Horses and Tigers and Comics and Stones

Last week, I wrote about the Rolling Stones’ six appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show between 1964 and 1969. All six are available on DVD, and the DVDs contain not just the Stones’ performances, but other acts from the shows on which they appeared. They aren’t quite the complete shows, as you’ll read below, although they do include some of the national commercials that ran.

The October 7, 1964, show features comedy performances by Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara and by London Lee, who appeared with Ed 32 times over the years. Also appearing that night, but not on the DVD: the Cambridge Circus, which featured John Cleese and Graham Chapman years before Monty Python. There was classical music by Itzhak Perlman, tap dancing by Sullivan regular Peg Leg Bates, and the international acts Ed loved: the Kim Sisters from South Korea (doing the spiritual “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”) and the Berosinis, an acrobatic troupe from Czechoslovakia. The oddest guest spot belonged to actor Laurence Harvey, who recited Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”

On May 2, 1965, the hipness factor was slightly higher. The Stones shared the musical bill with Dusty Springfield and Tom Jones, although their performances on the DVD are apparently not the ones broadcast that night, but other songs from other shows. There was also the usual round of kinetic acts, including Gitta Morelly, who’s described by the Internet as either as a balancing act or a contortionist, and the Half Brothers jugglers. British comedians Morecambe and Wise and another frequent Sullivan guest, Totie Fields, provided the comedy. The show opened with Topo Gigio, the puppet mouse who became an international sensation after appearing with Ed, and who was very popular at our house. (Wikipedia claims Joan Rivers wrote some Topo Gigio sketches as one of her first professional gigs, but I’m skeptical.)

On February 13, 1966, the comedians were Senor Wences, old-time comic and Sullivan regular Eddie Schaeffer, and Sandy Baron, best remembered now for playing the curmudgeonly Jack Klompas on Seinfeld. The kinetics were provided by the Romanian Folk Ballet, and there’s an act listed as “Les Olympiades–Adagio Act,” about which I can find nothing. And on a show where the Stones performed “Satisfaction,” “As Tears Go By,” and “19th Nervous Breakdown,” Hal Holbrook recited Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.

Later that year, on September 11, the Stones got the opening slot on a star-packed season premiere, alongside Louis Armstrong, Robert Goulet, Red Skelton, and Joan Rivers. Also on the bill: Holiday on Ice (another performance snipped from the DVD, replaced by a pair of Italian opera singers) and the Muppets.

On the famous January 15, 1967, show (broadcast on the night of the first Super Bowl game), it looked as though Ed Sullivan was catching up with the times. In addition to the Stones, singer Petula Clark appeared, riding a long string of hits over the previous couple of years. A group of 44 Pennsylvania nuns called Sisters ’67 sang “Kumbaya,” then gaining popularity thanks to the counterculture. Flip Wilson, about to become a major star, was also on the show, but so was more traditional comic Alan King. The Muppets were back along with clog dancers and acrobats.

The Rolling Stones’ last appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was on November 23, 1969, taped in Los Angeles. Apart from the Stones, the other musical guest was Ella Fitzgerald. Rodney Dangerfield appeared; so did Robert Klein, then just beginning a standup career that would influence a large number of big-name comics of the 70s and 80s. Topo Gigio was back, along with a couple of novelty acts that sound made-up: from the Hawthorne Circus, a tiger riding a horse, and Lucho Navarro, a Mexican comedian whose main schtick seems to have been making car noises.

The list of performers on these episodes of Sullivan are pretty typical. The lineups open another fascinating window into the small-d democracy of variety television in the three-channel universe. There was once a time when it wasn’t possible to personalize every aspect of one’s world—when, as the Stones sang, “you can’t always get what you want”—but if you sat through the Czechoslovakian acrobats, you eventually might get what you need.

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2 responses

  1. I have the DVD set of the Beatles’ appearances on Sullivan’s show, and the mix is much the same. On the February 9, 1964, show – the Beatles’ first appearance on the Sullivan show – the other acts were Fred Kaps with his card and salt shaker tricks, a performance from the cast of “Oliver” followed by a solo performance from cast member Georgia Brown, impressionist Frank Gorshin (later known, of course, as the Riddler on “Batman”), Olympic athlete Terry McDermott (a speed skater), Tessie O’Shea with a medley of favorite show tunes, the comedy team of McCall & Brill and the acrobatic team of Wells and the Four Fays.

  2. Sullivan would never make it in today’s “video on demand” world. Now we just fast-forward past the things that suck.

    It was a common show-biz practice to surround your big draw acts with junk acts, sit through mediocre stuff to get to the dessert. Colonel Tom Parker did it with Elvis and Sulllivan followed suit.

    The “Oliver” cast contained one Davy Jones who got a ringside view of Beatlemania, perhaps preparing himself for Monkeemania a couple of years later.

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