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.
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.
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.
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.
These are the raw, unedited episodes of
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
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
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’.”).
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:
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.
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
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.
All rights reserved. Posted: October 13, 2005.