b. Edward Vincent Sullivan, 28 September 1901, New York City, New York, USA, d. 13 October 1974, New York City, New York, USA. Sullivan hosted the most popular variety programme on US television during the 50s and 60s. He presented hundreds of the most important musical acts of the era to a wide audience; it was on The Ed Sullivan Show that most of America first saw Elvis Presley and the Beatles. Guest musical acts nearly always performed live, some backed by Sullivan’s orchestra, led by Ray Bloch.
Sullivan was one of seven children, and grew up in New York’s Harlem section until the age of five, when his family moved to the suburb of Port Chester, New York, north of the city. He had no particular desire to be an entertainer and took a job as a sportswriter with a Port Chester newspaper as a teenager. In the early 20s he was hired by the New York Evening Graphic newspaper in the city, and then by the larger New York Daily News in 1932. While at that paper he began hosting vaudeville shows, which led, in 1947, to an offer by CBS Television to host a new programme (at that time all television programmes were new, the medium having opened up at the close of World War II) called Toast of the Town. It debuted on 20 June 1948; he held on to his newspaper column as well. On 25 September 1955 the programme’s name was changed to The Ed Sullivan Show. On his show, Sullivan featured any kind of entertainment he thought would grab a portion of the viewing audience, from opera singers to jugglers, dancing chimps to pop groups. The programme became one of the highest-rated on American television, and was a Sunday night ritual for millions of Americans. Sullivan became a celebrity himself while his mannerisms and way of speaking became fodder for many comedians and impressionists.
Among the hundreds of musical artists to have appeared on the show, in addition to Presley and the Beatles, were Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland, Liberace, the Rolling Stones, the Doors and Ella Fitzgerald. (In 1990, the audio and video rights to some of those performances were leased, and compilation albums featuring music from The Ed Sullivan Show began to appear, a process that has continued into the DVD era.) The programme was broadcast for the last time on 6 June 1971.