TV Personality Ed Sullivan Is Born - 9/28/1901

US History |


On September 28th of 1901, Ed Sullivan was born in Harlem, New York City.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Sullivan worked as a sports writer for the New York Evening Graphic, but eventually replaced Walter Winchell as the newspaper's theatre columnist. Sullivan rivaled Walter Winchell in his star making abilities. Sullivan would eventually become a famous TV show host. 

Many people don't remember the show that made him famous, but Ed Sullivan hosted a popular TV series originally called The Toast of the Town, and later renamed The Ed Sullivan Show.

Despite the fact that his awkward, self-conscious demeanor made him look like a movie monster, people found him hugely appealing. Nevertheless, a critic named Harriet Van Horne reported that Ed Sullivan got where he is not by having a personality, but by having no personality. Ed Sullivan, ever the gentleman, kindly replied, “Dear Miss Van Horne, You Bitch. Sincerely, Ed Sullivan.”

Sullivan was a power player in the entertainment industry. An appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show could make or break a career. In a famous example, comedian Mort Sahl's career was destroyed when Ed Sullivan (not to mention the studio and home audiences) thought that Mort had flipped the bird. In fact, Mort had only gestured with his index finger. When Mort finished his act, Ed Sullivan came out from backstage looking visibly upset. Little was heard from Mort Sahl after that.

Other celebrities appearing on the show included The Beatles (with more than 70 million viewers tuned in), as well as Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, and Elvis Presley, who could only be filmed from the waist up, because his hip gyrations were considered too raunchy for family television in the fifties.

Sullivan was also noted for having the nerve to feature African American performers on his show, despite objections from the network's producers. These performers included Pearl Bailey, Nat “King” Cole, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Richard Pryor, among others. Sullivan was, after all, born in Harlem.

The show lasted for 23 years, from 1948 to 1971. In fact, The Ed Sullivan Show set a record for the longest running TV show in U.S. broadcast history. It was, in the opinions of many, the last of the great TV shows. Aside from famous guests, the show also featured many variety acts like dancers, jugglers, ventriloquists, and animals, as well as a recurring mouse puppet with an Italian accent whose name was Topogigio. 

Ed Sullivan died in 1974 at the age of 73, less than a year after his wife Sylvia died. He had been married to his wife for 43 years. They had one child, a girl named Betty, who died in 2014 at the age of 84.

In honor of Ed Sullivan, the theater from which he filmed his show was renamed The Ed Sullivan Theater. It had originally been a legitimate theater for plays, and then a radio station, and finally a TV broadcast theatre, complete with a studio audience. For 20 years, David Letterman hosted his own talk show from The Ed Sullivan Theater. 

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