The Ed Sullivan Show was a staple on TV sets everywhere from the day it aired in 1948 to its very last show in 1971. Across its 24 seasons and more than two decades on air, the famous variety show opened the door for so many iconic acts that are still beloved today. From puppet shows to opera, Ed Sullivan had a knack for spotting talent and the somewhat awkward host had a special way of finding acts right before they rose to fame. These are just a few of those iconic artists and bands that got a leg up from starring on the legendary show.
In the show’s most famous episode, a record-breaking 73 million people tuned in to watch The Beatles make their American TV debut in 1964. Dressed in smart suits and showing off their iconic mop top hairstyles, the band played their songs to a hysterically excited crowd. The incredible success saw over 40 per cent of the American population tune in although it was difficult to hear any music underneath all of the intense screaming. When trying to calm the crowd down, Ed Sullivan jokingly threatened the beloved Beatles’ hairdo telling the audience, “If you don’t keep quiet, I’m going to send for a barber.”
The King of Rock and Roll made three appearances on the show although he barely made the cut after Sullivan initially declined the offer as he didn’t think Elvis would be the right fit for the family friendly atmosphere. However, he eventually agreed and Elvis performed on the show for the first time in 1956. Sullivan was actually absent from this episode as he was in hospital recovering from a car accident. After wishing him a speedy recovery, Elvis’ serious tone continued as he lent into the mic and told the audience, “As a great philosopher once said, ’You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog!’”
The high-energy performance was full of controversial gyrating and snarling from the rock star. So controversial however, that by his third and last performance on the show, the network filmed his entire set from the waist up to censor his famous swivelling pelvis from the public.
The beloved puppets rose to fame on The Ed Sullivan Show when they first appeared in 1966. Audiences didn’t know what to expect when a little green puppet appeared on their screens playing a guitar but after their very first hilarious sketch was over, they quickly became a household name. They performed 25 times on the show as the colourful, family-friendly acts that would attract the kids but were also beloved by the adults. Creator Jim Henson used the show as his main platform for the puppets before finding them a more permanent home at Sesame Street in 1969.
The family band that birthed the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show early in their career. They made two appearances on the show with their first at the end of 1969. After their performance, Ed Sullivan called out Diana Ross from the audience and praised her as “the person who discovered the Jackson 5”. The five-piece group re-introduced Motown to the world with their own unique and youthful spin. Ed Sullivan clearly took a liking to the star of the group as he referred to Michael Jackson when he said, “That little fella in front is incredible.”