Elvis Presley’s 1st National TV Appearance Huge, Not On Sullivan


Elvis Began His Road to Coronation As King of Rock and Roll on the Milton Berle Show June 5 1956

On June 5, 1956 A National TV Audience Got the Full Elvis on the Milton Berle Show

On this Date in History:  I would wager that if someone asked you which TV show was Elvis Presley’s first television appearance, you would answer the Ed Sullivan Show.  That would be wrong.  His first TV appearance was on January 28, 1956 on the little remembered, Stage Show, co-hosted by Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey.  He appeared on the next 3 episodes and a total of 6 appearances.  I’m not sure if the show lasted much longer than that but the press really didn’t pay much attention.  His first national TV appearance was on April 3, 1956 on the Milton Berle Show.   Berle remembered that there were many stars on that night including Hugh Jarrett, Esther Williams, Buddy Rich and Harry James.  Milton Berle also mentioned Buddy Hackett but the rundown of those who appeared does not list Hackett.  In any event, Elvis was an unknown young performer.  Elvis’s agent, Colonel Parker (see book about Parker and Presley) had called Berle and asked him to give Elvis an audition.  Berle did and was impressed enough to book Elvis on the show.  Elvis performed “Shake Rattle and Roll,” “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Blue Suede Shoes.”  Of the three, Elvis wrote “Heartbreak Hotel.”

Steve Allen Came Up With a Creative Way in Which to Control Presley When He Sang "Hound Dog"

The story gets a little cloudy here because in an interview of Berle, he seems to mix two appearances into one.  Apparently, Elvis was gaining in popularity but the press still generally ignored him.  You see, it was the second appearance of Elvis on the Milton Berle Show on this date in 1956 that launched him into immortal superstardom.  On that show, Elvis performed “Hound Dog.”   For some reason, the press decided to pay attention this time.  Perhaps Elvis had not shown much style in his first appearance but I suppose he was feeling more confident the second time around because he showed off his moves.  He gyrated and shook and the kids went wild, the parents were aghast and the censors were frantic.  The New York Journal-American wrote that the young man’s “primitive physical movement difficult to describe in terms suitable to a family newspaper.”  The San Francisco Chronicle called the performance “In appalling taste.”  The New York  Daily News said that Elvis “gave an exhibition that was suggestive and vulgar, tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos.”  Berle said that 4 days after the show he received 400,000 “pan” letters.  Not “fan mail” but “pan mail.”  People wrote to Berle and said that they would never watch his show again after he showed that disgusting young man.  Berle said that he called Colonel Parker to inform him that he had a star on his hands.  Berle recognized that if that many people took the time to write letters then he had to be on the minds of just about everyone.  All publicity is good publicity.

Sullivan Initially Said No To Elvis

Now, Ed Sullivan had vowed to never book Elvis on his show due to all of his controversial wiggling.   But, there were more shows besides Sullivan.  Three days prior to his groundbreaking second appearance on Milton Berle, Elvis showed up on Your Hit Parade and went on the show again on June 9, 1956.  The first of July found Elvis on the Steve Allen Show where he wore a tuxedo as he performed “Hound Dog” singing to a sad looking basset hound.  Allen had considered pulling him from the show after the backlash of the Berle appearance.  Instead, he took a comic approach and put Elvis in the tuxedo with the dog in an effort to control him.  Elvis went along with it.   An appearance with Jack Benny followed that.  Sullivan had turned down an offer to pay $5000 to put Elvis on his show but after Allen with Elvis destroyed Sullivan without Elvis in the ratings, old Ed promptly changed his mind.  The show was called originally called “Toast of the Town” and the guest host on September 9, 1956 was Charles Laughton of Captain Bligh fame from Mutiny on the Bounty.  Also on the show was the same Hugh Jarrett who was booked on the Milton Berle show on which Elvis made his national debut.   Sullivan wasn’t in the New York theatre as he was recovering from injuries suffered in an automobile accident so Laughton filled in.  Elvis wasn’t in the theatre either.  He was in Hollywood shooting his first movie.  So, Laughton tossed to the guest by saying “away to Hollywood to meet Elvis Presley.”  Elvis performed from a studio there.  Sullivan was happy because his show that night got boffo ratings and he must have also been relieved.  His delay resulted in Sullivan signing Elvis for 3 appearances for $50,000 which was an unheard of some in those days. 

I Think Charles Laughton in 1935 Made a Better Bligh Than the Real Bligh

By not having Elvis on sooner, Sullivan may have helped himself even though he cost himself money.  Other shows built his popularity so, by the time he made it to the biggest show on TV, the Sullivan Show, people watched in record numbers.  Myths get spread so much that often that the myth becomes the truth.  As previously mentioned, many people probably remember the Sullivan appearance as Elvis’s national TV debut.  They also probably recall that the censors on Sullivan’s show required that all shots of his performances would be from the waste up.    Well, on that first Sullivan appearance, his first song was “Don’t be Cruel” and the cameras did in fact stay from the waste up, showing The King in a very loud plaid jacket.  But the jacket was not the only thing that screamed out.  Women in the audience were screaming at something Elvis did beyond the camera range.  He then performed “Love Me Tender” which was his new song associated with his first movie of the same title.  But, the cameras gave the television audience the full Elvis for his second segment.  They showed his feet, his hips, his legs…everything wildly moving about as he performed the Little Richard song “Ready Teddy” and a couple of verses of “Hound Dog.”  So, Elvis was not really censored by Ed Sullivan. 

Plenty of Ladies Got to See Elvis Wiggle on the Sullivan Show

The myth was created by the press who noted that tight shots were used whenever he started to dance.  Perhaps it was censorship but more likely it was a director taking different camera shots.  The audience saw plenty of Elvis in action and they certainly heard the women in the audience sqeal every time Elvis grunted, crossed his eyes, moved his tongue or even just stood perfectly still.  Laughton concluded the show by saying, ”Well, what did someone say? Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast?”  On that night, Ed Sullivan’s show was seen by  82.6% of the total television audience in America.  Steve Allen didn’t even try as NBC pre-empted his show with a movie. 

It may have been Parker (left) and Not Sullivan who had the cameras show Elvis from Waist Up for just one song but the public got the "Full Elvis" on other segments. Myth Busted

Now, the last time that Elvis appeared on Sullivan’s show (by that time it was called the Ed Sullivan Show) was on January 6, 1957 and the TV camera’s did indeed only show him from the waste up as he sang the Gospel song,  “Peace in the Valley.”  Given that these close ups were for a non-rock and roll tune, many historians believe it was Parker’s idea to limit the camera shots as a way of creating publicity and not an order from Sullivan.   Elvis never performed for Sullivan again but it wasn’t because Ed was upset; he was a tightwad.  Colonel Parker had raised the fee for his star to perform on TV to $300,000 with a stipulation that the network had to agree to put him on two additional guest spots as well as a one hour special.  Parker credited the Sullivan appearances as the key to the success of the single and the movie “Love Me Tender.”  And many music and tv historians say that it was the 3 Sullivan appearances by Elvis to gain support from the parents of the kids who already loved  the king as Sullivan somehow bridged a generation gap.  Obviously, Elvis’s movements were tame by today’s standards, or lack thereof, but it was his breakthrough in his performing style that continues to influence rock stars today.

SPC Severe Outlook Saturday June 5, 2010

Weather Bottom Line:  A pretty strong cold front is sagging down from the North.  It will eventually get here but during the afternoon and early evening heating hours the focus of the attention will generally be to our North.  The SPC has put an area from near Gary, IN to Seymour IN in a moderate risk for severe thunderstorms with a 10% risk of tornadoes, a 30% chance for hail and 45% chance of high winds.  The reason for this is that there will be a little jet streak running across the region as the front sags through.  By the time the front gets to Louisville,it will be night and the heating of the day will be on the wane and the jet streak will have moved through.  However, there will be sufficient latent heat to support thunderstorms with the frontal passage.  While the slight risk of the severe weather threat is officially to the North of Louisville, do not be surprised to see some strong storms in our area on a isolated basis. 

Once the front moves through, we will get relief from the heat and humidity with highs on Sunday and Monday in the low 80′s to upper 70′s.  It will warm back up by the middle to late part of next week.  Depending on how pokey this front is, it is possible on Sunday to have some isolated, mainly elevated afternoon storms in the afternoon.
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3 Responses

  1. i live up with him i look up with him

  2. Hey Simon, Elvis’s or anybody else’s waist, is spelled waist, not waste.
    Also the photo of Ed Sullivan is not Sullivan, but an impressionist who often appeared on his show.
    Thanks for the info though.

  3. Such a silly mistake yet it took forever for someone to pick it up. As you can tell, I have a bad habit of not proof-reading anything. Good catch.

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