The Ed Sullivan Show was a Sunday night fixture from the moment most Americans bought their first television sets through 1971, when, after 1,087 shows over 23 years, it went off the air on May 30th.
Ed Sullivan was a columnist for the New York Daily News, and despite what many considered an awkward stage presence, he became a television star, memorable for the immortal line, “we’ve got a really big shew.” Sullivan was voted one of the 50 Greatest TV Stars of All-Time by TV Guide in 1996. They described him thusly: “Sullivan’s puckered syntax was an impressionist’s delight, and his body language was so tense and herky-jerky he made Richard Nixon seem like Nureyev…. [but he] was, for all intents and purposes, nothing less than America’s minister of culture.”
The Ed Sullivan Show indeed saw a myriad of the top talent of the day appear on its stage. For every novelty act there was the greatest classical, comedy, stage, or musical performer. Possibly the most famous appearance in the show’s history occurred on February 9, 1964— when the Beatles made their American television debut.
The Ed Sullivan Show was initially called The Toast of the Town (its name through 1955) when it debuted on June 20, 1948. Among the guests were Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and Variety noted “CBS was guilty again, however, of permitting them to give out with some blue material, okay for their nitery work but certainly not for the tele.”
A fixture of the show in its earliest broadcasts were the June Taylor Dancers. So famed did the June Taylor Dancers become, that when the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences first bestowed an Emmy Award for Best Choreography, in 1953, it was June Taylor who won (for The Jackie Gleason Show).
The Archive of American Television has interviewed many individuals who worked in front of and behind-the-scenes on The Ed Sullivan Show. Among those interviewees are: choreographer June Taylor, talent booker Vince Calandra, and director John Moffitt; among the performers: Marge Champion, Mike Douglas, Jerry Stiller & Anne Meara, and Andy Williams.
Jerry Stiller & Anne Meara were interviewed separately about their extensive television careers and together to discuss their collaborative work— notably as guests 36 times on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Interview Description for Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara:
Stiller and Meara described how they met as working actors in New York City. They talked about getting together as an act and their many appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. They described their comedy routines and the interaction they had with Ed Sullivan himself. Stiller talked about his notable work in such long form productions as Seize the Day. He then spoke in detail about the role for which he is most associated, “Frank Costanza” on Seinfeld, as well as his regular appearance as “Arthur Spooner” on The King of Queens. For these series he gave his impressions of working with the regular cast members and for Seinfeld he talked about such notable epsiodes as “The Doorman,” “The Fusilli Jerry,” and “The Strike.” Meara talked about her later work that included the regular role of “Veronica Rooney” on Archie Bunker’s Place and a recurring role on HBO’s Sex and the City.