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The John Lennon Series
by Jude Southerland Kessler

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Reference Library: The Ed Sullivan Show

From: (saki)
Subject: Re: Ed Sullivan on TV-Land
Date: Tue, 9 Dec 1997 18:36:26 GMT

In article <>, Neohippie <> wrote:

Not another channel I don't have! Dang it!

The only episode of Ed Sullivan I've seen is the onle they had on Nickelodeon once that featured The Doors.

Ed Sullivan was such a dork. The only good part was the part with the Doors, the rest of it was just stupid. I'm glad they made him mad like they did. Heh heh heh.

Well, there's more to Mr. Sullivan than meets the eye. :-) Though it may not be readily apparent to those who see him these days, raised on a rich heritage of MTV and its offspring.

I suppose the impression may well be that Ed was rather dorky, or silly, or only for old folks or whatever.

Entire families watched Ed; it was clean, entertaining fun, full of comics, impressionists, magicians, singers (classical as well as pop, with a distinct emphasis on Broadway, a genre dear to Mr. Sullivan's heart). It wasn't specifically teen-oriented, of course, like "American Bandstand" in the States or "6.5 Special" and "Oh Boy!" in the UK. But it wasn't such a bad venue to learn about all kinds of popular music.

Of course there were also the inevitable tumblers and plate-twirlers. You wouldn't think that a fellow who kept thirty ceramic plates revolving on the ends of narrow wooden sticks would be much of a draw, would you? But it certainly livened up an otherwise dull Sunday night, with school or work looming large on the gloomy horizon. :-)

Mainstream audiences learned what Mr. Sullivan thought was funny and entertaining, and those who could never hope to travel to London or New York could hear a fine comedic routine or segment of a West End or Broadway musical, just as if they were really there...which sure beat the plane fare at the time.

Ed branched out into rock and roll occasionally, even though it had the potential of frightening the mainstream with revolutionary performers (full of the devil's work :-) like Elvis and Buddy Holly.

I can't emphasize enough what a service Ed provided in bringing these fellows into ordinary people's homes. It's hard to believe now, but rock-and-roll really was seen in some remote quarters as the epitome of evil, and even in general it was hardly considered to be something character-building, nor necessarily good for America's teens.

By emphasizing what decent, hard-working boys Elvis and Buddy and their ilk really were, and how professional and talented were their public personae, Ed convinced many people across the nation (many of whom had turned to him for tip-top entertainment ever since he hosted "Talk Of The Town" beginning in 1948) that such music was perfectly benign and even enjoyable.

He did the same for the Fabs; watch or listen to a copy of that scintillating broadcast and you'll hear how impressed he was with these fine British "youngsters". :-)

The Beatles' debut was right in line with this sort of presentation. Ed was interested in new pop phenomena, and had a premonition (while watching the hoopla which swept through Heathrow on 31 October 1963, upon the Fabs' return from their Scandinavian conquest) that the Beatles were worth picking up.

Then, when Brian Epstein independently contacted Ed during a business trip to New York in November 1963, Ed's interest was already reasonably piqued. Brian had to do a minimum of convincing!

But Ed didn't forsee the ensuing events of late 1963 and early 1964, when the Beatles, independent of promotional plans by Capitol and EMI, began to make waves in the American charts. By the time Beatlemania swept our shores, this special Sullivan show was the most eagerly anticipated event of the season. And Ed, one may well argue, better understood the value of his "find" than Jack Paar did a month earlier. :-)

Ed's first show featuring the Fab Four was developed nominally around a British theme, but the supporting cast (including Davy Jones singing the part of the Artful Dodger...yes, *that* Davy Jones; Tessie O'Shea, an ebullient British music-hall performer; and various American comics and foreign entertainers, including a truly reprehensible Swedish tumbling act) was left behind in the stardust once the Beatles took to the stage.

View this show now, in its entirety, and you'll clearly see past pop-music history being wrung out to dry. The Beatles, in their vivid newness, swept away everything else on the program. The weeping girls in the audience give testimony to the unorthodox, unanticipated tsunami of the British Invasion, which was at work that night in its most sea-tossed form.

Millions (need I repeat the numbers?) of Americans felt the turn of the tide. And we have Ed to thank for helping us *see* what we had, till then, only felt through the music.

Of course the Boys were talented too. :-)

Had their music not stood up to the test of those first electric moments on American TV screens, we might have no such memories of their first stark images in humble black-and-white, as they brought American viewers to their knees.

That evening in February 1964 seared a vision in the minds of many of us, some of us not mainstream at all but impressionable pre-teens whose musical tastes were being fashioned even as that show burst forth from the ubiquitous screen.

The Beatles, thankfully, were embraceable as musicians alone, as they are today. But the visual element taught us the shock of the new, and their debut on Ed Sullivan was a cosmic event shared by youth as well as oldsters, by the savvy as well as the dorky. :-)

In the few minutes of their performance, the Fabs taught America where to look for the future of pop music...even those doubters who had never heard its message put quite that way before that indelible evening.

I'm very grateful to Mr. Sullivan for that!

"I'm going down to Liverpool to do nothin', all the days of my life...."

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