30 Facts You Never Knew About Ed Sullivan

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Ed Sullivan provided a platform for everyone’s enjoyment. It didn’t matter what age range or interest his audience came with, he’d provide a little something for everyone. We’re going to present some Ed Sullivan facts you would have never seen coming.

Toast Of The Town

Before the show was famously titled as The Ed Sullivan Show, it went by the name Toast Of The Town. It only kept this name for a few years before the fan literally forced the change. They soon realized that Ed Sullivan was the star and the man behind all the TV magic, so they started calling it The Ed Sullivan Show.

Ed Sullivan Was Awkward

While you expect a show to be well rehearsed with the perfect amounts of charms and humor, Ed Sullivan didn’t have any of this and this is why people loved him. He’d read lines the wrong way, get nervous around guests and would be just a little shifty. His lack of confidence made him a fan favorite for folks around America to watch

He Had An Ear For Musical Fads

Ed Sullivan had an ear for musicians who would become the next musical sensations. He has quite the track record for giving bands their first big breaks. Back in the early 1950’s when big bands were beloved, Ed put Elvis Presley of his show and introduced the world to Rock n’ Roll. He also gave bands like The Beatles, The Doors, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys their first big breaks.

Four Decades Of Ed Sullivan

Over the years, television shows come and go and are usually lucky to cover 80% of a single decade. The Ed Sullivan show saw four decades. His run time started in the late 1940’s and ended in the early 1970’s. Its twenty-two-year runtime makes it one of the longest-running shows of all time. It covered the post World War 2 America, all the way to the last few years of the Vietnam war.

Sullivan Brought The Beatles To America

So he didn’t fly them here with his own cash, but he did agree to have them on his show when they were very little known on this part of the world. A little over half of the country tuned into his show that night. America in 1964 had a population of only 191 million people and over 74 million were watching the Ed Sullivan Show. That was the night Beatlemania was born in the United States.

 

He Raised Awareness About Mental Illness

Mental illness is such a hot topic these days. Way before it was a common topic of discussion and debate, Ed Sullivan was bringing it up on his show. There is one episode where he talked with a guest about his time in a mental institution. The conversation on this episode is believed to be a big help in shining a light on mental illness within America. Ed Sullivan was very proud knowing that he made such a big contribution.

 

Banning The Doors

Sullivan could hold a grudge like no other. A perfect example of this is when he had The Doors on his show in 1967. Their big hit at the time was Light My Fire. Producers wanted the band to change some of the lyrics so that they appeared cleaner and the band agreed to do so. That said, when they went on stage to perform they changed nothing and kept all the original lines. Ed Sullivan then decided to ban them from the show for life. They were just another name on a list of celebrities who were banned from the show.

Ed Sullivan Vs Buddy Holly

Perhaps Ed Sullivan’s ultimate showdown was with Buddy Holly in the 1950’s. Holly was determined to play “Oh Boy” but Ed felt it was a bit too suggestive for the audience. While Holly was preparing to play, Sullivan waddled up to him and asked him if he’d mind playing a different song. Holly refused and went on with his newest hit. Sullivan wasn’t going to let him get away with that, not without a little retribution. When he went to introduce Holly, Sullivan mispronounced his name.

Opening Doors For African Americans

In a time when African Americans had few opportunities, Ed Sullivan was being ahead of his time by giving them interviews and performance time. This is something even MTV would avoid doing when they came out in the early 1980’s. Ed had on his show James Brown, Louis Armstrong, The Jackson 5 and The Supremes. While some of America would complain and demand he stop showing them, Sullivan continued without a care.

A Comedian’s Struggle

Comedic legend, George Carlin made his first public appearances on the show and actually wrote about it in his autobiography. “The Ed Sullivan Show’s worst weapon of torture was that it was live. There were no second takes on Sullivan. During your set, Ed would stand onstage over to stage right. Out of camera range but onstage. So the entire audience never watched the comic. They were watching Sullivan to see if he would laugh. And he never did. Playing comedy to the Sullivan audience was agony. You’d get more laughs in a mausoleum.”

Ed’s First Love

Ed Sullivan got married in 1930, but a few say he never got to be with his true love. In the 1920’s he was engaged to Sybil Bauer, an Olympic swimmer who won the gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke in 1924. While the two were engaged, they never made it down the alter as her life was quickly taken by cancer when she was just 23. This was an event that changed Ed Sullivan forever.

Sullivan’s Second Chance At Love

In 1930, Sullivan got married to Sylvia Weinstein. The couple dated for three years before tying the knot in a City Hall office. The reason for this low key wedding was due to Weinstein’s family not agreeing with her marrying Sullivan. She was Jewish and he was a Catholic. For a while, she fooled them by saying she was dating an Ed Solomon, but her brother eventually found out the truth and exposed him. He family’s disapproval didn’t stop her from marrying him though and they were together for over 40 years.

The Ritz Brothers

The Three Stooges were huge throughout Ed Sullivan’s time on air. In the 1940’s they were known the world over and by the 1960’s they were living legends. After their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, they shocked the world by saying that Ed didn’t have the best memory.  He introduced them as The Ritz Brothers but later corrected himself by saying, “who look more like the Three Stooges to me.”

 

Tigers Gone Wild

One of Sullivan’s toughest acts came in the form of animal tamer Clyde Beatty. Upon entering Sullivan’s studio, he let Sullivan know that the stage was too small for his Tiger act. Sullivan told him to go along with it anyway. During the show, disaster ensued as the Tigers lost control and started for the audience. Thankfully, Clyde was able to get everything under control. They left the incident out of the DVD hits collection.

 

Ed’s Daughter

In 1930 Ed Sullivan and his wife Sylvia had one child, a girl named Betty. Although she wouldn’t live up to her father’s fame, she did still have quite a good life. In the 1950’s she’d marry a Navy serviceman and would become a Navy wife. In 2014 she passed away at the humble age of 83. Pictures above is Betty at the age of twenty.

 

The Topo Gigio Sensation

Amongst Sullivan’s favorite and most treasured guest was Topo Gigio, a little mouse puppet that would make frequent appearances on the show. When he made his first appearance in 1963, he was already a very popular force in Italy. Appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show made the little puppet a worldwide sensation. They even a made a movie about him called The Magic World of Topo Gigio.

 

Sullivan Takes It To Winchell

Back when Sullivan was columnist he had a heated rivalry with Walter Winchell, a fellow columnist. Seems he took things a little too far one night at the Stork Club. Jerry Bowles wrote about it in his autobiography. “Sullivan grabbed Winchell, held his head firmly in the bottom of a urinal and ‘gleefully pumped the flush lever’ while his victim uttered ‘sobbing noises.’”

Sullivan’s Impact On Civil Rights

Ed Sullivan had a tremendous impact on the Civil Rights movement. Not only did he stand for equality, but he fought for equality by putting a number of African Americans on his show. Diahann Carroll spoke to her daughter on the issue and stated that she owes a lot of her success to Ed Sullivan. He got a lot of backlash from a bulk of the country but refused to give in and continued doing what felt right. Caroll’s daughter has a documentary in the works that will talk first had about his impact on black culture.

Sullivan Meets Bardot

Brigitte Bardot was a huge deal in France back in the 1960’s. She was one of their biggest stars. It was during the late 1960’s that she crossed over to international films. Given her blonde bombshell appearance, Sullivan figured she’d be the next big deal, so in 1966 she was a guest on The Ed Sullivan Show. She did a singing number that blew the crowd away.

Jayne Mansfield’s Ed Sullivan Breakthrough

Jayne Mansfield has stated that it was only after her 1957 Ed Sullivan appearance that she felt like a real national star. She had just released the Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and a slew of other films. Her career was finally blooming and she could feel it. Ed Sullivan was just the man she needed to push it that extra mile.

Sullivan And The Finger

Back in 1964, comedian Jackie Mason once had a six-appearance contract for $45,000. This was sadly tossed out by Ed Sullivan after one appearance. During his performance, Sullivan held up two fingers which signaled that he had two minutes left. It was at this moment that Mason gave Sullivan the finger and then began giving the finger to everyone in the crowd saying, “Here’s a finger for you and a finger for you and a finger for you.” Sullivan immediately tore up the contract and threw him out. The two would later go on to patch things up.

 

Sullivan’s Dog, Bojangles

One of Sullivan’s favorite guest that he has ever had on the show was his friend Bill Robinson. He so loved him that he named his family dog Bojangles. Below is a 1955 picture that shows Sullivan, his wife and their 25-year-old daughter with Bojangles. He was no normal dog, but a prized poodle who was beautifully trained and knew all sorts of tricks.

 

Turned Down By Burt Reynolds

Back in 1966, Sullivan offered Burt Reynold a chance to appear on the show. At the time, Burt was starring in a show called Hawk and Sullivan really loved this show. Reynolds declined the offer because he didn’t feel he was big enough to be on the show. This broke Sullivan’s heart and Burt Reynolds has stated in recent years that he highly regrets not doing the spot.

The Rural Purge

The masses of America aren’t coastal and they used to be the demographic that television companies aimed for. That changed when Fred Silverman’s began to manage daytime television. He brought on a rural purge that ended any show that was aimed towards rural audiences. He felt The Ed Sullivan Show was one of these and took it off air in 1971. He also put an end to shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres and Hogan Heroes.

Ed Never Liked Elvis

Ed Sullivan never liked Elvis. The music, the dancing, and the jiggling hips all came across as vulgar to him. That said, when Steve Allen had Elvis on his show, Ed knew he couldn’t miss out on the opportunity and had him on three times. On Elvis’ third appearance, Producers instructed the cameramen to shoot him from the waist up so that they could avoid his dance moves.

The Second Ed

There is only one Edward Sullivan, but William Jordan comes pretty close. He has a lot of the trademark looks of Ed Sullivan and has played him in five movies ranging from 1978 to 2003. You can catch his unique performance in films like The Doors, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, The Buddy Holly Story, Mr. Saturday Night and Down With Love.

The Sullivan You Never Met

In the world of television and variety shows, Ed Sullivan is a legend. No other variety show host in TV history has reached the heights of Ed Sullivan. That said, there could have been two Ed Sullivan’s. He had a twin during the first few months of his life but unfortunately, the twin passed away before their first birthday. The loss of his brother is said to have had a profound impact on him.

Playing With A High Fever

The Beatles may have had a lackluster performance if not for the willpower and determination of George Harrison. Right before appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, George got a bout of tonsillitis and was running up a fever of 102. George was in no way about to miss the performance though. This was the Beatles’ big chance to take America and he was going to be a part of it.

The Muppets

Most don’t know this, but the Muppets actually got their start on The Ed Sullivan Show. Seeing as Ed was always bad with names, he introduced Jim Henson’s Muppets as Jim Newman’s Muppets. Between 1966 and 1971, the Muppets made a shocking 25 appearances on the show. They proved to be a big hit.

Ed’s Feuds

While his most notable feud was no doubt with Walter Winchell, there were a number of other people who crossed his path and rubbed him the wrong way. He couldn’t stand the legendary crooner Frank Sinatra. The two of them had a heated feud. Amongst them were Nat “King” Cole, Jack Paar and Arthur Godfrey.

Ed’s Writing Career

Ed Sullivan skipped out on his family’s wishes for him to go to college and decided he’d rather work in the newspaper industry. From 1918 until 1932, Sullivan would find himself working at several different newspapers. His name was printed in papers like The Port Chester Daily Item, Hartford Post, the New York Evening Mail, New York World,  New York Morning Telegraph, The Philadelphia Ledger,  World and Bulletin, New York Evening Graphic and finally The New York Daily News.

The Curtains Closed

In 1974, Ed Sullivan became the victim of a fast working cancer. It happened suddenly and while he was still fresh in everyone’s mind. Tom Smothers said this about Sullivan, “Ed Sullivan was almost like a non-host. He didn’t have all the slick moves and stuff. But what he gave you was entertainment in its purest form. No ulterior motives, no hidden agenda. Just unadulterated presentations from the best performing artists of the time.”

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