June 20, 1948: Toast of the Town premieres. From 1949 until its cancelation in 1971, the show ran, although the name changed, on CBS every Sunday at 8 PM. The hour long show was one of the few to have the same weekly time slot on the same network for over two decades. Every type of entertainment appeared on the show from opera singers and ballet dancers to rock and roll artists and comedy acts. There were dramatic presentations and circus acts. It was widely called the show’s host’s name before the official change to the Ed Sullivan Show on September 25, 1955. For this first year, the show began at 9 PM and was still an hour long.
On the debut program, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis performed as did Monica Lewis. The Broadway composers Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein previewed the score to their new show, South Pacific which opened on Broadway in 1949. The show was broadcast via live television from the Maxine Elliott Theatre in New York City. Eventually, it moved to its permanent home at CBS-TV Studio 50 which was renamed the Ed Sullivan Theater on the show’s twentieth anniversary. The last original show (#1068) was broadcast on March 28, 1971. Repeats were scheduled through June 6, 1971. The show was cancelled while in repeats.
Sullivan booked new talent to his show but he also had some repeating characters who showed up on a more regular basis such as Topo Gigio, an Italian mouse puppet, and Señor Wences, a ventriloquist. Most of the shows were live from New York, but Sullivan also traveled to locations and broadcast from Great Britain, Australia, and Japan. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, it was a family ritual to gather around the television set on Sunday nights and watch whatever Ed could bring our way. In the early years, it was all black-and-white, but TV changed and in 1965, CBS began televising in compatible color or dot-sequencing color systems which used a signal similar to the black-and-white systems, sending each dot in succession.
The most frequent performers on the show were there 58 times – the Canadian comedy team of Wayne & Shuster. Itzhak Perlman was introduced to America at the age of 13 and rode the wave of popularity to new heights, remaining even now as one of the world’s most famous violinists. Elvis Presley (who brought in 60 million viewers) and his wild dance moves appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show as did many bands from the British invasion led by The Beatles (who had 73.7 million Americans tuned in). The Supremes were aired 14 times and a were personal favorite of the show’s host. It wasn’t just humans made famous; Jim Henson also brought the Muppets to the show with various characters arriving 25 times. The list of guests is far too long to give everyone mention, but … Thanks, Ed. You made sure we saw them all.
If you do a good job for others, you heal yourself at the same time, because a dose of joy is a spiritual cure. It transcends all barriers. – Ed Sullivan
Ladies and Gentlemen…The Beatles! – Ed Sullivan
The little fella in front is incredible. – Ed Sullivan talking about Michael Jackson following the first performance by The Jackson 5 on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Before even discussing the possibility of a contract, I would like to learn from you, whether your young men have reformed in the matter of dress and shampoo. – Ed Sullivan’s response to a request by The Rolling Stones’ manager for a contract for a second appearance by The Stones on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Also on this day: Lizzie Borden Took an Axe – In 1893, Lizzie Borden is acquitted of murder.
Fort William – In 1756, the fort was attacked and 146 prisoners taken – the Black Hole of Calcutta.
Communication is Key – In 1963, a hot line was set up between the US and USSR.
Great Seal of the United States – In 1782, the Great Seal design was adopted.