On September 9, 1956, Presley made his first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (after earlier appearances on shows hosted by the Dorsey Brothers, Milton Berle, and Steve Allen), even though Sullivan had previously vowed never to allow Presley on the show.
Ed Sullivan, never a fan of controversy, had already refused an offer to hire Elvis for $5,000. The famously prickly host had been burned before by rock 'n' roll stars: He vowed to drum Bo Diddley out of television after his 1955 act on the show, when he sang his own hit 'Bo Diddley' instead of Sullivan's request, Tennessee Ernie Ford's 'Sixteen Tons'. But Elvis' ratings - his stint on the Allen show had trounced Sullivan - changed his mind. Even as he professed to the press that Elvis was 'not my cup of tea', Ed Sullivan had already begun negotiations with Elvis' agent, Colonel Tom Parker. His hesitation cost him heavily, however. He would end up agreeing to shell out $50,000 for three appearances, an unprecedented sum. Sixty two million Americans tuned in to see Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show, roughly 80% of the entire TV audience:
At the time, Presley was filming Love Me Tender, so Sullivan's producer, Marlo Lewis, flew to Los Angeles to supervise the two segments telecast that night from CBS Television City in Hollywood. Sullivan, however, was not able to host his show in New York City because he was recovering from a near fatal automobile accident. Charles Laughton guest-hosted in Sullivan's place. Laughton appeared in front of plaques with gold records and stated, "These gold records, four of them... are a tribute to the fact that four of his recordings have sold, each sold, more than a million copies. And this, by the way, is the first time in record-making history that a singer has hit such a mark in such a short time. ... And now, away to Hollywood to meet Elvis Presley.":
According to Sullivan biographer Michael David Harris, "Sullivan signed Presley when the host was having an intense Sunday-night rivalry with Steve Allen. Allen had the singer on July 1 and trounced Sullivan in the ratings. When asked to comment, [Sullivan] said that he wouldn't consider presenting Presley before a family audience. Less than two weeks later he changed his mind and signed a contract. The newspapers asked him to explain his reversal. 'What I said then was off the reports I'd heard. I hadn't even seen the guy. Seeing the kinescopes, I don't know what the fuss was all about. For instance, the business about rubbing the thighs. He rubbed one hand on his hip to dry off the perspiration from playing his guitar.' Elvis performing "Love Me Tender":
Elvis performs "Don't Be Cruel":
Elvis would perform two more times with Ed Sullivan as the host. Here is a cool CGI of what it looked like backstage with Elvis being introduced:
A short clip of Ed Sullivan clearly taking a different attitude towards Elvis, updating his audience while Elvis served in the army:
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