Ed Sullivan Show, The aka Toast of the Town


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About

The Ed Sullivan Show was the definitive and longest running variety series in television history (1948-71). Hosted by the eponymous awkward and fumbling former newspaperman, the show became a Sunday night institution on CBS. For twenty-three years the Sullivan show fulfilled the democratic mandate of the variety genre: to entertain all of the audience at least some of the time.

In the late 1940s, television executives strove to translate the principles of the vaudeville stage to the new medium, the amalgamation referred to as "vaudeo." As sports reporter, gossip columnist, and master of ceremonies of various war relief efforts, Ed Sullivan had been a fixture on the Broadway scene since the early 1930s. He had even hosted a short-lived radio series that introduced Jack Benny to a national audience in 1932. Although Sullivan had no performing ability (comedian Alan King quipped: "Ed does nothing, but he does it better that anyone else on television"), he understood showmanship and had a keen eye for emerging talent. CBS producer Worthington Miner hired him to host the network's inaugural variety effort The Toast of the Town and, on 20 June 1948, Sullivan presented his premiere "really big shew," in the lingo of his many impersonators who quickly parodied his wooden stage presence and multitudinous malapropisms.

The initial telecast served as a basis for Sullivan's inimitable construction of a variety show. He balanced the headliner, generally an unassailable legend, this time Broadway's Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein with the up-and-coming stars, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, fresh from the nightclubs in their television debut. He also liked to juxtapose the extreme ends of the entertainment spectrum: the classical, here pianist Eugene List and ballerina Kathryn Lee, with the novelty, a group of singing New York City fireman and six of the original June Taylor Dancers, called the "Toastettes." From the beginning, Sullivan served as executive editor of the show, deciding in rehearsal how many minutes each act would have during the live telecast in consultation with producer Marlo Lewis. In 1955, the title was changed to The Ed Sullivan Show.

Sullivan had a keen understanding of what various demographic segments of his audience desired to see. As an impresario for the highbrow, he debuted ballerina Margot Fonteyn in 1958 and later teamed her with Rudolf Nureyev in 1965; saluted Van Cliburn after his upset victory in the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow; and welcomed many neighbors from the nearby Metropolitan Opera, including Roberta Peters, who appeared 41 times, and the rarely seen Maria Callas, who performed a fully staged scene from Tosca. As the cultural eyes and ears for middle America, he introduced movie and Broadway legends into the collective living room, including Pearl Bailey, who appeared 23 times; Richard Burton and Julie Andrews in a scene from the 1961 Camelot; Sammy Davis Jr. with the Golden Boy cast; former CBS stage manager Yul Brynner in The King and I; Henry Fonda reading Lincoln's Gettysburg Address; and the rising star Barbra Streisand singing "Color Him Gone" in her 1962 debut. Occasionally, he devoted an entire telecast to one theme or biography: "The Cole Porter Story," "The Walt Disney Story," "The MGM Story, and "A Night at Sophie Tucker's House."

What distinguished Sullivan from other variety hosts was the ability to capitalize on teenage obsession. His introduction of rock 'n' roll not only brought the adolescent subculture into the variety fold but also legitimized the music for the adult sensibility. Elvis Presley had appeared with Milton Berle and Tommy Dorsey, but Sullivan's deal with Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, created national headlines. The sexual energy of Presley's first appearance on 9 September 1956 jolted the staid, Eisenhower conformism of Sullivan's audience. By his third and final appearance, Elvis was shot only from the waist up, but Sullivan learned how to capture a new audience for his show, the baby boom generation.

In 1964 Sullivan signed the Beatles for three landmark appearances. Their first slot on 9 February 1964 was at the height of Beatlemania, the beginning of a revolution in music, fashion, and attitude. Sullivan received the biggest ratings of his career, and, with a 60 share, one of the most watched programs in the history of television. Sullivan responded by welcoming icons of the 1960s counterculture into his arena, most notably The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Janis Joplin, and Marvin Gaye. One performer who never appeared was Bob Dylan, who walked off when CBS censors balked at his song "Talkin' John Birch Society Blues."

Although called "the great stone face" on screen, Sullivan was a man of intense passion off camera. He feuded with Walter Winchell, Jack Paar, and Frank Sinatra over his booking practices. He wrangled with conservative sponsors over his fondness for African American culture and openly embraced black performers throughout his career, including Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Ethel Waters, Louis Armstrong, and Diana Ross. He also capitulated to the blacklisting pressures of Red Channels and denounced performers for pro-Communist sympathies.

Sullivan saw comedy as the glue that held his demographically diverse show together and allowed a nation to release social tension by laughing at itself. He was most comfortable around Borscht Belt comics as seen by the funnymen he most often enlisted: Alan King (37 times); Myron Cohen (47 times); and Jack Carter (49 times). When Sullivan's son-in-law, Bob Precht, took over as producer in 1960, there was a movement to modernize the show and introduce a new generation of comedians to the American audience, led by Mort Sahl, Woody Allen, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin. The comic act that appeared most on the Sullivan show was the Canadian team of Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster (58 times); the parodic sketches of Wayne and Shuster assured Sullivan a sizable audience north of the border.

Sullivan was always on the lookout for novelty acts, especially for children. His interplay with the Italian mouse Topo Gigio revealed a sentimental side to Sullivan's character. He also was the first to introduce celebrities from the audience and often invited them on stage for a special performance. Forever the sports columnist, he was particularly enthralled by athletic heroes, and always had time on the show to discuss baseball with Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays and learn golf from Sam Snead or Ben Hogan.

The Ed Sullivan Show reflected an era of network television when a mass audience and, even, a national consensus seemed possible. Sullivan became talent scout and cultural commissar for the entire country, introducing more than 10,000 performers throughout his career. His show implicitly recognized that America should have an electronic exposure to all forms of entertainment, from juggling to opera. The Vietnam War, which fractured the country politically, also help to splinter the democratic assumptions of the variety show. By 1971, The Sullivan Show was no longer a generational or demographic mediator and was canceled as the war raged on. Later in the decade, the audience did not require Sullivan's big tent of variety entertainment any longer; cable and the new technology promised immediate access to any programming desire. The Sullivan library was purchased by producer Andrew Solt in the 1980s and has served as the source of network specials and programming for cable services.

-Ron Simon

HOST

Ed Sullivan

MUSIC

Ray Bloch and His Orchestra

DANCE

The June Taylor Dancers

PRODUCERS

Ed Sullivan, Marlo Lewis, Bob Precht

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

CBS

June 1948   Sunday 9:00-10:00

July 1948-August 1948   Sunday 9:30-10:30

August 1948-March 1949   Sunday 9:00-10:00

March 1949-June 1971   Sunday 8:00-9:00

FURTHER READING

Bowles, Jerry. A Thousand Sundays: The Story of the Ed Sullivan Show. New York: Putnam, 1980.

Harris, Michael David. Always on Sundays--Ed Sullivan: An Inside View. New York: Meredith, 1980.

Henderson, Amy. On the Air: Pioneers of American Broadcasting. Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1988.

Leonard, John. A Really Big Show. New York: Viking Studio Books, 1992.

Highlights
John Moffitt on The Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show
03:55
George Carlin on the material he was forced to censor when appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show
03:29
Phyllis Diller on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show; on Ed Sullivan
02:38
Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara on their last appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and the legacy of the show
05:30
Carol Burnett on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show the same night Elvis performed
00:27
Who talked about this show

Andy Ackerman

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Andy Ackerman on TV shows he grew up watching
01:17

Steve Allen

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Steve Allen on the success of The Ed Sullivan Show and NBC always chasing its ratings
01:58

Debbie Allen

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Debbie Allen on the influence The Ed Sullivan Show had upon her at an early age
00:35

Larry Auerbach

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Larry Auerbach on how the William Morris Agency dealt with the emergence of Rock and Roll music and booking those acts on television
03:00

Shelley Berman

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Shelley Berman on his 22 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show; on his routine "The Father and Son" which ran well over the stipulated seven minutes on the live show
06:52
Shelley Berman on coming up with new material for his 22 Ed Sullivan Show  performances; on dealing with censors on live television
06:22
Shelley Berman on why The Ed Sullivan Show was so successful
02:51

Ken Berry

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Ken Berry on appearing on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town
02:39

Pat Boone

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Pat Boone on his love of The Ed Sullivan Show
00:27
Pat Boone on his most frightening moment on television - an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show
03:08

Bernie Brillstein

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Bernie Brillstein on Robert Precht booking Kermit the Frog and others of Brillstein's clients as a summer replacement for The Ed Sullivan Show
05:42

Carol Burnett

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Carol Burnett on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show the same night Elvis performed
00:27

Dann Cahn

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Dann Cahn on doing a movie with Ed Sullivan
00:37

Vince Calandra

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Vince Calandra on doing cue cards for The Ed Sullivan Show
03:30
Vince Calandra on how he booked the Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964
10:51
Vince Calandra on controversy over Jim Morrison not changing his lyrics for a performance on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:48
Vince Calandra on getting hired to handle cue cards for The Ed Sullivan Show
03:00
Vince Calandra on who he did cue cards for on The Ed Sullivan Show
01:45
Vince Calandra on how his social scene changed when he started working on The Ed Sullivan Show
01:11
Vince Calandra on Ed Sullivan's son-in-law Bob Precht taking over production of The Ed Sullivan Show and Calandra doing cue cards again
07:49
Vince Calandra on Ed Sullivan selecting talent for The Ed Sullivan Show; on Sullivan's skill set and learning from him 
08:39
Vince Calandra on getting African-American talent on The Ed Sullivan Show
03:29
Vince Calandra on his responsibilities as a production coordinator under Bob Precht on The Ed Sullivan Show
02:12
Vince Calandra on a typical work week and dress rehearsal on The Ed Sullivan Show
Vince Calandra on determining the order of acts on The Ed Sullivan Show
01:31
Vince Calandra on the reason Ed Sullivan continued to bring old Vaudevillian acts on The Ed Sullivan Show
06:08
Vince Calandra on moving from production into talent coordinating on The Ed Sullivan Show
08:42
Vince Calandra on security for the Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964
02:35
Vince Calandra on the Beatles' arrival in America for their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964
01:21
Vince Calandra on being promoted to talent coordinator and how he scouted talent for The Ed Sullivan Show
02:51
Vince Calandra on booking talent for The Ed Sullivan Show and bribes/perks he was offered
02:35
Vince Calandra on booking meetings for The Ed Sullivan Show
04:25
Vince Calandra on how pay scales for talk shows compared to that of The Ed Sullivan Show
01:39
Vince Calandra on acts that were banished from The Ed Sullivan Show
00:33
Vince Calandra on how his relationship with Ed Sullivan changed when he became talent coordinator for The Ed Sullivan Show
00:51
Vince Calandra on first meeting the Beatles' at rehearsal the day before their historic performance on The Ed Sullivan Show
10:09
Vince Calandra on the Beatles' dress rehearsal the day of their historic performance on The Ed Sullivan Show (February 9, 1964) and celebrities wanting to meet the group
03:51
Vince Calandra on the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein not being pleased with a couple things the day of the Beatles' historic first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show (February 9, 1964)
02:20
Vince Calandra on the excitement and response to the Beatles' historic first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show
02:37
Vince Calandra on his thoughts on the Beatles' historic first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show
04:04
Vince Calandra on controversy over a Rolling Stones performance on The Ed Sullivan Show
01:54
Vince Calandra on controversy over a Bob Dylan performance on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:42
Vince Calandra on trying to get Jimi Hendrex to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:50
Vince Calandra on problems with Jackie Mason on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:40
Vince Calandra on Jackie Mason getting cut off by President Johnson on The Ed Sullivan Show; how the "fickle finger" came about
07:12
Vince Calandra on comics that appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show
02:06
Vince Calandra on the popularity of Topo Gigio on The Ed Sullivan Show
02:17
Vince Calandra on The Muppets' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:54
Vince Calandra on Senor Wences on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:54
Vince Calandra on Victor the Bear on The Ed Sullivan Show
02:27
Vince Calandra on animal mishaps on The Ed Sullivan Show
01:31
Vince Calandra on memorable guests on The Ed Sullivan Show
01:12
Vince Calandra on his favorite and least favorite guests on The Ed Sullivan Show
04:39
Vince Calandra on a rehearsal with comic Jackie Leonard for The Ed Sullivan Show
03:44
Vince Calandra on the cancellation of The Ed Sullivan Show
01:22
Vince Calandra on the cancellation of The Ed Sullivan Show
01:18
Vince Calandra on a photo of the Beatles' rehearsal the day before their first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:30
Vince Calandra on a photo of Ed Sullivan and staff on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:29
Vince Calandra on a photo of him standing in for George Harrison for the Beatles' first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:26
Vince Calandra on a photo of Topo Gigio on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:12

George Carlin

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George Carlin on the material he was forced to censor when appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show
03:29

Dick Cavett

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Dick Cavett on appearing as a stand-up comic on The Ed Sullivan Show
02:04

Marge Champion

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Marge Champion on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show  with Gower Champion and touring the Soviet Union with Ed Sullivan
15:49

Cyd Charisse

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Cyd Charisse on her first television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show
03:07

Roy Clark

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Roy Clark on being a guest on The Ed Sullivan Show
02:44

Bill Dana

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Bill Dana on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show as "Jose Jimenez"

Phyllis Diller

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Phyllis Diller on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show; on Ed Sullivan
02:38

Mike Douglas

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Mike Douglas on his appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (airdate: May 26, 1968)
02:43

Patty Duke

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Patty Duke on performing on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:51

Bob Elliott

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Bob Elliott on "Bob and Ray" appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show
03:06

Danny Epstein

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Danny Epstein on he and Joe Raposo playing music for Jim Henson on his appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:41

Nanette Fabray

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Nanette Fabray on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show
01:36

Mitzi Gaynor

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Mitzi Gaynor on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, the same night The Beatles were on
06:52
Mitzi Gaynor on later appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:58

Mary Lynn Gottfried

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Mary Lynn Gottfried on watching early episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show
00:29
Mary Lynn Gottfried on working as a receptionist for The Ed Sullivan Show
17:32
Mary Lynn Gottfried on The Ed Sullivan Show
26:30

Andy Griffith

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Andy Griffith on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, and on his feelings about New York City
04:18

Florence Henderson

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Florence Henderson on singing in the off-camera chorus on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:30
Florence Henderson on her second appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (with John Raitt)
02:02

Hal Holbrook

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Hal Holbrook on meeting Ed Sullivan and appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show as "Mark Twain"
08:12
Hal Holbrook on his appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show leading to "Mark Twain Tonight!" being performed off-Broadway
04:19

Sidney M. Katz

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Sidney M. Katz on editing film of The Beatles for The Ed Sullivan Show
02:16

Eartha Kitt

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Eartha Kitt on performing on The Ed Sullivan Show
06:55
Eartha Kitt on working with Ed Sullivan and working without a manager
03:26

Sid Krofft

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Sid Krofft on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:52

Jack LaLanne

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Jack LaLanne on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:17

Jerry Lewis

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Jerry Lewis on appearing on Ed Sullivan's first show
00:34

Bob Markell

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Bob Markell on B-roll footage of production photos of The Ed Sullivan Show
00:56

Dick Martin

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Dick Martin on performing on The Ed Sullivan Show
02:59

Wink Martindale

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Wink Martindale on his hit song "Deck of Cards," and on performing it on The Ed Sullivan Show
08:01

Anne Meara

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Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara on their last appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and the legacy of the show
05:30
Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show
01:09
Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara on rehearsals for The Ed Sullivan Show
01:16
Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara on rehearsals and material for The Ed Sullivan Show
15:35

John Moffitt

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John Moffitt on joining The Ed Sullivan Show as a PA
18:43
John Moffitt on Ed Sullivan selecting acts for The Ed Sullivan Show
06:33
John Moffitt on the production specifics and some of the guests who appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show
18:17
John Moffitt on The Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show
03:55
John Moffitt on The Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show
06:50
John Moffitt on working as assistant director and then director on The Ed Sullivan Show
15:27
John Moffitt on directing music on The Ed Sullivan Show (i.e. Rolling Stones; Dave Clark Five)
04:58
John Moffitt on The Ed Sullivan Show going off the air
01:17
John Moffitt on photos from The Ed Sullivan Show
05:46
John Moffitt on photos from The Ed Sullivan Show
02:18

Tad Mosel

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Tad Mosel on adapting James Agee's novel "A Death in the Family" to the Pulitzer Prize wining play "All the Way Home," and the show being saved by a plug from Ed Sullivan
07:54

Robert Mott

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Robert Mott on doing sound effects for The Ed Sullivan Show 
03:17
Robert Mott on doing sound effects for The Ed Sullivan Show
03:13

Bob Newhart

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Bob Newhart on first appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show
03:43
Bob Newhart on a photo of him on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:57

Charlotte Rae

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Charlotte Rae on a blooper she witnessed on The Ed Sullivan Show, and on a blooper she was involved with on Appointment With Adventure
02:21
Charlotte Rae on performing on The Ed Sullivan Show
02:16

Della Reese

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Della Reese on making her television debut on The Soupy Sales Show, and on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show
04:04

Joan Rivers

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Joan Rivers on dealing with censorship on television
02:00
Joan Rivers on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show
03:16

Paul Shaffer

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Music Director Paul Shaffer on watching The Ed Sullivan Show with his parents growing up, and their knowledgeability of the acts
01:05

Caroll Spinney

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Caroll Spinney on seeing Jim Henson on The Ed Sullivan Show
00:56

Frank Stanton

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Frank Stanton on CBS' early programming, including the talent raids on NBC, and The Ed Sullivan Show
06:21

Jerry Stiller

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Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show
01:09
Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara on rehearsals for The Ed Sullivan Show
01:16
Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara on rehearsals and material for The Ed Sullivan Show
15:35
Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara on their last appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and the legacy of the show
05:30

George Sunga

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George Sunga on acting as Production Manager for Ed Sullivan's various trips to Los Angeles to do The Ed Sullivan Show and the transition to color
05:20

June Taylor

View Interview
June Taylor on getting the June Taylor Dancers booked on Toast of the Town (later The Ed Sullivan Show)
04:22
June Taylor on working with Ed Sullivan on Toast of the Town (later The Ed Sullivan Show)
02:31
June Taylor on the experience of the June Taylor Dancers appearing on Toast of the Town (later The Ed Sullivan Show), and on working with Tony Martin on the show
04:32
June Taylor on the kinds of numbers the June Taylor Dancers performed on Toast of the Town (later The Ed Sullivan Show), and on rehearsal and budget for that show
04:29

Leslie Uggams

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Leslie Uggams on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show
01:46

Fred Willard

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Fred Willard on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show
06:58

Andy Williams

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Andy Williams on his first TV appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and as a singer on the Tonight  show
02:31

Ben Wolf

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Ben Wolf on shooting The Ed Sullivan Show
04:03

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