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“He was clearly in the early stages of what his colleagues referred to as Alzheimer’s, although it was never diagnosed as such. Whatever it was, it didn’t prevent him from functioning effectively much of the time, yet by this point…”
–Around 1969, Ed Sullivan began having “senior moments.”
The Book of the Week is “Impresario, The Life and Times of Ed Sullivan” by James Maguire, published in 2006.
Born in 1901 in East Harlem, Ed Sullivan grew up in the New York metropolitan area. He had a burning desire to become famous and rich. Therefore, beginning in his teen years, he met as many people as he could, and hung out at all the city’s hippest social clubs (celebrity hangouts) that featured alcohol and performances.
In 1948, he finally got to host his own show on TV, after paying his dues failing at radio shows and succeeding at writing a newspaper gossip column. Even so, he got lots of hate mail. His CBS-TV show, Toast of the Town was partially sponsored by Lincoln Mercury (car) dealers in Southern states. They were livid that he refused to stop shaking hands with and hugging black performers. Sullivan was racially egalitarian, but politically, rabidly anti-Communist.
With the 1955-1956 season, the show was renamed The Ed Sullivan Show— as the host had achieved his goals of wealth and stardom; media ratings, really. He began talks with Warner Bros. to make a movie of his life. In preparing the script for that endeavor, unsurprisingly, the clashing of egos resulted in back-and-forth shenanigans; summarized thusly: “When Jack Warner realized that Sullivan had completely thrown out Wallace’s second version… hearing of Sullivan’s plans for still more rewriting… He cancelled the film.” That was eight months after signing the contract.
In summer 1967, the CBS Standards and Practices department was strict about performers’ not saying specific words that smacked of sex or drugs. The band The Doors got away with “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” in its song “Light My Fire” because the show was live, and the lead singer disobeyed the censors.
Anyway, read the book to learn much more about: how The Ed Sullivan Show was able to stay wildly popular and attain high ratings for decades despite its host’s lack of charisma; (Hint: It changed with the times in featuring guests who entertained audiences of all ages, until advertisers’ demands changed); the people who helped make it so; and the secrets of Sullivan’s success.