Ed Sullivan, who died 40 years ago today, was best known for a variety show that often featured popular music acts, including this week’s featured video with Buddy Holly. In fact, he is remembered for his role in the careers of The Beatles, Elvis Presley and others.
Sullivan originally did not want to book Elvis on his show due to fear of scathing criticism from the nation’s media due to the artist’s bumps and grinds. Then on July 1st, 1956, Elvis appeared on NBC’s new Steve Allen Show, which aired opposite CBS’s The Ed Sullivan Show. Due to the backlash from Presley’s second and last performance on The Milton Berle Show, Allen decided to dress Elvis in a tuxedo and have him sing “Hound Dog” to a basset hound. While many of Elvis’s teenaged fans may not have appreciated the comedic intent of the song (Elvis personally hated it), The Steve Allen Show crushed Ed Sullivan in that week’s ratings. On Monday, Ed Sullivan sent Steve Allen a telegram reading: “Steven Presley Allen, NBC TV, New York City. Stinker. Love and kisses. Ed Sullivan.”
By Monday morning Ed Sullivan caved and decided to book Elvis on his Sunday night showcase. Sullivan and Colonel Parker agreed to have Elvis appear three times for the then mind boggling sum of $50,000, the highest amount ever paid to a performer to appear on TV. Ironically, before Elvis had appeared nationally on television, Sullivan had turned down the opportunity to book Elvis on his show for $5,000. He passed on the opportunity, because he wasn’t sure that Presley would be a good fit for his show’s family audience. But after getting trounced in the ratings by Steve Allen, Ed had to concede and he paid dearly. It would be a show business marriage made in ratings heaven.
A month before Elvis’s Sullivan debut, Ed was involved in nearly fatal automobile accident that left him hospitalized for weeks. By the time September 9th, 1956 rolled around, Ed was still recovering from his injuries and was unable to host Presley’s historic appearance. British actor Charles Laughton hosted the show from Ed’s New York studio and introduced Elvis to the television audience. “…and now, away to Hollywood to meet Elvis Presley!” 60 million viewers were transported to CBS Television City in Los Angeles for Elvis Presley’s performance of “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Love Me Tender,” the latter being the title song of his first Hollywood feature film.
Voting continues in our annual Grooveyard Greats listener poll. You can vote daily for your 10 favorite songs of 1960 here through Thursday, and select your 10 favorite songs of 1955 and earlier here. And join us each Thursday at 9 PM on . . .