Yes he was one strange dude. Probably the most imitated voice of comic impersonators of the last sixty years. But, for my parents and my generation he was a weekly TV show we couldn’t miss.
Believe it or not, it still holds the record for the longest running variety show in US broadcast history. The show ran from 1948 to 1971. We didn’t have MTV, but Sullivan brought us the latest rock acts. We didn’t have Bravo, but Sullivan gave us jazz and classical acts. We didn’t have the comedy channel, but every great comedian appeared on the Ed Sullivan show.
There were many famous riffs between old weird Ed and the rock groups. Sullivan was a “live” show so it was important that you follow his rules or you wouldn’t be invited back. He had huge fights with Bo Diddly, Jim Morrison and the Doors, Bob Dylan, and Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Sullivan would tell the groups to change the words of their songs if he thought they were risqué.
Bob Dylan was to go on in 1963. He wanted to perform his “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.” During the rehearsal that afternoon, the song was rejected by Sullivan and the CBS Standards and Practices group. They told Dylan to do another song. Dylan told them to take the show and shove it. He never was invited back.
When the Doors were invited to sing their hit song, “Light my Fire,” Morrison was told by Sullivan to not sing “girl we couldn’t get much higher” and change it to “girl we couldn’t get much better.” Morrison agreed, but went on the live show and sang his original lyrics. They were banned from ever appearing again.
The same thing happened to Buddy Holly. The band was supposed to do two numbers. Buddy Holly wanted to do his hit song, “Oh Boy,” but Sullivan told him he thought the song was “too raucous” and he couldn’t do it. Holly said he had promised his fans we would do that song. Sullivan cut the act to just the one song and then introduced him as Buddy Haley and the Crickets. After the song was through, Sullivan walked over to Buddy Holly, like he did all the acts, and Holly turned away from him and refused to talk. I love the camera shot that still exists form that scene.
Most rock acts made their very first television appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Today is the anniversary of one of those historic “first” appearances. On this day in history, 1969, the first television appearance of the Jackson 5 was on Ed Sullivan.
The tape from that show was saved and here is one minute and 30 seconds.
Check out Michael: