Happy Birthday Ed Sullivan 

US #4414j – from the Early TV Memories Sheet

Legendary TV personality Ed Sullivan was born on September 28, 1901, in Harlem, New York City.

Sullivan grew up in a musical household, with someone always singing or playing the piano.  Sullivan was a gifted athlete, playing football, basketball, baseball, and track.

While in high school, Sullivan wrote sports news for The Port Chester Daily and was hired full-time after graduation.  Over the next decade, he continued to work as a sports writer and editor for a series of different newspapers.  Then in 1929, he was made the Broadway columnist for The Daily Mirror.  During this time he would also do show business broadcasts on the radio.  In 1933, he wrote and starred in the film, Mr. Broadway.

US #4414j – Fleetwood First Day Cover

Sullivan soon earned a reputation as a star-maker, while continuing to write, produce vaudeville shows, and organizing benefit concerts.  He was also made the host of the Summer Silver Theater variety program in 1941.

In June 1948, Sullivan was hired to host a weekly Sunday night variety TV show called Toast of the Town (it would later be renamed The Ed Sullivan Show in 1955).  Initially, Sullivan and his show received poor reviews, with some complaining he had no personality and was awkward.  Sullivan soon won over viewers, however, as the “average guy” bringing them entertainment in their homes.  Sullivan had an instinct about what people liked and managed to create an interesting balance for the show.  An episode would usually include a vaudeville act, a comedian, a singer, a jukebox star, a theatre performer, an athlete, and a visit with Topo Gigio, the Italian mouse puppet.

US #4414 honors 20 legendary shows from TV’s golden age.

Sullivan is often called a star-maker because many of the guests on his show became household names after their appearances.  One of the most famed performances was that of Elvis Presley.  In early 1956, Sullivan swore he’d never allow Presley on his show.  However, after learning that Elvis’ performance on the Steve Allen Show drew higher audience ratings than his own, Sullivan had a change of heart.  Presley was paid $50,000 for three shows, more than any entertainer had ever been paid to perform on a network variety show.

Item #M10462 – Elvis 75th Birthday Collection

Sullivan then wanted to be the first to debut the next big sensation, and he found it – The Beatles.  They made their debut in February 1964, and it was the most-watched TV program in history up to that time.

US #3188o – from the Celebrate the Century Series

Soon Sullivan became a star himself, with comedians earning laughs for their impressions of him.  He also inspired a song in Bye Bye Birdie and appeared as himself in the film adaptation.

In all, The Ed Sullivan Show ran for 24 seasons, totaling 1,068 episodes.  Among the most notable performances were the Jackson Five, The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, The Doors, and Ray Charles.  You can read about other notable performances hereThe Ed Sullivan Show has been called “the last great TV show,” and “one of our fondest, dearest pop culture memories.”

US #4807 – from the Music Icons Series

Despite its long-time popularity, The Ed Sullivan Show began to drop in ratings and was canceled in 1971.  Sullivan was so upset over the canceling, he refused to do the final show.  In 1974, Sullivan’s family discovered he had esophageal cancer, but didn’t tell him.  He died weeks later on October 13, 1974.  3,000 people attended his funeral.

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  1. The Wonderful World of Disney started a 1/2 hour earlier than the Ed Sullivan Show which cut into his viewership. I remember this as I got to get up and change the channel. haha.

    1. I was there on the den floor in front of a black and white TV to watch the Beatles
      debut! It was something and a really special show and I also watched World of Disney .

  2. The Toast of the Town was our go-to Sunday night program on TV that we never missed. I, too, saw the program where the Beatles frst appeared. What I loved most about that night was when the camera occasionally panned to catch the reaction of the normally staid audience. Not staid that night; everybody there went absolutely wild. Fun to see.

  3. I find it funny that we act like diversity is a modern thing. Ed Sullivan was the king of diversity, and had so many different races, sexes, whites, blacks, hispanics, males, female etc on his show, and did not have to make a fuss or brag about it. I believe his motives were more pure than our modern day and he simply lived it.

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