Ed Sullivan Biography

(Legendary Host of the TV Variety Show 'The Ed Sullivan Show')

Birthday: September 28, 1901 (Libra)

Born In: Harlem, New York, United States

Ed Sullivan was an American TV personality and impresario. He is best remembered as the creator and host of his self-titled variety show on 'CBS,' recorded as the longest-running variety program in American TV history. He, however, began his career as a sports and ‘Broadway’ journalist. Sullivan then ventured into radio and explored a completely different form of entertainment. With 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' he had introduced numerous talents to the world, most notably, Elvis Presley, 'The Beatles,' Woody Allen, Jackie Mason, Phyllis Diller, 'The Singing Nun,' Richard Pryor, and the duo ‘Rowan and Martin.’ One of the greatest starmakers in the history of the entertainment industry, Sullivan also went against racism and encouraged "black" artists on his show. Sullivan continued to entertain America till his final years.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Edward Vincent Sullivan

Died At Age: 73


Spouse/Ex-: Sylvia Weinstein

father: Peter Arthur Sullivan

mother: Elizabeth F. Smith

children: Betty Sullivan, Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Sullivan Precht

Born Country: United States

Talk Show Hosts Newspaper Columnists

Died on: October 13, 1974

place of death: New York, United States

Cause of Death: Esophageal Cancer

Ancestry: Irish American

City: Harlem, New York

U.S. State: New Yorkers

  • 1

    What was the significance of The Ed Sullivan Show in the history of television?

    The Ed Sullivan Show was a groundbreaking variety show that featured a wide range of entertainment acts, making it one of the most influential programs in television history.

  • 2

    Who were some of the most famous musical guests to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show?

    Some of the most famous musical guests on The Ed Sullivan Show included The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, and The Supremes.

  • 3

    How did The Ed Sullivan Show contribute to the popularity of rock 'n' roll music in the United States?

    The Ed Sullivan Show played a key role in popularizing rock 'n' roll music in the US by featuring performances by iconic artists and bands, introducing the genre to a mainstream audience.

  • 4

    What impact did The Ed Sullivan Show have on the careers of the artists who appeared on the show?

    The Ed Sullivan Show provided a platform for artists to reach a national audience, often leading to increased record sales, concert bookings, and overall fame for those who appeared on the show.

  • 5

    Why was The Ed Sullivan Show known as "The Toast of the Town?"

    The Ed Sullivan Show was originally known as "The Toast of the Town" because of its reputation for showcasing top talent and providing a platform for a wide range of entertainment acts.

Childhood & Early Life
Sullivan was born Edward Vincent Sullivan, on September 28, 1901, in Harlem, New York City, to Elizabeth F. and Peter Arthur Sullivan. His father served as a customs house employee.
Sullivan held 12 letters in four varsity sports from 'Port Chester High School.' He played football, basketball, and baseball. He was also a sprinter in track.
An uncle of him had offered to sponsor his college education, but Sullivan was not interested in further studies. He ventured into journalism instead.
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As a Journalist
Sullivan began as a part-time sports news journalist for a local newspaper named 'The Port Chester Daily Item' and was appointed full-time following his graduation. In 1919, he earned a job at 'The Hartford Post,' which became defunct in his first week of appointment.
Sullivan began working as a sports reporter at 'The New York Evening Mail,' which closed its operations in 1923. He eventually earned jobs with 'The Philadelphia Bulletin,' the ‘Associated Press,' 'The Morning World,' 'The New York Bulletin,' 'The Morning Telegraph,' and 'The Leader.'
In 1927, Sullivan was hired as a sports writer and was later promoted to the position of editor for 'The Evening Graphic.' Newspaper gossip columnist Walter Winchell, who had joined 'The Daily Mirror' in 1929, made him a ‘Broadway’ columnist.
Sullivan became the ‘Broadway’ columnist for 'Little Old New York' of the 'New York Daily News.'
Entertainment Career
Sullivan wrote and starred as himself in the 1933 pre-Code comedy film 'Mr. Broadway,' which marked the beginning of his lifelong rivalry with Winchell. Winchell had produced 'Broadway through a Keyhole,' which had a similar plot.
He made an appearance in the 1939 mystery feature 'Big Town Czar.'
Moreover, Sullivan, the new starmaker, began operating from the 'El Morocco' nightclub in New York, which was quite close to Winchell's 'Stork Club.' Sullivan rose to be more popular than Winchell.
Sullivan directed a radio program for 'WABC' (now 'WCBS'). In 1941, he produced the stage play 'Crazy with the Heat' on ‘Broadway.’ That year, he hosted the 'CBS' variety show 'Summer Silver Theater.'
In 1948, Sullivan was roped in for the 'CBS' Sunday-night variety show 'Toast of the Town,' which eventually became the iconic 'The Ed Sullivan Show.' Sponsored by 'Emerson Radio,' the show was a huge success.
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'Toast of the Town' premiered at the 'Oscar Hammerstein Theater,' which was later named after Sullivan.
The sponsors were not satisfied with the production of the show and hence took it off the air. Sullivan's show resumed when 'Lincoln-Mercury' came on board as the sponsor.
Sullivan's new show was heavily criticized. Critics slammed his awkward mannerisms, labeling him a patient of Bell's palsy. On the other hand, the key to Sullivan's iconic success was that he never outdid the skills of the guests on the show.
An example of Sullivan's great sense of humor was how he encouraged impressionists such as John Byner, Johnny Carson, Joan Rivers, Frank Gorshin, Rich Little, and Will Jordan to mimic him and his mannerisms on the show.
In 1954, Sullivan co-hosted the TV special 'General Foods 25th Anniversary Show: A Salute to Rodgers and Hammerstein,' aired on 'DuMont,' 'CBS,' 'NBC,' and 'ABC.' He was featured in a commercial for 'Kodak' cameras set in 'Disneyland' (1959) and a print ad for 'Western Union' telegrams. In 1955, he appeared in and narrated a trailer for 'Guys and Dolls.'
Sullivan was the creator of the TV biographies for Rogers and Hammerstein, Helen Hayes, Beatrice Lilley, Walt Disney, and Cole Porter. He also created TV specials such as 'The Story of ASCAP,' 'The Story of Samuel Goldwyn,' and 'The Story of Robert E. Sherwood.'
Sullivan was initially skeptical about inviting Elvis Presley to his show because of his "bad boy" image. However, Presley's growing fame altered his decision, and eventually, the audience saw Presley making three appearances on the show.
When Sullivan got to know more about Presley, he commented: "This is a real decent, fine boy."
Unfortunately, Sullivan and Presley's collaboration failed to stir a sensation in the TV industry. The next huge appearance on the show was that of the English rock band 'The Beatles.' However, back then, the band was not too successful. Hence, Sullivan was apprehensive about signing the group. However, he eventually did so, after legendary impresario Sid Bernstein persuaded him.
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On February 9, 1964, 'The Beatles' made their first appearance on Sullivan's show. The ratings shot up, making it the most-watched program in TV history at that time. The group performed 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' and 'She Loves You' on the show, which popularized the band worldwide.
‘The Beatles' delivered three more appearances, which marked the beginning of their historical success.
Sullivan encouraged delivering live music performances on his show rather than lip-syncing to pre-recorded tracks, which was a trend back then. Another unique element of the show was his use of catchphrases, which eventually got added to the American vocabulary.
Going against the prevailing practice of racial discrimination in the entertainment fraternity, Sullivan encouraged and appreciated African–American talent on his show. In 1951, he wrote an article for 'Ebony,' opposing such ill practice and asked: "Can TV crack America's color line?" For the first time in TV history, he hired an African–American dancer as part of his crew.
Sullivan also popularized country and Western music by featuring more of Nashville performers.
Apart from hosting his show, Sullivan had made appearances on programs such as the 'CBS' sitcom 'Mr. Adams and Eve' (1958) and the 'CBS' panel show 'What's My Line?' (1958). He had also filled in for the variety show 'The Red Skelton Show' (1961).
A song in the 1963 stage musical 'Bye Bye Birdie' took inspiration from Sullivan and featured him in its film adaptation.
Toward the end of 1965, 'CBS' started taping Sullivan's show to broadcast in the Pacific and Mountain time zones. This was when the network had just started to air color episodes of its weekly programs. By 1971, the ratings of the show dropped drastically. Thus, 'CBS' canceled it in March that year. This infuriated Sullivan.
The channel requested Sullivan to shoot a final episode, which he turned down. However, he made a few appearances for the network and hosted an anniversary special episode in June 1973.
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Personal Life & Death
Sullivan was briefly engaged to 'Olympic' champion swimmer Sybil Bauer, who died young in 1927. By then, he was dating Jewish Sylvia Weinstein. Both the families did not support the Catholic–Jewish union. After an on-again, off-again relationship of 3 years, the two got married on April 28, 1930. They had a daughter, Elizabeth "Betty," 8 months later.
Sullivan was short-tempered and held grudges against those who backstabbed him. In an interview, Moe Howard from 'The Three Stooges' pointed out his forgetfulness. Actor Diana Ross had stated that he had once referred to the female guests on the show as "the girls," as he had forgotten their names.
Sullivan was the first to create shows for 'Army Emergency Relief' during World War II.
Sullivan died of cancer on October 13, 1974, in New York City.
Sullivan has been honored with a “star” on the 'Hollywood Walk of Fame.’
On August 30, 1993, the 'Ed Sullivan Theater' was given to 'The David Letterman Show.' Host Letterman often referred to Sullivan in his first monologues on the show.
In March 1998, the 'Smothers Brothers' hosted the 'CBS' special named 'A Really Big Show: Ed Sullivan's 50th Anniversary.' The pilot of the 'UPN' show 'The Virtual Ed Sullivan Show' featured a computer-generated image of Sullivan as the host.
In 1998, 'VH-1' aired 20 episodes of 'Ed Sullivan's Rock and Roll Classics.'
Facts About Ed Sullivan

Ed Sullivan was known for his trademark phrase, "We've got a really big show tonight," which became iconic in the world of entertainment.

He launched the careers of numerous iconic musicians and bands, including The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and The Rolling Stones, by featuring them on his television program, "The Ed Sullivan Show."

Despite his stern on-screen persona, off-camera Sullivan was known to be a kind and generous individual, often supporting up-and-coming talent in the industry.

Sullivan was a pioneer in showcasing diverse acts on his show, breaking down racial barriers by featuring African-American performers at a time when it was uncommon on television.

In addition to his work in television, Sullivan was also a respected newspaper columnist and radio personality, showcasing his versatility in the world of media.

See the events in life of Ed Sullivan in Chronological Order

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