50 years later, ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ continues to charm and challenge

Between 1948 and 1971, millions of Americans had two dates on Sundays: church and “The Ed Sullivan Show” on CBS – a connection to the 1960 Broadway musical “Bye Bye Birdie” when it praised the show’s host in the Sunday Night issue. “

SOFA Entertainment purchased the variety show’s library in 1990, and last summer the company and Universal Music Enterprises teamed up to create an official YouTube channel “Ed Sullivan Show”, which provides daily downloads of “Ed Sullivan” music videos. To date, there are over 1,300, most of them with superb visual and audio quality.

“The goal is to stay true to the format of variety shows,” SOFA president Josh Solt said in a Zoom conversation. “So you’ll see rock, you’ll see jazz, new Broadway, magicians, amazing sports figures. Going back to the history of the series, we have a responsibility to organize all of these genres. “

Watching the live performances, it’s evident that the show and its clenched-jawed host – who, on the surface, was the personification of a square father figure – were trying to both reflect and define American pop culture from the mid-century in all its genius, idiosyncrasies and contradictions while playing with the concept of what constitutes a modern canon.

The show’s all-but-kitchen-sink approach endures to some extent in the “America’s Got Talent” reality show competition, which sparks similar surprises – you never really know what kind of act is going to follow. “The Ed Sullivan Show” last aired 50 years ago this month, and yet even now surfing his YouTube channel inspires a constant sense of discovery.

Here’s a look at the terrain he shattered, the fault lines he exposed, the bridges he built.

On a May 1968 show, the Supremes were in the middle of an Irving Berlin medley when Ethel Merman walked in and joined them during “You’re Just in Love”. The sight of the four women swinging together, sheathed in silver, sums up the very concept of a crossover.

It wasn’t new to the show: In 1955, Pearl Bailey provided a comedic commentary on the action while soprano Lily Pons sang two arias from the opera “Carmen.”

In all 36 joint appearances they’ve made over the years, married comedians Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara have explored gender relations. (A prescient 1966 routine even involved a couple who were “ideally associated with a computer.”)

They weren’t the only ones exploiting this fertile vein – just look for “marriage” in the canal. For every ba-dum-bump one-liner of Henny Youngman (“Take my wife, please”), there are counterattacks from actresses like Moms Mabley, Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers, who have all made no attempt to cover up the rage.

Three days after winning the 1969 World Series, the New York Mets showed up to sing “Heart” from the musical “Damn Yankees”.

On the show, black (and white, for that matter) performers often abandoned their assigned tracks. A good example is Harry Belafonte’s breathtaking 1962 rendition of Jimmie Rodgers’ galloping country song “Mule Skinner Blues”. You can also check out Vanilla Fudge’s now-forgotten cover of the Supremes classic “You Keep Me Hangin ‘On,” which was likely recorded on the Richter scale in 1968.

While the show was primarily broadcast from his studio on Broadway, it wandered at times, taking the show on the road to places like the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base and a Munich circus. In a notable example from September 1970, a Rare Earth performance of “(I Know) That I’m Losing You” by Temptations was filmed at the Baltimore Civic Center during the time of its “Holiday on Ice Spectacular.” Hence the full psychedelic trip of his diving crane shots and his battalion of skating dancers with multicolored wigs.

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The show literally took on the title of “The More I See You” by Peggy Lee: 12 seconds later, the camera begins to zoom in and doesn’t stop until Lee’s face fills the frame, staying there. until the end of the song. It sounds shocking these days, as if Sergio Leone is venturing into variety.

On August 16, 1969, Santana performed a wild set at Woodstock. Just two months later, he brought “Jingo” to “The Ed Sullivan Show”. The performance still feels inflammatory, but imagine what it must have been like to be Mr. and Mrs. Middle America watching these pioneering rockers and their Latin beats.

Only one lineup among hundreds: On March 8, 1970, the show’s guests included Nancy Sinatra, Bobby Vinton, Rodney Dangerfield and a medium. Soprano Joan Sutherland and mezzo Marilyn Horne were also on hand to present “Sì, Fino All’ore Estreme” to millions of homes.

Richard Pryor was in great shape when he last appeared on the show on November 1, 1970, talking about his family and childhood in Peoria, Illinois. “I was very scared of my father and the police – I turned very black when the police showed up,” he said, adding in his best imitation of a square: “Hello officer, can i help you dig myself? “

Long before Rosie O’Donnell became a Broadway booster, Ed Sullivan presented musical theater numbers. With so many important shows and artists of the time, these videos are the only way to get a real sense of what it was like to experience them live today. “West Side Story”, for example, had been playing on Broadway for two years when in September 1958, Ed Sullivan presented “this magnificent ballet, which is called ‘Cool’.” In December 1967, he invited Pearl Bailey to sing “Before the Parade Passes”, about a month after reprising the title role in “Hello Dolly!” On Broadway.

The Harlem Globetrotters used to be “Ed Sullivan” regulars, but the YouTube channel also lets us discover rival Harlem Magicians, performing some serious witchcraft here in 1957. The show also convinced Jackie Robinson to share batting advice in 1962 , the year he was elected. in the Baseball Hall of Fame.


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