The Ed Sullivan Show, starring The Beatles

The Ed Sullivan Show starring The BeatlesSynopsis: Here are four of the most beloved shows in television history! On February 9, 1964, The Beatles step onto Ed Sullivan’s stage to make their U.S. TV debut. 73 million Americans tune in and Beatlemania is born!

In these unforgettable live shows from 1964 and 1965, The Beatles give us 20 timeless performances, 7 of them Number 1 hits! They include “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Ticket to Ride,” “Yesterday,” “Help!,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “All My Loving” and more…


Including: The original Broadway Cast of “Oliver!” featuring Davy Jones (The Monkees) and Georgia Brown • Cilla Black • Cab Calloway • Allen & Rossi • Mitzi Gaynor • Soupy Sales…and many more.


The Ed Sullivan Show, starring The Beatles 7.25

eyelights: The Beatles. Cab Calloway. Frank Gorshin. Wells and The Four Fays. Ed Sullivan.
eyesores: Georgia Brown. Myron Cohen. Steve Rossi. Soupy Sales. The frequently ill-suited, bland adverts.

“The city never has the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool, who call themselves The Beatles.”

On Friday, February 7, 1964, The Beatles set foot in New York for a series of three back-to-back engagements on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’, an extremely popular variety show that was broadcast live every Sunday evening from 20:00 to 21:00 (Eastern Time). It was such a popular show that it ran from 1948 to 1971 with Ed Sullivan as presenter. Elvis Presley had been booked for three appearances when he broke through in 1956. The Beatles would do the same eight years later.

‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ consisted largely of a series of acts of all stripes sandwiched together for an hour with ads interspersed in between, and with Sullivan introducing each act and ad. It was mostly shot live (thus, no retakes), with some exceptions being pre-recorded. Sullivan’s involvement on screen was limited: as MC, he mostly shook hands with guests after their performance, and that’s about it. He actually rarely interacted with them (at least not in this set of episodes).

The show wasn’t broadcast in colour until 1965 so these appearances by The Beatles are in black and white. The quality of the picture isn’t exactly sharp; it’s low-resolution stuff and the images look soft, faded. The audio, evidently, was in mono. However, for the DVD release, the producers decided to remix the set in 5.1 surround. To me, the remix sounded very much the same, but muddier; all it really did was to spread the crowd around the room to a limited degree. I stuck with the original mono.

This was the first time that I ever watched Ed Sullivan. I had heard of him and his show, of course; he and his show are pop culture icons. By the time David Letterman took over the Ed Sullivan Theater back in 1993, I definitely knew who he was. It was interesting to finally get to watch him, because his presence is unique: he tended to be fidgety and shaky, giving off a rather casual, maybe even improvisational, vibe. And yet he has an appealing presence; he appears intelligent, self-aware.

I’ve rarely watched variety shows, but it was rather enjoyable because most of the acts weren’t on long enough to annoy or grow tiresome. Conversely, they were also lengthy enough that, if you liked what you saw, it was a sufficient to  make you want more. One thing that surprised me was how unsophisticated the ads were back then – both the products and the way in which they were peddled to people. Simpler times for simpler people, I guess.

Obviously, the highlight was The Beatles. They opened and closed each episode with a few songs, which made not just for a great bookend but it gave you something to look forward to throughout the hour. These three appearances were their first in the United States and are culturally significant for the impact that it had (an estimated 73 million people tuned in to see what they were all about!!!) and for being the first volley in the British Invasion.

I was about to find out just why:

Episode 1

The announcer starts by telling us that the show’s sponsors are Anacin and Pillsbury, before Ed Sullivan shows up and introduces the show. Then we get our first ads of the hour with the one-two punch of Aero Shave and Liquid Wax. Sullivan then introduces The Beatles and the crowd goes wild.

The Beatles, “All My Loving”: This was a decent, energetic rendition of the classic single. It was a nice way to start, a good introduction to the masses. 7.5

The Beatles, “Till There Was You”: I loved that there were captions to introduce each Beatle, which effectively made them household names in millions of American homes. Even funnier, under John’s name, it says “Sorry, girls – he’s married”). Unfortunately, the performance is dull. 6.0

The Beatles, “She Loves You”:  They could have done worse than to end the set with the big hit, of course. Unsurprisingly, the girls lose their frickin’ minds over this one. 8.0

Ed Sullivan comes back to talk the crowd down. And to advise that the show will be breaking for… an Anacin advert.

Fred Kaps: A purported magician, Kaps did an amusing and silly card trick. It was simple, but comedic, and it had the crowd going. 7.5

The Cast of “Oliver!”, “I’ll Do Anything For You”: This was a rendition of one of the songs from their stage musical. Even though I loathe musicals, the performances were very good; one of the boys was particularly stellar. 7.5

Georgia Brown, “As Long As He Needs Me”: The female lead from “Oliver!” got a solo, but it was frightfully overdone, way too theatrical. I totally detested her singing style. 4.5

Thankfully, the pain was washed away by a Cold Water All ad.

Frank Gorshin: I knew that Gorshin was talented, but I didn’t realize that he an impressionist (Really? The Riddler?!). And he was pretty good, too. He did a routine about celebrities (Anthony Quinn, Marlan Brando, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, …etc.) taking over politics. I didn’t get all the  references, but it was still funny and he was obviously incredibly talented. The audience sure dug it. 7.75

Sullivan comes back long enough to point out speed skater Terry McDermott in the audience and then we get treated to a delicious Pillsbury ad.

Tessie O’Shea: I didn’t know what to make of this enthusiastic show tunes medley… what it meant to be humourous? I’m not sure. Anyway, it was okay for what it is. 6.5

McCall and Brill: This was a short skit about a talent scout looking for an actress in a movie. Brill plays it straight as the scout, while McCall played four “hilarious” characters. I didn’t find it especially funny. 6.0

Time for another ad. Nothing says “fail” like a black and white advert for Pillsbury Pineapple Lemon Parfait. The product sounds yummy, but it needs vibrant colour to make it pop! Then Sullivan presents The Beatles again. The audience loses their marbles.

The Beatles, “I Saw Her Standing There”: It’s a pretty good, but not exceptional, version. 7.0

The Beatles, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”: Seriously crazy, the girls and women are totally possessed during this one! Beatlemania had clearly already infected North America. 7.5

Sullivan returns to thank the police and media for their handling of all the chaos; there were apparently thousands of fans jamming traffic and clogging up the studio.

Wells and The Four Fays: What was that? Slapsticky acrobatics to music? Anyway, they were talented and I did get a few chuckles out of it. 8.0

After watching all this silliness, nothing could hit the spot more than adverts for Pillsbury Fudge Brownie mix and Pillsbury Pancakes. Then the show ends with Sullivan announcing the following week’s line-up, and wishing everyone a good night. The announcer gets a few last words in by plugging Pillsbury and Aero Shave.

A few comments about Episode 1

  • Sullivan actually looks tickled by the madness in the studio, and as though he just can’t believe what he’s seeing.
  • For The Beatles’ performances, John is always positioned up front, even though Paul is on lead vocals. Weird.
  • The Beatles are still a bit raw – not sloppy, just not really slick. Maybe they were nervous.

Overall Impression: 7.5

Episode 2

The announcer begins by informing us that tonight’s sponsor is Lipton Tea, before Ed Sullivan arrives on stage and tells the people in TV land that he is broadcasting from Miami Beach instead of New York. Then we break for a refreshing Lipton Tea ad.

The Beatles, “She Loves You”: It’s a very dynamic start to the show and The Beatles’ set. Unlike the previous episode, John is highlighted a bit more. 8.5

The Beatles, “This Boy”: This is a bit of a snoozer of a song, but Paul, John and George share a mic and there are more camera angles this time, making it more interesting. Plus there’s a great vocal from John. 7.0

The Beatles, “All My Loving”: After a brief, but weird, intro by Paul, they performed the song – which was good, but nothing special. 7.0

Ed Sullivan returns to point out prize-fighters Sonny Liston and Joe Louis in the audience – who both politely get up and bow for the cameras. And now for a thirst-quenching Lipton Instant Tea ad.

Allen and Rossi: I recently saw a trailer for a horrible-looking spy spoof by these two clowns. Turns out that they’re not all bad. This routine consists of a mock interview with a heavyweight champ, followed by a song. There is an amusing interchange between the two, even if the material isn’t particularly clever. 7.0

Mitzi Gaynor, “Too Darn Hot”: Accompanied by four dubious-looking fellers as back-ups, Gaynor goes into an energetic rendition of this classic Cole Porter track. Personally, I wasn’t impressed, mostly because of Gaynor’s forced enthusiasm. 6.0

Thankfully, the Anacin advert gave me something to ease my mind.

Mitzi Gaynor, “The More I See You”: Gaynor returns sans-posse for this far-too-syrupy ballad. Again, her false dynamism and faux-sexiness annoyed me. Plus she looked like a doe in headlights. 4.0

Mitzi Gaynor, Medley: After a short corny intro, her boys return for a medley of cabaret-style songs: “Birth of the Blues,” “St. James Infirmary,” “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “Shadrach, Mescach, Obendigo,” “Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho” and “When the Saints Go Marchin In (reprise)”. The crowd cheers. 6.5

Not sure who would feel like baking after watching Gaynor, but we are then treated to a Pillsbury Instant Blending Flour ad. Ah, I see… it must be because of the “dough in headlights” aspect of her performance. Snort.

The Neverless Knocks: This segment consists of four acrobats (three men, one woman) each climbing a high pole outside at the Hialeah racetrack – then swinging from their tops. It was weird to watch the poles bend back and forth like that. It’s a neat trick, but the camerawork was poor, ruining the potential excitement. 7.0

Myron Cohen: This “comedian” goes through a routine about old women going to the racetrack, Russians and smoking in cabs. The crowd seemed to enjoy this. I didn’t. 4.0

The Beatles, “I Saw Her Standing There”: Bizarrely, Paul starts off mixed very low, while John is mixed too high. Since John is doing background vocals it makes the song sound wonky. The Beatles still play on, like pros. Thankfully, it is fixed halfway through. 7.0

The Beatles, “From Me to You”: Not much to report on this one. It was a pretty good rendition. 7.0

The Beatles, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”: After an amusing intro by Paul, saying that the song had been recorded by their “favourite American group, Sophie Tucker”, they kick into this final track. Pretty good. 7.5

After their performance, Sullivan tells The Beatles that they are one of his favourite bands, before offering us a refreshing Lipton Instant Tea ad. Upon his return, before wrapping up the show, Sullivan announces the following week’s line-up – which, unsurprisingly, includes The Beatles. Again.

A few comments about Episode 2

  • The Beatles were visibly pouring sweat by the end of their first set. Was it due to poor ventilation in the Miami heat? Or was it the studio lights that were baking them like this? Or both? Anyway, it sure looked uncomfortable.
  • The Neverless Knocks segment was pre-recorded.

Overall Impression: 7.0

Episode 3

After a brief intro by Ed Sullivan, the announcer tells us that the show is “brought to you by Anacin and Pillsbury” (Thank you, Anacin and Pillsbury!). Then Sullivan introduces the show and… a Chef Boyardee Pizza Mixes ad (Really? There were Chef Boyardee pizzas? Ewwww…).

The Beatles, “Twist and Shout”: Pretty good, but nothing exceptional. Still, the girls are going crazy anyway. Well, why wouldn’t they? It’s The frackin’ Beatles, for goodness’ sake! 7.5

The Beatles, “Please Please Me”: Solid, as per usual. 7.5

Gloria Bleezarde, “Safety in Numbers”: This is an amusing ditty about all the numbers and codes that we have to use every day and the confusion that it all brings. And that’s before all the personal computer passwords we need today! Imagine! Anyway, it was a decent comic performance. 7.0

…but not as much as the following Anacin ad.

Pinky and Perky: A caterpillar marionette sings and dances and then is joined by a bird. Then a cow puppet in a dress is accompanied by a dog and Speedy Gonzales for another song. Yawn. This wasn’t aired at 8am, so who’s the audience for this? 5.0

Morecambe and Wise: A pre-recorded skit taking place in an apartment, it’s about two guys celebrating the purchase of antique drinking glasses – glasses keep getting broken. Hardeehar. 4.5

Acker Bilk, “Acker’s Lacquer”:  This is a musical number featuring clarinetist Bill Acker and a bevy of women dancing in bowler hats, pin-stripe vests, blouses and showing lots of leg. Graceful, nice, pretty. 8.0

…and cue the cold shower, Cold Water All advert.

Gordon and Sheila MacRae, “Garry Moore Show” Take-off: This is merely a spoof of variety shows, but the cast was talented and pretty funny. 7.5

Did you know that Pillsbury once made Orange Icing Danish rolls? Well, that’s what this advert claims. I’ve never seen them.  It was followed by an advert for their perennial Crescent dinner rolls.

Dave Barry: This was a terribly routine routine about Barry’s kids. The comedian (not to be confused with the popular author and columnist) elicits chuckles at best. 6.0

Cab Calloway, “St. James Infirmary”: Until then, I’d only seen Calloway in ‘The Blues Brothers‘, where he left a lasting impression. He still does: what a voice! Wow! 8.0

Cab Calloway, “Ol’ Man River”: Calloway gets all crazy, flipping his head side to side. A dizzying performance for both the audience – and, no doubt, Calloway himself. 8.0

One would need a cool Lipton Instant Tea advert after watching Calloway’s smoking hot performance!

Morty Gunty: Another forgettable (and forgotten) stand-up routine. Yawn. 6.0

Someone must have told Sullivan that being associated with The Beatles is a good thing for his image, might even make him seem cool to the younglings, because he made a point of stepping into the frame in front of The Beatles this time to introduce them.

The Beatles, “I Want To Hold Your Hand”: This excellent number was a nice way to end the show and The Beatles’ three-show run. 7.5

But it’s not over yet! First we have to get a gander at the Pillsbury Bavarian cake mix and Pillsbury pancake mix ads, before finally getting to Ed Sullivan’s closing statements.

A few comments about Episode 3

  • Sullivan spent a large part of his on-screen time referencing The Beatles, as though he expected people to tune out unless he kept them on standby. It smelled of desperation in some way.
  • The Beatles’ performances are more focused on John this time, versus the first episode, which was more on Paul.
  • Although this show was broadcast live, The Beatles’ performances had been pre-recorded on February 9, prior to their first live broadcast, and in front of a different studio audience.

Overall Impression:  7.25

The Beatles had been so popular that they returned for a final performance on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ on August 14, 1965. Pre-recorded, this show would be broadcast nearly a month later.

Unlike the previous ones, this show wouldn’t open with The Beatles; they would keep audiences waiting a little bit. They also had a more elaborate set this time, which would switch midway through.

Episode 4

No self-respecting installment of The Ed Sullivan Show could begin without being sponsored. AerOwax and Pillsbury were proud to have a say. Ed Sullivan does a short intro, announces that night’s guests, and without further ado, Lipton serves us an iced tea ad.

Soupy Sales: In a change of pace from the previous episodes in this set, Sullivan greets the comedian first. But there’s a reason for it: the skit also involves him. Sales recounts their purported holidays together with the help of film clips from old movies, eliciting laughs from the audience. It’s contrived but amusing (even Sullivan is genuinely giddy, smiling broadly). It’s not particularly clever, but I give it an 8.0 for effort.

Cilla Black, “September in the Rain”: This sounds like a show tune, but the vocals are unusual for the genre. 7.5

Fantasio: A silent magician act that uses balloons and pigeons at its core, but also other things such as newspapers, candles, handkerchiefs, …etc. Sullivan joins him when Fantasio starts eating what appears to be lettuce. He gives some to Sullivan and to an audience member. Aha! No wonder Fantasio had been silent: he had a few meters of ribbon lodged in his mouth! 7.5

After seeing Fantasio regurgitate ribbon, nothing could hit the spot quite like a Pillsbury crescent roll and Pillsbury chocolate chip cookies ad!

Sullivan returns and calls out each Beatle individually: “John Lennon”, “George Harrison”, “Paul McCartney”, “Ringo Starr”. Just in case we didn’t already know them well enough by then. They politely come when called and shake hands.

The Beatles, “I Feel Fine”: We can’t hear them very well (the vocals, in particular) due to the mix. The performance is a bit sloppier, too. By the end, there is lots of screaming from the girls/women in the audience. 7.5

The Beatles, “I’m Down”: The set changes a bit right before this song starts. Paul tries to introduce the song but there’s so much screaming that he’s drowned out. For this one, John’s on keys, so George takes center stage. Paul’s vocals, unfortunately, aren’t great. 7.5

The Beatles, “Act Naturally”: Ringo introduces himself and his song in his usual self-deprecating way. That was funny. The song, however, is so-so. It doesn’t stop the girls from going nuts, though – there may even be more screaming here. At the end, John does an amusing side jump. 7.0

Sullivan returns and tries to shush the crowd, to no avail. He tells them that The Beatles will return later. But first, a sobering Lees Carpets ad. Sullivan then announces that Allen and Rossi, frequent guests on his show, have just been signed by Paramount.

Allen and Rossi, “Try to Remember”?: This is actually a solo ballad by Steve Rossi. It’s an okay crooner type number, but I was bored to tears by the song and performance. 4.0

Allen and Rossi: For this segment, Rossi asked Marty Allen a bunch of questions about sports – usually just one per sport. Allen would answer and then run off to change his headgear in between each question. It’s not great, but Allen is kind of funny, what with his vacant stare – which gives the impression of a bumpkin with an IQ of 60. Still, this plays like a poor man’s Martin and Lewis. 7.0

Allen and Rossi, “She Loves You”: This is an altered version of The Beatles’ classic, which mostly gives Rossi a chance to tell the crowd how loved they are and Allen a chance to go “dance” in the aisle, trying to work the crowd – to mixed results. 7.0

Allen and Rossi: Sullivan returns and asks Rossi to tell him a joke, seeing as he always plays the straight man. It’s purposely not funny. Then Sullivan asks Allen to tell a joke and, lo-and-behold, it closes Rossi’s joke. Badam-poomp! 6.5

I felt slightly scuzzy after that set so, thankfully, the Advanced All ad and Lux soap ad saved the day.

Cilla Black, “Goin’ Out of My Head”: The performance is okay, but the vocals are still unusual. I also found it strange that they would do a close-up of her, given that she’s pimply. She also has an… um… interesting face and features. Not exactly star material, even though she was in show business for 50 years. 6.0

Soupy Sales, “The Mouse”: Oh, dear Lord… what was that?!!! Soupy Sales sang in the aisle and tried his best to get the audience to wave their hands on each side of their heads, in a mock “mouse ears” fashion – annoying one woman in the process. It was a terrible song and a corny act. F-ing hell. 2.0

…but the Lipton Tea advert helped to make the lingering aftertaste go away.

The Beatles, “Ticket To Ride”: It’s a new set altogether for these songs. John’s struggling with his vocals on this one. The show’s producers superimposed shots of The Beatles at the beginning, a neat effect. But it doesn’t save the song. 6.5

The Beatles, “Yesterday”: Paul’s solo number is introduced confidently by George; I was kind of impressed by his demeanour, because I always think of him as the shy/reserved one. Anyway, I usually really like this song, but Paul’s vocals are a bit off. 7.25

The Beatles, “Help”: John introduces the track, getting a little bit silly in the process – which was amusing, endearing. It’s not a favourite of mine, but The Beatles do a good job of this one. The girls are screaming like mad by this point. 7.5

Sullivan comes back to congratulate The Beatles for the way that they “handle it” (or something to that effect – we actually can’t hear much of what he’s saying and the end is totally drowned out by all the screaming) and shakes hands with them.

Just in case the screaming was giving us a headache, we soon get relief from an Anacin ad.

Sullivan announces his next show, which is his first one in colour, as well as the line-up. Then, bizarrely enough, the announcer actually shows up on screen to plug Lipton Tea one last time, over a repeat of The Beatles’ performance of “Help!”. I suppose that this was done in post, not live, seeing as the show was broadcast a month later. The song continued to play during the credits and they even took the time to finish it before closing the show.

…but not before plugging The Dick Van Dyke Show first. Naturally.

A few comments about Episode 4

  • It was interesting to see that the ads were more sophisticated than in the earlier episodes. At least, some of them were. What a difference a year makes!
  • I loved that Sullivan interacted with his guests a lot more. He wasn’t just an MC anymore: he gave much-needed continuity, if not life, to the show.

Overall Impression: 7.5

The Beatles would never perform on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ again, but they did appear from time to time in small segment and promos through the years. The DVD includes some related material, but only 13 minutes’ worth – and that’s including some interstitial adverts! Nice! I wonder if those companies got free publicity, or if the Sullivan people had them pay for being immortalized on home video.

While I’m not a huge fan of early Beatles stuff (bigger fans should consequently add 1.0-1.5 to each rating), I really enjoyed watching these broadcasts. I mean, we’ve all heard about them for years, but I never took the time to watch them until now. That’s what I love about The Critical Eye: it sometimes forces me to plug away at -or get through- stuff I might never get around to otherwise.

And these historic shows are well worth seeing. They really are.

Dates of viewings: November 20-28, 2013

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