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The Ed Sullivan Show – The Beatles Episodes (A TV on DVD Review)

Updated: Oct 1, 2021

The Ed Sullivan Show featuring The Beatles

The Ed Sullivan Show featuring The Beatles

The Ed Sullivan Show

Four Complete Historic Episodes featuring the Beatles (SOFA Entertainment-2003)

Ironically, the Beatles’ impact on modern popular culture has been diluted and diminished thanks to the very thing they themselves hath wrought: their successors, wanna-be’s and imitators, wearing us down with forty years of excessive noise.  These trashy new neighbors have brought down the worth of the Beatles’ property value.

Secondly, the seemingly endless commentary from critics on the power of the Beatles’ influence has been branded on our brains so deeply that we now take the Fab Four’s explosive beginnings for granted.

In fact, the very clips of their first appearance on American television in 1964, on Ed Sullivan’s Sunday night variety show, have been viewed and reviewed, discussed and dissected, interpreted and defined to the point of meaninglessness. Even to watch these classic performances now, after probably a lifetime of exposure to them in some form, can leave you lukewarm rather than exhilarated. The very need to use this visual experience to “define a generation” or to illustrate a “turning tide” in our history cheapens the very punch it originally packed.

The only way to experience the true blow-out shock of this televised event is to screen it in its purest form: as an entire program, rather than just the highlighted clips. You need to consider the whole to appreciate the sum of its parts.

In this important, must-have DVD containing the complete, four-episode Beatles’ appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show (three in February 1964 and one during the next television season, in September 1965), you get to truly witness and decide for yourself what the Beatles have done and how they’ve done it and why they mean what they mean. During the course of these programs, you literally see history being made; the culture actually changes before your eyes.

These are the raw, unedited episodes of The Ed Sullivan Show, warts and all, and there are plenty of warts: dishwater-black-and-white broadcasts filled with what the entertainment business was before it surrendered to youth: borscht-belt comedians telling mother-in-law jokes and complaining about “these kids today,” Vegas-worthy novelty acts involving acrobatics and unlikely props that each drag on a minute too long, brassy broads in sequins and furs really selling you a song, people-sized puppets (yes, puppets) doing their darnedest to be adorable, magicians glazing you over with card tricks, and impressionists imitating long-forgotten celebrities.

Most agonizingly of all, we are pounded over the noggin with long commercials that take their time communicating their tiresome messages (for instance, Lipton Instant Tea is somehow proud that their product “puts you in an eating mood”). These shows were the most watched in television history to that date, and the delirious advertisers shelled out big bucks because they knew you weren’t going anywhere, not even to pee. And yet, the first Beatle sponsors like Aero Shave shaving cream and Griffin Liquid Wax no longer exist. That says more about the nature of television advertising – and the American people – than anything else. Perhaps we’re not as dumb as the industry assumes we are. And yet, how easily entertained everyone was back then. It really didn’t take much to amuse the masses.

The Beatles cut through all of this torture like a buzz saw. THIS is exactly where you appreciate them, and see the difference they have made, and you suddenly realize that the way we are entertained is about to change forever.

The other acts on the show – including the 100% Caucasian studio audience – seem to be well-aware that they are a part of something novel and kicky and special. However, it’s not evident that they are conscious of the fact that history is actually being made, “right here on our stage,” as Sullivan would say. It’s almost as if the Beatles are a lucky distraction: it’s for the kids, but everybody is curious as to what the fuss is about. The screaming teenagers appear wild to Sullivan and to the befuddled adults in the audience (many with their hands to their ears), but not to us.

The teenage boys are not screaming – in fact, they’re sitting like gentlemen in sharp suits and crew cuts, but you can just see that something is getting to them, stirring within them, and they are never going to be quite the same again after the closing credits. The excitement is electric, but to the audience it’s more like electric shock: a quick zap – not long term. It doesn’t seem likely that anybody is noticing that the world had just experienced a jolting shift.

Today, programming aimed at youth is created, produced and hosted by youth. Back then, however, it was an adult world, with Sullivan being the stern but perceptive master parent. With the exception of American Bandstand in the afternoon, rock and roll was not a regularly welcomed occurrence on television, and certainly not taken seriously — until this. Rock and television were born together and grew up side by side, but they had an uneasy courtship at first.

Kids acting like kids (unruly and ruled by their hormones) were not a pretty sight for a family show. Sullivan alerted the “youngsters” to stay in their seats, and his stone-cold eyes warned them to keep their screaming and squirming and panty wetting to a minimum. He was not above requesting that the audience “settle down,” reminding them throughout the show that “you promised…”

However, by the Beatles’ fourth appearance, Sullivan himself was taken in by the very Beatlemania he sparked. He encouraged the pandemonium, attempting to lift his stiff arms and ask for more cheering.

Almost a decade before, Sullivan almost missed his chance for making the record books. He featured the then-hot Elvis Presley for three historic and highly rated appearances, but he could not take credit for introducing him (Milton Berle and Steve Allen beat him to it on their programs). With the Beatles, though, Sullivan acted quickly. As the country still reeled from the Kennedy assassination, Sullivan was in England and witnessed the Beatles phenomenon first-hand, at an airport. He wasted no time. He locked them into exclusive contracts, and both press coverage and word-of-mouth mounted the excitement. His triumph shows in his face: even in black and white, you can see how he glows, how he knows he’s hit the bull’s eye. He even smiles, which was rare for that stony face of his. Ironically, on that debut show, Sullivan mentions that Presley and his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, sent a congratulatory telegram to the Beatles, but by 1964, nobody cared anymore.

Sullivan introduces the Beatles very first set (contrary to everyone’s cloudy memory of this, their debut song was not “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” The portion consisted of  “All My Lovin’,” “Til There Was You,” and “She Loves You”); then, he proudly declares that the segment is dedicated to Johnny Carson, Randy Parr and Earl Wilson. This in itself is baffling and beyond strange, but it is proof again that adults ruled (but not for much longer). And it is most likely no coincidence that the set is sponsored by “today’s” Anacin, the headache remedy (for adults whose heads were spinning). Also, it could very well be possible that Paul’s lovely rendition of “’Till There Was You,” from Broadway’s The Music Man, was a reaching-out opportunity to get the adults to dig them too. And dig they must.

After that, it was back to the adult table. In the most anticlimactic moment in the history of television, magician Fred Kaps performs the world’s most boring card trick only seconds after the Beatles finish their first set. The cast of Oliver (including young Davy Jones, who would follow the Beatles again as a cast member of The Monkees) do some Broadway beltin’, and the non-funny husband-and-wife comedy team of McCall and Brill do a cutesy boss-and-secretary sketch that won’t register as much as a tee-hee from you. “Brilliant” impressionist Frank Gorshin (soon to be The Riddler on Batman) wonders how it would sound if stars like Broderick Crawford, Dean Martin, Marlon Brando and Burt Lancaster ran the country. You won’t give a rat’s ass, but the audience is beside themselves. As Homer Simpson would later say, “It’s funny because it’s true.”

The real second-runner-up in this historic show is another Brit – a bull of an old broad named Tessie O’ Shea, who wows us with her rendition of “I’ve Got Rhythm.” She’s mixing it up, kicking up her heels, tossing off her mink stole and playing the banjo – she ain’t leavin’ till you love her.

“Keep your eye on the mink,” she tells the audience with a wink, “I got it the hard way.” We don’t exactly know what she means by this, but we’re sure it’s for adults only.

The second show (the following week) is broadcast from the old-world glamour of the Deauville Hotel in Miami (or as Sullivan calls it, Miama). In a large auditorium without air conditioning and burdened with archaic, scorching television lighting, the Beatles again do their thing (“She Loves You,” “This Boy” and “All My Lovin’.”).

In an audience of four thousand, 1.5 million of them are vacationing Jews from New York (Paul, in yet another attempt to win the adults’ approval, jokingly says, “this next one was written by one of our favorite American bands: Sophie Tucker!”).

However, it’s singer/dancer Mitzi Gaynor (or as Sullivan insists on calling her, “Hollywood’s Mitzi Gaynor”) who makes one of the first attempts to reach out across the generations. Done up in an intense ‘60’s ‘do, and backed by male dancers who may very well be homosexual, she makes a rambling speech about how some music is for you and some music is for me, but some music is for ALL OF US. Then she proceeds to prove how wrong she is about that, with the appropriately inappropriate “It’s Too Darn Hot” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Comedian Myron Cohen makes some Krushchev jokes and Sullivan introduces boxing legend Joe Louis, who is seated in the audience with fellow fighter Sonny Liston (who Sullivan calls “a real class guy”). Louis stands up, takes a bow, and wonders what the hell he’s doing in the middle of 1964.

However, it’s the comedy team of Allen and Rossi who actually earn the title of comedy team. The wacky, wiry-haired Marty Allen, whose beloved catchphrase is “Hello, dere,” takes the audience by storm by commenting that the kids think that he is “Ringo’s mother.” He then snaps into a wild dance while donning a Beatles wig (as if he needs funnier hair than the hair he already has). In honor of Joe Louis and Sonny Liston, he also poses as a fighter who, when asked by straight-man Rossi, “What do you do after a fight?” Allen answers, “I bleed.” And, “Do you plan to fight Sonny Liston?” Allen answers, “Sure, I got a minute.”

Their second appearance is a true howl, when Rossi sings a ring-a-ding-ding rendition of “She Loves You” while Allen shimmies and frugs into the audience, unsuccessfully attempting to get someone – anyone – to twist with him. Sadly, for the sake of history, there are no takers. Without a doubt, this is one of the truly funniest moments ever on television, and if you watch nothing else on this DVD collection, watch this. Forget the Beatles – you will forever belong to Marty Allen.

By the Beatles’ fourth appearance, in September of 1965, the novelty is starting to wear off. Their hair is much longer, the songs are much deeper (“Ticket To Ride,” “Yesterday,” “Help”), and Ringo, whose awkward facial expressions should be cataloged, trademarked and practiced to perfection by ALL OF US, blows his shot at the big time with the unbearable “Act Naturally.”

Fellow Brit Cilia Black wows the crowd with a swingin’ rendition of “September In the Rain,” but it’s the English way she says “Septembah” that gets the Liverpool-lovin’ audience grooving. During a commercial break, Pillsbury boasts of its new concept of “refrigerated dough!”

However, it’s comedian Soupy Sales (not the Beatles) who wins the day with his novelty record, “The Mouse.” Like a rodent himself, he scurries into the audience and unashamedly does his dance (which involves sticking your teeth out like a mouse, among other mousy gestures) and the crowd cannot get enough. Soupy Sales is completely and totally adored, and that’s putting it mildly. The crowd goes wild for Soupy in a way that would make the Beatles envious. They even know the words to the song, which has since been lost to the ages but should definitely be resurrected.

Even though we never get to see other Sullivan shows in their full length (including the one they tease you with, starring “top comedy star” Jack Carter), these four programs will get you feeling fine. They’re worth watching, because you will never see anything like this on television again.

Ronald Sklar

Copyright ©2005  All rights reserved.  Posted: October 13, 2005.

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