Monday, October 10, 2011
The Ed Sullivan Show
I usually got home from church in time to catch the last half of the show. My favorites were the comedians. Jackie Mason, Shecky Green, and probably Ed's most frequent guest, Allan King. Some of the comedians specialized in impersonations, which has become almost a lost art today. Frank Gorshin was a particularly good impressionist, and he did an impression of Ed himself that was extremely funny. Frank later went on to play The Riddler in another favorite TV show, Batman. Another great impressionist was David Frye, who did a side-splitting impression of LBJ and later, President Richard Nixon. And of course, we all were introduced to a clean-cut young man named George Carlin, who gave us the character of Al Sleet, the Hippy Dippy Weatherman.
For those who think their job comes with a lot of stress, I suggest viewing this video of one of Ed's regular guests, Erich Brenn the Plate Spinner. Ed was known for his novelty acts, whether it be the Plate Spinner, an animal act like the Berosini Chimps, or the perennial favorite Senor Wences and his creative hand puppet.
And speaking of puppets, Ed Sullivan introduced the world to a very talented young man named Jim Henson, who created a unique world inhabited by creatures he called Muppets. When The Muppets first appeared on Ed Sullivan, they were a somewhat darker and slightly ominous troup, who's skits usually ended with one or more of the Muppets being eaten. Here's a clip of an early Muppet routine featuring their version of the song Manah-Manah.
Perhaps the most unique novelty act of all was Topo Gigio. Ed eventually became a part of the act whenever Topo was on the show, and it was actually kind of sweet when Topt would request, shyly, "Edddddie.......keees me goodnite."
Of course, everyone of my generation knows that in 1964, American was introduced to The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. You see, kids, there once was a group of four young men from Liverpool, England who sailed across the ocean an conquered America, long before anyone ever thought of Lady Gaga. In this clip of their first appearance, the near pandemonium of the young females in the audience is evident. The producers conveniently superimposed the name of each Beatle over their image on the screen, adding to John's name the information, "Sorry girls; he's married."
We also cracked up at the antics of two musical brothers, Tom and Dick Smothers. The Smothers Brothers combined skillful folk singing with a recurring comedy theme of Tom's jealousy over his mother's favoritism toward his brother. Later on, the brothers got their own show on CBS, but as their politics became more radicalized, their show was eventually cancelled.
By 1971, America had grown tired of the variety show format, and The Ed Sullivan Show was cancelled. But a generation had grown up with Ed, and countless performers had established their careers there. There's never been a show like it since.