I remember clearly what I was doing on Sunday night, February 9th, 1964, at 7:00 P.M. Central Standard Time….
…no, that’s a lie. I have absolutely no memory of where I was or what was going on, being only two. But I like to think I was sitting in my mother’s lap1 with the rest of the family, gathered around the TV, watching the #1 variety show on CBS, The Ed Sullivan Show. Ed’s featured guests that night were a new pop group from England, of all places, and my oldest brother, who was in his late teens, may well have wanted to see them. I like to think that my love of the Beatles began there, as they belted out All My Loving and crooned ‘Til There Was You to the screaming mass of girls in the studio audience and the millions of viewers at home.
I have The Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles on DVD, and it’s a marvelous time machine into a bygone era. Ed’s other guests that night included singer Tessie O’Shea, who performed a medley of Broadway tunes and played the banjo; the cast of the Broadway smash Oliver!, with a young Davy Jones2 as the Artful Dodger singing I’ll Do Anything; noted impressionist Frank Gorshin3 doing manic imitations of Hollywood stars such as Burt Lancaster; and a young married couple making their comedic debut, Mitzi McCall and Charlie Brill. I feel sorry for them. Their shot at the big time was completely quashed by the Fab Four’s American premiere.
What I really love are the ads for things like Lipton tea, shoe polish, laundry detergent and shaving cream4. Pillsbury had a lot of ads, too, for things like Hungry Jack pancake mix, which even in black and white looks pretty tasty. But the way that announcer says “Lip-ton Tea” has become a running gag in our household.
Even though I don’t remember The Ed Sullivan Show (not even in later years), I remember many other variety shows of the late Sixties and early Seventies, such as The Carol Burnett Show, Laugh-In, The Brady Bunch Hour (ugh), and The Sonny and Cher Show. None of them have aged well (sorry, Carol). Variety may be the spice of life, but it’s as dead as a doornail nowadays.
Still, thank you, Ed, for giving the boys their big break, and for most likely planting the seed of Beatlemania within my two-year-old brain.