Five,The Four Tops,Martha and The Vandellas,The Miracles featuring Smokey Robinson,Marvin Gaye,and so much more. And lets not forget some famous performers that became famous almost overnight,thanks to Ed Sullivan. Other talented African-American performers included Della Reese,Ray Charles,James Brown,Pearl Bailey,opera singer Leontyne Price,and other groups like The Fifth Dimension and along with Broadway sensation Leslie Uggams,and singers Dionne Warwick,Aretha Franklin,Gladys Knight and so many more.
The biggest event of The Ed Sullivan Show came on February 9,1964. On that magical night,73 million viewers,and the ratings soared overnight,the highest ratings ever recorded in the history of the program and to the executives over at CBS,saw one of the breathtaking events ever presented in the history of television. On the magical night audiences saw for the first time four young individuals from Liverpool, England change the course of music history. On the television sets,audiences were tuned in when Ed Sullivan utter these words:
"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN..................THE BEATLES!!!!!!!!!!!!"
The rest they say is history. However,The Beatles would make three appearances on Ed's show from their first appearance in February of 1964 to the last appearance in March of 1965. This was the start of the British Invasion,and his show had them all....From The Rolling Stones, Garry and the Pacemakers,The Zombies,The Animals,The Kinks,to legends like Tom Jones and Dusty Springfield were making their mark on the Ed Sullivan Show,and it opened the floodgates for more British rock groups,and more important,rock acts became a regular feature of the show for the remainder of its run. This was also the setting for its non-British acts too like The Girl Groups like The Ronettes,to Lesley Gore and not to mention others like The Beach Boys and country music singers was added in some of the segments. There was also some controversial groups as well that appear on the show. In 1967,Jim Morrison's The Doors make an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and the censors and studio executives at CBS were watching. In 1971,due to low ratings,The Ed Sullivan Show was cancelled.
I watched a video of the Ed Sullivan show. It was entitled "Red, White, and Blue." It was a patriotic compiled tape which everybody in America should own. I was born after the show's cancellation so I never saw the original. But I can tell you after watching this tape, it was probably one of the best television shows of all time. In this tape, they have the great Henry Fonda doing the first Lincoln address. Dame Judith Anderson reciting the Gettysburg Address. Carl Sandburg offers the Lincoln Birthday address and the great Charlton Heston gives the second Lincoln inauguration speech. There are great musical numbers with Dale Evans, the West Point crew, and Kate Smith singing "God Bless America." They also have Joel Grey singing "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Grey's not James Cagney but it's worth seeing. This short video tape is only an hour long from Sofa Entertainment. Now if you are a history teacher, an American patriot, American lover, or just patriotic, this tape is worth the money. I bought 2 copies and gave it to history teachers that I know of. It's also worth buying for your home.
I must say that I have become immersed in watching reruns of this awesome television classic as of late. Everything about it is great. It is my opinion that highlights of its series run include guest appearances by Elvis Presley, The Beatles and The Doors. Ed Sullivan was always a truly great and cordial host and it's very easy to see why this show is so fondly remembered even today.
Ed Sullivan always had brilliant timing. He came along as a gossip
columnist and writer for the New York Daily News, as people were
starting to tire of Walter Winchell. And he basically chased Winchell
from his seat at the top of the newspaper world with his "Little Old
New York" columns.
But also, at that same moment, television was in its infancy, and someone had to create programming for people to watch. Sullivan was a smart choice to use as a host, as he was already known by and equally aware of most of the stars of the day. So, he could easily cull performers to appear.
"The Toast of the Town," as the show was first called, eventually to be named after the host, was to be a showcase of the acts that were worthy of attention. And Sullivan, like the maestro he was, orchestrated every episode to provide something for every family member: comics, music, a performance from Broadway, something from Carnegie Hall or the Metropolitan Opera, a novelty performer like a juggler or acrobat, an act that appealed to the kids. It was the very definition of "Variety."
But beyond the performances of the day, Sullivan also frequently brought in politicians, sports figures, news makers who weren't in the entertainment business and did brief softball interviews with them, which made the program not just a variety show, but a record of what was going on in the country at the moment of that episode's airing.
The program was the original "Must See TV" and was popular right from the start, but Sullivan himself was parodied for his stilted delivery and rigid appearance on camera. Being of good humor about it, he frequently booked impressionists who did impersonations of him as a part of their acts. Notably Will Jordan, who appeared on the program, eventually played the role of Sullivan in Billy Joel's video for his song "Tell Her About It."
Ed Sullivan was a true visionary, knowing what acts were on the verge of success and giving them the push to launch them into orbit! The down side was he was very strict about keeping the program "family oriented," and as the rock era began with Elvis Presley and eventually The British Invasion, he often forced musicians of the day to change their lyrics, wardrobe, act so that they didn't offend the sensibilities of "Middle America." And performers frequently, if not begrudgingly, kowtowed to Sullivan because they knew what it meant for their careers: Everyone in the United States would see them perform on the program, a literal "Overnight Success."
Eventually, tastes changed, and Fred Silverman, television programmer extraordinaire, decided that 1971 was the year to end the series. Though Sullivan did return for a few specials after the program's cancellation, the window onto this slice of twenty plus years of the 20th Century remains as a document, an historic record of the time, and notably collections of clips from the program have become treasured for their capturing performances of the superstars of yesterday, from when they were just starting their legendary careers.
Toast of the Town was another Sunday night specialty of CBS. What a
great show that was with Daily News syndicated columnist, Ed Sullivan,
headlining a memorable show. The show was produced by his son-in-law
Ed always gave an opportunity for has beens to be on. Who can forget Senor Wenses, the mime? He had the last laugh by dying over the age of 100 several years ago.
Remember the various imitations of Sullivan? The imitators would clasp their hands or stretch them. They'd always say that we have a really big "shoe" here.
Ed would never forget those stars of yesteryear from his audience. A brief segment would be devoted to having a star of the past stand up in the audience when their name was called. I remember Lillian Roth's name being called out and she stood up. This was either around the time that her biography "I'll Cry Tomorrow" came out or when the great film starring Susan Hayward came out.
What made "The Toast of the Town" so good was the variety of acts that came out. Obviously, Sullivan spared no expense in hiring show people.
The show began with a rousing dance routine with a great theme played. "The Toast of the Town" was a great part of the New York scene of the late 1950s and 1960s.
It was officially called "Toast of the Town", but to most of us it was
simply "The Ed Sullivan Show." If I recall correctly, it came on Sunday
nights, in glorious black and white. We always looked forward to seeing
his show. Sullivan himself was not much to look at, in fact it is safe
to say most would consider him 'funny looking.' Nor did he have a
particularly good speaking voice. One of his catch phrases, 'we're
going to have a really big show' came out 'a really big shoe.' That's
the way he pronounced words. But regardless of his personal lack of
charisma, Ed Sullivan knew how to bring in the big stars.
One of them was Elvis Presley before he became wildly popular. In fact, being on the Ed Sullivan show was perhaps the biggest springboard to his success. But there was a problem with Elvis, his hips moved just too much, were considered far too suggestive for this family program, so the TV cameras showed Elvis only above the waist.
Ed Sullivan also got the Beatles in the early 1960s, when they were still relatively unknown in the USA. I don't know if he was the first, but his show certainly went a long way towards introducing America to this group from England. And the rest, as they say, is 'history'!!
I've been watching reruns of this show and it is just great!! The music, comedy everything is awesome. I wish there was a show like that around now!!! I can't believe I'm the first one to comment on this great show
(sorry for my bad English) I am interested in find the episode 816 of
1/3/1965. I am Spanish and in this episode was appeared the Spanish
singer Carmen Sevilla. Carmen Sevilla born in Sevilla in 1930, she is
in the actually a famous showman in the TV of my country. She was
appeared in films with Richard Kiley and Charlton Heston and she filmed
in 1961 King of kings. She was an important singer of traditional and
pop Spanish music at the 50 and 60's decade and she was to Hollywood at
the Paramount studies in 1956. I wait your answer and your resolution.
This is very important for me trouble this program because is
marvellous and a bid entartaimente. Thank you. Best Regards from Spain.
A truly energizing and fun DVD. Almost doesn't seem real that life was
ever so innocent and filled with joy and confidence. These shows bring
back an incredible time in American history and popular culture. You
can almost re-live these experiences ( the way we all did when we saw
this on television ) when the world changed it's axis at the precise
moment Ed Sullivan threw out his arm and and we saw - for the first
time - the Beatles! And the world was theirs!
And we were all better for it - and more connected than ever.
A minor footnote:
A performance from the Broadway production of "Oliver!" features a very young (and professional) Davey Jones who less than three years later would be the "cute one" in an absurd children's show called "The Monkees" - a supposed take-off on the Beatles.
Overall, the shows presented here give us a view of what real live television was like - and when there actually was a curtain on the stage. The auditorium where the historic events took place can still be visited in New York, is still in use as a production facility, under the name " The Ed Sullivan Theatre ".
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