Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Wrapping Up Our Interview With Andrew Solt

Wrapping up our interview with Andrew Solt, aka "Keeper of the Castle" when it comes to the ultimate Ed Sullivan  video collection ... Andrew owns and manages the rights to the COMPLETE original series!

KENT KOTAL / FORGOTTEN HITS:  Several artists made multiple appearances on The Sullivan Show. (The Dave Clark Five immediately come to mind ... I believe in all they made something like a dozen appearances on Ed's program.) Herman's Hermits would be another artist in that group of "repeat" performers. Maybe something like a definitive British Invasion Box Set would be in order ... there could be half a dozen disks featuring the likes of The Kinks, The Hollies, Peter and Gordon, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Petula Clark, etc, etc, etc, etc ... and then maybe a few other artist-specific disks spotlighting artists like The Dave Clark Five, Herman's Hermits ... similar to those currently available spotlighting The Beatles and The Stones.)

ANDREW SOLT:  Actually we did a show on the British Invasion and Graham Nash and Michelle Phillips hosted it.  The Ed Sullivan Show achieved some of its highest ratings during the British Invasion and Ed had everybody on those years ... from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to Herman's Hermits and The Dave Clark Five ... The Animals, Petula Clark, Peter and Gordon. Unfortunately, he never had The Kinks or The Hollies on his program.  Our take was the British Invasion lands and America fights back so we included The Byrds, The Supremes, James Brown, The Lovin’ Spoonful and The Mamas and The Papas.

kk:  Seriously? I could have sworn I'd seen The Hollies on the show. In fact, I have a copy of that Ed Sullivan DVD that is hosted by Michelle and Graham Nash, and there's a Hollies performance clip on that DVD!

AS:  We had to license that track because we wanted to show Graham performing with The Hollies. Graham and Michelle did an EXCELLENT job hosting this program ... this was another one of the CBS Specials ... and we wanted to have a Hollies song on there (as well as a Mamas and Papas song, of course) ... so I had to license that clip from another source. I first met Graham when he and David Crosby provided the music for one of my Jacques Cousteau television specials. But it’s sad to say, The Hollies never appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show ... nor did The Kinks. These were two great ones that got away!  Same with The Who.

kk Likewise, vintage 1950's footage would make for an awesome collection ... The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley and the Comets, Johnny Cash, and some of the artists who made only one or two appearances like ... this material has grown rarer and rarer over the years ... yet I believe there is a lucrative market out there for this long-unseen footage.

AS: Many of these artists do appear on our compilation videos. Bobby Darin, Sam Cooke, Lloyd Price, Jackie Wilson, James Brown ... and many other greats ... and, of course, let’s not forget the man who started it all – Elvis!

kk:  Typically, we get one clip of these artists on a DVD ... but many of them made multiple appearances on Ed's program and performed two or three songs ... an early Rock And Roll compilation series would allow some of this seldom-seen footage to become available again. Elvis, of course, was the one that put the show over the top. Again, Ed had a remarkable eye for talent.

AS:  We have to understand that booking Elvis Presley was in a way a ratings decision. Ed had stated earlier that he would NEVER allow Presley to appear on his program – he said that he didn't feel Elvis was right for his show. However, he then witnessed reactions and ratings from of some of Elvis' other television appearances. Before he went on The Ed Sullivan Show, Elvis had already been on other programs like Steve Allen, Milton Berle and The Dorsey Brothers ... so Ed was NOT the first television host to bring Elvis Presley into America’s living rooms ... yet it seems to be The Ed Sullivan Show appearances are often what people remember most.  History was made on Sullivan and his audience was by far the biggest.  So Ed finally gave in ... Ed knew that by booking him on his program, Elvis would deliver huge ratings ... so he agreed to pay Colonel Parker's then unheard of, outrageous fee of $50,000 for three performances. And, exactly as expected, Elvis delivered 60+ million viewers on September 9, 1956 – his first Sullivan show. I'm sure Ed and CBS considered it money well spent at the time.

The complete history of Elvis Presley's performances on The Ed Sullivan Show can be found here:

kk:  Of course on The Steve Allen Show, Elvis dressed in a tux and sang "Hound Dog" ... to a hound dog!!! Ed at least treated these artists with a lot more respect.

AS:  Ed genuinely liked Elvis.  Even when the network censors decided that Elvis could only be filmed from the waist up on his last Sullivan appearance, Ed made it a point of coming over afterwards and thanking Elvis, telling the audience and the world that he had never had a more pleasant experience than working with this fine, fine young gentleman. He called Presley "a real decent, fine boy" and because of his credibility with the public, parents relaxed their views about Elvis and were less inclined to say he was a bad influence, kind of a juvenile delinquent leading their children down the destructive path of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

kk:  Obviously there were lots of other competing programs on the air at the time where a popular recording artist could go to perform their latest hit. Do you have any idea as to how Ed Sullivan viewed his competition at the time? And how did he manage to stay ahead of the trends week after week after week? Surely he was booking acts well in advance ... yet his show ALWAYS seemed to have that "immediacy" feel to it.

AS:  Ed had a great eye and ear for talent ... but you also have to give a tremendous amount of credit to Bob Precht, his son-in-law, a producer on the program who helped book some of the finest acts over the years. Bob became a tremendous asset to the whole operation and he, too, knew exactly what was hot at the time. Personally, I don't think his contribution to the program has ever been properly and fully recognized.

As for the competition, Ed was always aware of his competition, meaning the programs on against him in the same timeslot. Over the years, these included programs like The Steve Allen Show ... (Ed was determined to beat Steve in the weekly ratings, which he often did) ... Maverick ... The F.B.I. ... and his fiercest competition, The Wonderful World Of Disney. That was probably the toughest competition he ever faced ... and THAT was a reason for introducing Topo Gigio on a regular basis! Ed wanted a character developed that would appeal to the kids ... so Topo Gigio became a regular fixture on Sunday nights for the kids.

But if you mean competition from other music shows like Shindig or Hullabaloo or Shivaree or American Bandstand ... no, I think Ed paid little attention to these programs ... but he paid a TREMENDOUS amount of attention to the programs he was up against in the Sunday night at 8 pm timeslot.

Click here: Ed Sullivan Presents Topo Gigio & Friends | Ed Sullivan Show 

kk:  LOL ... so Ed figured he would fight Walt Disney Mouse to Mouse, eh?!?! Looking at the year-end ratings of The Rock And Roll Era, The Ed Sullivan Show placed in The Top Ten the majority of these years ... #3 in 1955, #2 in 1956 ... between 1955 and 1971 when the show went off the air, The Ed Sullivan Show finished in The Top 20 eleven times out of 17 years! The show that featured The Beatles' first appearance remains the highest rated show of the entire 23 year series!

AS:  Ed usually delivered impressive and steady ratings. Even if his wasn't the top rated show, he still drew a loyal, sizable audience week after week.

kk:  You mentioned the censors earlier in regards to Elvis Presley ... but Ed is known for HIS censorship with some of the rock acts, too. It's a matter of legend now that he got The Rolling Stones to change the lyrics of "Let's Spend The Night Together" to "Let's Spend Some Time Together" ... he also insisted that Jim Morrison of The Doors NOT sing the line about "getting higher", only to have Morrison confound Sullivan during the live broadcast by singing exactly that ... at which point an absolutely FURIOUS Ed Sullivan proclaimed that The Doors would never appear on his program again.  (And they never did!)  
Ed certainly had his favorites (the often-asked-back Supremes, The Mamas and the Papas and The Dave Clark Five immediately come to mind) ... did he find it much more difficult deciding on what acts to book as rock and roll became more rebellious?

AS:  Bob Dylan was scheduled to appear on Ed's program one week but walked off the stage during the rehearsal when he was told that he couldn't sing "Talkin' John Birch Society Blues" ... and he never came back. But Ed had on acts like Janis Joplin and The Jefferson Airplane ... Santana and Creedence Clearwater Revival ... The Band and Vanilla Fudge ... heavier artists that you might not normally expect to see on a variety program such as his.

One thing that a lot of people don't know is that Ed and his staff had battles occasionally with his censors, as well as Ford / Lincoln / Mercury dealers in the South about the number of African-American acts he had on his program.  When Ed wouldn’t back down, several of the dealers threatened to leave the show.  It almost went down but Ed stood his ground and the show went on to new heights.  Ed especially loved black performers and, as such, built a wide audience by booking many of the Motown acts and artists like Sam Cooke and Sammy Davis, Jr. ... Ray Charles, James Brown and comedians like Richard Pryor ... artists like Nat King Cole, Lena Horne, Pearl Bailey and Moms Mabley ... these were performers you didn't see on a lot of other television programs at the time. If you were talented Ed didn’t care what color your skin was.  Behind the scenes, Ed sometimes fought with his sponsors, who threatened to pull out because he seemed to favor some of these "race" artists. Perhaps the most controversial episode came when he had singer Harry Belafonte on his show. Harry was doing one of his calypso numbers and there were a number of girls dancing behind him as he sat on a stool performing his song. Ed received ALL kinds of angry and threatening letters ... it was UNHEARD OF to have a white woman placed behind a black man ... and several sponsors did pull out after this episode aired!

kk:  As well-loved and popular an entertainer as Harry Belafonte was, he certainly seemed to cause some controversy over some of his television appearances! In the mid-'60's, there was quite a bit of flack when, during a duet, he took Petula Clark's hand ... and I remember a particular episode of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour that never even aired because of its political overtones ... Harry was singing some sort of protest song while, in the background, footage was being shown of the 1968 Democratic Convention which, of course, was COMPLETELY out of hand!!!

AS:  And these were many of the same CBS censors that The Ed Sullivan Show went up against from time to time. (In fact, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour eventually followed The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights.) A lot of people also don't know that when Bill "Mr. Bojangles" Robinson died, virtually penniless, Ed paid for the funeral expenses, a major event and motorcade through Harlem, out of his own pocket, because he had such great respect for Robinson, his screen work and talent.  If you were a friend of Ed’s, he was loyal for life.

kk:  Amazing!  Thank you again, Andrew, for taking the time to visit with us today.  A very insightful and enlightening look into The Ed Sullivan Show!

AS:  Thank you as well.  I appreciate your thoroughness and interest in Ed Sullivan and his body of work and its rich music legacy.

kk It's been a real pleasure!


And we're not done yet ... check back for some of your comments ... and some memories from some of the artists who appeared on the program ... in the days to come!  It's all right here in Forgotten Hits ... where we're Keeping Yesterday Alive!