ED SULLIVAN

Born Edward Vincent Sullivan, 28 September 1901 (some sources say 1902), Harlem, New York City, New York
Died 13 October 1974, New York City, New York

Ed Sullivan hosted the most popular variety programme on US television between 1948 and 1971. He presented hundreds of the most important musical acts of the era to a wide audience ; it was on The Ed Sullivan Show that most of America first saw Elvis Presley and the Beatles. Guest musical acts nearly always performed live, some backed by Sullivan's orchestra, led by Ray Bloch. The show became one of the highest-rated programmes on American television and was a Sunday night ritual for millions of Americans.

Sullivan began as a journalist. It was his column in the New York Daily News that launched him as an emcee of vaudeville revues and charity events. This role led to his selection to front a regular televised variety show, which debuted on 20 June 1948. Known as the Toast of the Town until 1955, it became The Ed Sullivan Show, in September of that year. According to CBS president William S. Paley, Sullivan was chosen to host its Sunday night program because CBS could not hold anyone comparable to Milton Berle, "Mr. Television" in those days. Ironically, Sullivan outlasted Berle in large measure because of his lack of personality. Berle came to be identified with a particular brand of comedy that was fading from popularity. On the other hand, Sullivan simply introduced acts, then stepped into the wings.

Ed Sullivan's stiff physical appearance, evident discomfort before the camera, and awkward vocal mannerisms (including the oft-imitated description of his program as a "reeeeeelly big shoe") made him an unlikely candidate to become a television star and national institution. But what Sullivan lacked in screen presence and personal charisma he made up for with a canny ability to locate and showcase talent. More than anything else, his show was an extension of vaudeville tradition. In an era before networks and channels attempted to gear a program's appeal to a narrow demographic group, Sullivan was obliged to attract the widest possible audience. He did so by booking acts from every spectrum of entertainment - performers of the classics such as Itzhak Perlman, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev ; comedians such as Buster Keaton, Bob Hope, Henny Youngman, Joan Rivers, and George Carlin ; singers like Elvis Presley to Mahalia Jackson, Kate Smith to the Beatles, and James Brown to Sister Sourire, the Singing Nun. Poets and artists shared the spotlight with dancing bears and trained dogs. Sullivan's program was a variety show in the fullest sense of the term. While he was not so notable for "firsts", Sullivan did seem to convey a kind of approval on emerging acts. Elvis Presley and many other performers had appeared on network television before ever showing up on the Sullivan program, but taking his stage once during prime time on Sunday night meant more than a dozen appearances on any other show. Sullivan was noted for his support of civil rights. At a time when virtually all sponsors balked at permitting black performers to take the stage, Sullivan embraced Pearl Baily over the objections of his sponsors. He also showcased black entertainers as diverse as Nat "King" Cole, Leontine Price, Louis Armstrong, George Kirby, Richard Pryor, Duke Ellington, Richie Havens and the Supremes. Sullivan attempted to keep up with the times, booking rock bands and young comedians, but by the time his show was canceled in 1971 he had been eclipsed in the ratings by "hipper" variety programs like Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, and the Flip Wilson Show. Sullivan became victim to his own age and CBS's desire to appeal to a younger demographic, regardless of his show's health in the ratings. He died in 1974.

Since it ended in 1971 no other program on American television has approached the diversity and depth of Sullivan's weekly variety show. Periodic specials drawing from the hundreds of hours of Sullivan shows as well as the venue of The Late Show with David Letterman continue to serve as tribute to Sullivan's unique place in broadcasting. Ed Sullivan remains an important figure in American broadcasting because of his talents as a producer and his willingness to chip away at the entrenched racism that existed in television's first decades. In 1990, the audio and video rights to some of the performances on the Ed Sullivan Show were leased, and compilation albums featuring music from the show began to appear in the USA. Adapted from http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/S/htmlS/sullivaned/sullivaned.htm More info: http://www.tvtome.com/tvtome/servlet/ShowMainServlet/showid-1156/ (Includes episode list). Book : A Really Big Show : A Visual History of the Ed Sullivan Show. Text by John Leonard. Edited by Claudia Falkenburg and Andrew Solt. New York : Viking Studio Books, 1992.

 
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