Our interview with Andrew Solts continues today in Forgotten Hits ...
KENT KOTAL / FORGOTTEN HITS: Ed has said in past interviews that one of his missions or goals as a host was opening the eyes and ears of his audience to another form of media or entertainment that they might not otherwise have considered. Do you feel he was successful in this regard? (Personally, I think it was probably more likely that our parents may have developed some tolerance for rock and roll than that many 12 and 13 year olds had a sudden craving for opera or Ethel Merman songs!)
ANDREW SOLT: Yes, I think Ed was very successful in this regard. Every program was put together with the thought in mind to offer something for everyone ... and in that respect, he certainly succeeded. Now, maybe we didn't always appreciate some of the highbrow things then, but in hindsight it's interesting to watch some of these programs to see just how diverse they really were. This truly was "variety television" at its very finest.
kk: As the head of SOFA Entertainment, I'm sure that you have felt a need to maintain a rather "unbiased" approach to releasing this material over time. Certainly I would think the best selling material would be that of the broadest appeal ... but I truly do enjoy the option to watch the ENTIRE program as it originally aired, especially with some of the original commercials intact!
AS: That's what’s nice about some of these "specialty" video releases ... you have the option to watch only the music portions featuring a particular artist ... or watch the entire program exactly as it originally aired.
kk: And often with the original commercials!
kk: To some, Ed Sullivan probably seemed as unlikely a television host as anyone ... yet, over time he became not only one of the most parodied celebrities in America but also one of the most iconic. It wasn't at all uncommon to see a comedian like Will Jordan, John Byner, Frank Gorshin or any one of several others do a spot-on imitation of Ed Sullivan ... and right on his own stage!!! His "stone-face" demeanor left pretty much each and every "every man" watching at home feeling like THEY could do his job better than HE could! To what do you attribute Ed's greatest appeal?
AS: Ed knew exactly his place and role in the mix of things. He knew he couldn't sing or dance ... he couldn't tell a joke ... people weren't tuning in each week to see what HE would do ... they were in front of their TV's to see great entertainment ... and Ed's gift was putting together the best mix of talent he could each and every week. He was not only a good variety host, but an excellent producer. If you watch the show closely, you'll see that no set built for any artist is ever used again ... each performance is unique unto itself. A tremendous amount of effort went into insuring that every program looked new and fresh.
kk: If Ed wasn't "Mr. Personality" on stage, there is NO denying his ability to pick the hottest acts for his program. He truly seemed to have his finger on the pulse of America at all times, despite the fact that he was considerably older than most of the acts he was presenting. One wouldn't necessarily use the word "hip" when describing Ed Sullivan, but the truth is, he was VERY in-tune with what was happening on the current scene. Certainly his background as a newspaper journalist / gossip columnist / and "mc" at several key Broadway and New York live functions played to his advantage in this regard.
AS: Ed worked as a newspaper columnist before his show, first called "Toast of the Town," hit the airwaves ... and he continued to write a column throughout the series ... as well as two years after the show went off the air. As you stated earlier, he truly became an iconic figure. We also have to give a considerable amount of credit to his son-in-law, Bob Precht, who had a lot to do with booking many of the contemporary acts on the program. I don't know that Bob has really been given his proper "due" in the history of "The Ed Sullivan Show" but he was very instrumental in keeping the program "hip", as you say, and he gave us all that great music during the '60's.
kk: It was the appearance of Elvis Presley on Sullivan's program that ultimately launched it over the top ... but even on his very first show, Sullivan tapped into what the country most wanted to see at the time. Guests on that first "Toast Of The Town" program included Martin and Lewis, the hottest comedy act on the planet at the time. Word is that these guys were playing to near Beatlemania type audiences at every appearance!
AS: At the time "Toast of the Town" came on, there was no hotter act in show business than Martin and Lewis ... again, Ed captured them at exactly the right time ... and of course they would go on to do hit movies together ... and even have their own television series for awhile as part of "The Colgate Comedy Hour".
kk: There is film footage of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis looking out their hotel window to a crowd down below that absolutely rivals Beatlemania-type crowd control ... and Sullivan snagged these guys for his very first program!
AS: I've never seen that footage! Please send me a copy of that if you have it!
kk: I saw it in a Martin and Lewis documentary several years ago. I looked on YouTube but didn't see it posted there. I can only tell you that it truly is incredible ... you see Dean and Jerry looking out their hotel window and there's a crowd on the street the size of what you'd expect to see at a ticker-tape parade! And the crowd is reacting to every move these guys make ... so naturally Jerry is egging them on with all of his goofy gyrations!
AS: I would love to see that clip.
kk: And I think that footage of Martin and Lewis from the very first show needs to be seen again ... certainly for both historical and entertainment value! It's a television milestone!
AS: Sadly, the Martin and Lewis appearance on the very first Sullivan show (June 20, 1948) doesn't exist ... only a still photo does. Wish it did. By the way, there are no kinescopes until November 1948.
kk: It didn't necessarily have to be a hottest music act on the charts ... Sullivan was "tuned in" to the very best comedians ... the hottest show on Broadway ... theater, opera, dance and ballet ... sports legends ... his program had it ALL. And even if a particular celebrity wasn't performing on his program, Sullivan had a way of bringing them into the picture right from the audience where they were often sitting on any given night!
AS: Yes, at any point in time Ed might have a sports figure like Joe Louis or Joe DiMaggio stand up and take a bow ... or Lucille Ball or Diana Ross ... Stars LOVED to go to Ed's shows ... and he sometimes went to great lengths to insure that they had a ticket! In fact, on the program the week before The Beatles' first appearance, Ed can be heard asking his audience, "Coincidentally, if anyone has a ticket for The Beatles on our show next Sunday, could I please borrow it? We need it very badly. " (lol)
kk: That's amazing!!! Over the years, Sullivan brought us other legendary comedy teams ... Martin and Lewis ... Rowan and Martin ... The Smothers Brothers ... all of whom would go on to host their OWN variety television shows! And somebody like Joan Rivers ... who was VERY big on The Ed Sullivan Show, even back in the '60's ... and is probably an even BIGGER star today!!!
AS: Yes, yes!
kk: I was watching one of Joan's clips on your website the other day and our fifteen year old daughter happened to walk in the room and without even looking at the computer ... just hearing her voice ... said "Oh My God, is that Joan Rivers?!?!?" She has crossed over to every generation ... and is more popular than ever.
AS: I believe history will record Joan Rivers as one of the greatest comedians of the past fifty years ... and her audience just continues to grow and grow. She made several appearances on Ed's show and she was always "with it." From day one, Joan’s material was unique, clever and funny!
Ed had the hottest comedians on his program ... and there are even a couple of vintage compilation DVDs available spotlighting the "funny side of things"!!!
Click here: Comedy & Novelty | Ed Sullivan Show
Click here: Comedy & Novelty | Ed Sullivan Show
AS: People don't realize that comedians like Bob Hope and Martin and Lewis made their very first television appearances on The Toast Of The Town, the precursor to The Ed Sullivan Show. We have a number of these classic comedians preserved on our home video releases.