The Ed Sullivan Show was one of the most popular shows of the Mid 20th century. It enjoyed consistently high ratings and a devoted fan base during its tenure on Television that spanned 24 seasons and racked up a total of 1068 episodes.
Even though the Ed Sullivan Show hasn’t been on the air since 1971, it still is worth taking a closer look at. After all, it had a major impact on advancing culture and the music industry. Careers and legacies were launched from its stage.
Let’s take a peek once again at one of the great gone-but-not-forgotten shows of yesteryear. There are certainly some things that you never knew about the Ed Sullivan Show that you would be absolutely shocked to discover. So let’s get down and dirty with one the most iconic variety shows of all time.
Facts Verse Presents: 16 Shocking Facts on The Ed Sullivan Show
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Make sure you stick around for the whole video. You wouldn’t want to miss the one about the time Ed Sullivan violently attacked one of his rivals in a Manhattan night club, now would you? Stay tuned for all the eyebrow-raising details, but first…
The Original Title For The Show Wasn’t The Ed Sullivan Show
When the show first debuted in 1948, Ed Sullivan wasn’t very well known, so they titled the show “Toast of the Town”.
Soon after its debut, the show had already developed quite a following and Ed had begun to make a name for himself. So much so in fact, many people started referring to the show as simply The Ed Sullivan Show.
Producers liked the way that sounded. It had a certain ring to it, so they swapped the name out and the rest is history.
Ed Was A Bit Socially Awkward
And that’s one reason why audiences loved him. We can relate to awkward. It’s actually refreshing to see someone every now and then that’s human like us.
He was kind of shifty, prone to nervousness, forgetful, and often flubbed his lines but none of that mattered to critics or viewers. It was this unique presentation, in opposition to the confident and charming frontmen that we were used to seeing on TV that made us keep coming back every Sunday evening for more.
He Helped Launch Many Music Legends
It was almost uncanny how Ed Sullivan was able to predict who would be superstars. It’s almost like he had a crystal ball or something, because week after week, he would have acts on his show that would prove to bring with them breakout performances that would catapult their acts into the global spotlight.
Ever hear of a little band called The Beatles? What About The Rolling Stones or The Doors?
And then there was Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and the Beach Boys – all of which paid very significant visits to Ed Sullivan’s stage and got major boosts to their blossoming careers.
The Show Saw Four Different Decades
Most shows are fortunate if they see more than a couple of seasons but The Ed Sullivan Show was lucky enough to see 24 seasons over a 23 year period. During that run, the show got to see every decade from the late 40s all the way to the 70s.
What a time to be on the air? The world saw some significant changes in those years and Ed was there for all of it.
38 Percent Of The US Population Saw The Beatles Premier
One of the most significant musical premiers to ever be featured on the Ed Sullivan show was The Beatles’ performance in 1964. Musical historians pinpoint this event as being the birth of Beatlemania and one of the most significant highlights of what would be deemed the British Invasion.
When the Beatles took the world by storm on that now-famous episode, they played before an audience of 74 million people. The US population was 191 million at the time, so more than 1/3 of the entire country got a taste of what those mop-tops had to offer.
It Aired Over 1000 Episodes
In fact, it aired 1068 full episodes. At an hour apiece, it would take you 44 & ½ days to watch every episode without taking a break or sleeping.
Even the Simpsons, which is often billed as one of the longest-running shows on television has only accumulated 639 to date.
Ed Died Of An Aggressive Form Of Cancer
Ed was a good man. He had a heart of gold and a great sense of humor. Few people had negative words to say about him. That’s what made his passing all the harder to reconcile with.
He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in September of 1974 and only one month later, he lost the fight to the debilitating and aggressive disease. He was 73 years old when he succumbed to the reality of his illness.
Rest in peace ED. You truly were one of the greats.
He Had Several Recurring Acts
Despite the fact that he had hundreds of world-famous guests grace his stage, he had several recurring performers that revisited the set time and time again to offer up their entertaining presentations. Two stand out acts that audiences became familiar with were Topo Gigio – Ed’s puppet sidekick – and Senor Wences the ventriloquist.
Stay tuned to learn more about Topo Gigio
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Ed Was An Outspoken Advocate For Mental Health Awareness
The 1950s were a time where people seldom talked openly about mental health. Ed Sullivan helped break down some of these walls and inspire healthy discussion of mental health and raise awareness of the fact that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of or condemned.
In 1958, Joshua Logan, the renowned Broadway director of South Pacific fame, sat down with Sullivan and openly discussed his past struggles with mental health and the time that he had spent at a mental institution.
This normalization of mental health through the lens of the television screen helped move along major advances in how the world views and treats mental illness by making it a subject that could be openly discussed without shame or fear.
Elvis’ Debut Broke Records That Still Stand Today
The world changed on the evening of September 9, 1955, when Elvis Presley took the stage of the Ed Sullivan show and brought rock and roll music into the mainstream.
Over 60 million people watched his performance and it received an 86.2 % share of viewership. That means that almost 9 out of 10 people that were watching TV in America were watching the Ed Sullivan show and Elvis shaking his hips.
Ed Sullivan Had A Wildly Diverse Guest List
It wasn’t just music superstars that took the stage on his show. Every kind of entertainer you can imagine paid a visit to the television heavy weight’s all-star program. Writers, dancers, comedians, circus folk, actors, artists, and you-name-it all took part in the cultural phenomenon that was the Ed Sullivan Show.
The Doors Incident
In 1967, Jim Morrison and the Doors took to Ed’s Stage to perform their hit song “Light My Fire”. The song features the lyric “Girl we couldn’t get much higher” but network big-wigs insisted that he tone it down a bit with the words “Girl we couldn’t get much better”
Jim refused to censor his own music and sung the original lyrics despite the fact that they were an obvious reference to drug use. It’s no surprise that the network had a thing or two to say after he uttered those taboo words on live national television. They were in fact livid, but we’re guessing that Jim couldn’t have cared less. Like the true rebel rockstar he was, he not only sung the original lyrics, but he did so loudly in a very exaggerated kind of way to make a point.
The band subsequently was banned (no pun intended) from ever appearing on the show again.
Ed Sullivan Attacked A Man At A Club
Although Ed would later become known for being a family man and the face of sensibility, in his younger years he still had some fight left in him.
Sometime in the 40s, he let his tiff with columnist Walter Winchell get the better of him in the bathroom of the infamous Stock Club.
According to Jerry Bowles, Sullivan grabbed ahold of Winchell and forcefully plunged his face into the bottom of the urinal while repeated pulling the flush lever. Apparently all that Winchell could do during the assault was make what Bowles described as ‘sobbing noises’.
Topo Gigio Was Ed’s Favorite Guest
We briefly touched on how Topo Gigio was a popular recurring guest of the show but the mouse puppet was in fact Ed Sullivan’s favorite visitor. The Italian audience thought that he was hilarious and a bit of a cultural icon. Many people don’t know that Topo got his start in 1961, in a feature-length film entitled The Magic World Of Top Gigio, some 2 years before he found his way on the Ed Sullivan show.
The Ed Sullivan Theater
The theater and stage that was the original location of the Ed Sullivan Show was honored by being given his name to honor his years of service on television. The Ed Sullivan Theater was the home of the Late Show with David Letterman from 1993 to 2015 and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is filmed there to this day.
It Was The Longest Running Variety Show In History
Running from 1948 to 1971 earned the Ed Sullivan show the honor of being the longest-running variety show in television history. Despite the fact that it clinched that title for decades, it would eventually run out of steam and face the ax of cancellation.
After the show was gone, network execs tried out many different shows to capture the magic that was left vacant by the shows times-slot, but nothing really ever could compare to what the Ed Sullivan Show did for Sunday evenings.
Well, that wraps up our revealing look at The Ed Sullivan Show. What do you think about Ed’s love affair with Topo Gigio the Italian mouse puppet? There’s nothing on TV like that these days for sure.
Now it’s time to hear from you. It’s clear that Ed Sullivan helped springboard many artists and musicians careers straight into the limelight. Who do you think was Ed Sullivan’s most significant musical guest? The Beatles or Elvis Presley? Let us know what you think in the comments section.
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