If Ed Sullivan Is On, We Must Have School The Next Day

Ed SullivanThere’s a life lesson in there somewhere. It turns out that some very good things (e.g. The Beatles, Senor Wences, Elvis, Jackie Mason, crazy Chinese acrobats) can be immediately followed by the very sad realization that Sunday night is followed by Monday morning.

But the landmark moments of the show still make an impression….The Beatles in February of 1964, Elvis from the waist up (so that helpless teens were not carried off by Satan), Jackie Mason’s finger gestures (he eventually won a libel suit that found that he had not been giving Ed the finger), and the introduction of many African-American talents at a time when no one else was giving them a stage on which to perform.

He was the undisputable high priest of television entertainment from 1948 to 1971, despite the schmaltzy and downright inept delivery (he was terrible with names) everyone watched the show. Alan King noted that “Ed does nothing, but he does it better than anyone else on television.” So the really big “shoe” went on and on for 23 years. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were up and coming stars when they first appeared, but they might be sandwiched in between the ubiquitous acrobats and a ballerina. The mix of highbrow and lowbrow entertainment could at times be mind boggling (Van Cliburn back to back with the Ed’s little Italian mouse friend, Topo Gigio?), but the roster of performers is quite amazing. Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, Roberta Peters, Maria Callas, Pearl Bailey, Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, Sammy Davis Jr., Yul Brynner, Henry Fonda, Barbara Streisand, Elvis Presley, Milton Berle, Myron Cohen, and many other comics too numerous to mention. Take a look at this episode guide if you want a mind-blowing history of entertainment in the 50s and 60s.


As the sixties dawned, Sullivan not only brought the Ed and TopoBeatles to his stage, he also had the Rolling Stones, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Louis Armstrong, Diana Ross, The Supremes, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Four Tops, James Brown, B. B. King, Marvin Gaye, Ravi Shankar, Dick Gregory, Cass Elliott, and Roy Orbison.

Ed’s notion of broadcasting standards remained stodgy to the end however. Besides the Jackie Mason finger episode, there was the banning of the Doors after they sang “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher and the Stones had to change “Let’s spend the night together” to “Let’s spend some time together.”

Still, when I hear the phrase, “And now, right here on our stage..." or "For all you youngsters out there,” a lot of memories fall out of the closet that I call the back of my brain.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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