(September 9 1956) 66 YEARS OF ED SULLIVAN – The true story

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Elvis’ performance on The Ed Sullivan Show went down in the annals of Rock’n’Roll history due to the censors’ decision to film Presley only from the waist up. 

However, contrary to popular belief, this did not materialize until the third appearance.

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Ed Sullivan had turned down an offer to sign Elvis for $5,000. He had even told the press he wouldn’t hire the singer (“…wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole”) but Elvis’s ratings – his appearance on the Allen show had beaten Sullivan – changed his mind.

Even as he told the press that Elvis was “not my cup of tea,” Ed had already entered into negotiations with Colonel Tom Parker. 

His hesitation cost him dearly, however. He would end up agreeing to pay $50,000 for three appearances, an unprecedented sum.


Neither Sullivan nor Elvis was in the New York studio that night; Elvis was in Hollywood, shooting his first movie, and he sang from the CBS studio there. 

Sullivan was recovering from a shock at the hospital, and Charles Laughton was on hand to introduce him.

Elvis greeted the audience and announced that the show was “probably the greatest honor I’ve ever had in my life,” then launched into “Don’t Be Cruel.” 

The camera stayed above his waist for now, sometimes closing in on his face, sometimes turning to show his musicians, but something Elvis was doing out of lens range was causing inexplicable screams from the audience.

Viewers got to see the full Elvis – legs, hips and all – in part two, when he rocked out with “Ready Teddy” and two verses of “Hound Dog.” 

Elvis on that night set in motion a trend that continues to this day. The press was quick to notice that the cameras switched to close-up every time he started to move, censoring him, but the television audience got to see much more than that.

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Hence, the screaming of the girls.

That September 9 the show was seen by more than 60 MILLION SPECTATORS reaching 82.6% of the audience. And with “Love Me Tender,” Elvis won over American adults for the first time.

Many historians claim that Elvis’s three nights on the Sullivan show helped bridge the gap between the first generation of Rock’n’Roll and their parents. 

Note from Christine Gibson (former editor of American Heritage)

Information provided by Elvis Shop Argentina


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