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11 Secrets & Scandals Of TV Favorite 'The Ed Sullivan Show'

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Jan. 17 2017, Published 10:00 a.m. ET

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IT'S a really big show tonight!" With those immortal words to kick it off, The Ed Sullivan Show changed the face of American television! Dour-looking Ed was the unlikely host of the show, which aired on CBS from 1948 until 1971. The program was straight out of vaudeville, with acts ranging from stand-up comics to Spanish ventriloquist Senor Wences and a mouse puppet called Topo Gigio. It also featured popular rock 'n' roll with Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones and — for the first time in the U.S. — The Beatles! Here are some secrets to the popular variety program you never knew!

Ed Sullivan 100 years

Ed Sullivan Show Secrets
Source: Getty Images

"The Ed Sullivan Show" enjoyed huge popularity in the 1950s and early 1960s. Gathering around the television set to watch Ed on Sunday nights became a family ritual for American households. The stiff, hollow-eyed host, a former New York newspaper columnist, became regarded as a kingmaker. Performers considered an appearance on his show a guarantee of stardom.

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Ed Sullivan 100 years

Ed Sullivan Show Secrets
Source: Getty Images

What is now The Ed Sullivan Theater, where the show was broadcast from, was once called CBS Studio 50. But in 1933, with Prohibition repealed, the struggling Manhattan theater was transformed into a "music hall" run by impresario Billy Rose — a reputed front man for mobster Lucky Luciano!

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Toast of the Town hosted by Ed Sullivan

Ed Sullivan Show Secrets
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The show was called "The Toast of the Town" when it first aired. Eight years later, in 1955, it was finally christened "The Ed Sullivan Show."

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Ed Sullivan on the Set of Ed Sullivan Television Show, 1957, NYC

Ed Sullivan Show Secrets
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During a Nov. 20, 1955, telecast, Sullivan became upset after blues singer Bo Diddley performed his recording of "Bo Diddley" instead of "Sixteen Tons," a 1955 million-seller for Tennessee Ernie Ford. Bo later recalled, "Ed Sullivan says to me in plain words, 'You are the first black boy' — quote — 'that ever double-crossed me!'  " Diddley never returned to the show.

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Toast of the Town hosted by Ed Sullivan

Ed Sullivan Show Secrets
Source: Getty Images

Bob Dylan was slated to make his first nationwide TV appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on May 12, 1963, to perform "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues," a song he wrote criticizing the anti-communist John Birch Society and the red-hunting paranoia associated with it. During rehearsal that day, CBS officials told Bob they had deemed the song unacceptable and wanted him to substitute another." "No; this is what I want to do," Bob responded. "If I can't play my song, I'd rather not appear." He then left the studio.

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Beatles On “The Ed Sullivan Show”

Ed Sullivan Show Secrets
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Americans got their first exposure to The Beatles from the historic broadcast on Feb. 9, 1964. The Fab Four were seen by 73 million, still one of the largest audiences in TV history.

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JACKIE MASON

Ed Sullivan Show Secrets
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On Oct. 18, 1964, Jackie Mason allegedly gave Ed the finger — on air! A tape of the incident shows Jackie doing his stand-up comedy act and then looking toward Ed, commenting that Ed was signaling him. The host was reportedly letting Jackie know (by pointing two fingers) that he had only two minutes left on air. Jackie began working his own fingers into his act and pointed toward Ed with his middle finger slightly separated. A furious Ed argued with Jackie backstage, then terminated his contract. Jackie denied knowingly giving the middle finger and filed a libel suit in New York Supreme Court, which he won!

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JACKIE MASON

Ed Sullivan Show Secrets
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Ed publicly apologized to Jackie when he appeared on the show two years later in 1966. But when Jackie impersonated Ed, he never appeared on the show again.

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Bill “Bojangles” Robinson Dancing

Ed Sullivan Show Secrets
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Ed had a terrible temper and could hold a grudge, but he had a sensitive side, too. He paid out of his own pocket for the funeral of dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, who died penniless. It was one of many acts of quiet personal generosity for which Ed was known among his friends.

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Photo of DOORS

Ed Sullivan Show Secrets
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The Doors were notorious for their Sept. 17, 1967, appearance on the show. CBS network censors demanded singer Jim Morrison change the lyrics to their hit song "Light My Fire" by altering the line, "Girl, we couldn't get much higher." But Morrison sang the original line, on live television with no delay. The group

was never invited back.

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Rolling Stones On Ed Sullivan

Ed Sullivan Show Secrets
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In contrast, The Rolling Stones rolled over when they were told to change the title of their song "Let's Spend the Night Together" for their Jan. 15, 1967, appearance. The band caved, with Mick Jagger and bassist Bill Wyman rolling their eyes whenever they reached the changed refrain, "Let's spend some time together." Mick wouldn't wear a jacket on their first appearance on the show (Oct. 25, 1964), which annoyed Sullivan. When they appeared again in 1965, however, the band members wore jackets. The Stones would ultimately play "The Ed Sullivan Show" six times.

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