February 7, 2004

So I watched the first of the Ed Sullivan Shows with the Beatles, intriguingly intact, including commercials. How strangely sedate the commercials of that time were! Each one emphasized closeups of the product with a voice earnestly, quietly making assurances about how well it would perform. A "shoe wax" would make your shoes look like they had been coated with a new layer of leather, shaving cream would stay moist for the entire duration of a shave, pancakes would rise quickly after flipping. A headache was represented by a closeup of a man's face with one white dot after another appearing on it as the voiceover intoned "pain, pain, pain." The headache remedy ad came on immediately after The Beatles had opened the show with three peppy songs, and surely gave many parents around the country the chance to make wisecracks about rock and roll causing headaches. At the end of the commercial, his headache gone, the man tightens up his tie and combs his thinning hair--as if he had never heard of The Beatles! But he was happy, in a pleasantly serene way, because he didn't have a headache, and he didn't know that he looked all outmoded after the three songs that had preceded him that night.

After the ads, Ed tells the kids in the audience to be good and pay attention to the other acts, because The Beatles would be back in the end of the show. Then out comes a comic magician in white tie who does a long card trick that depends heavily on the continued reappearance of a black card in a group of red cards. But it's black and white TV! And The Beatles were just on! Then he does a long trick involving pouring salt from a salt shaker!

The next act is the cast of Oliver! No, I'm not excited. The exclamation point is part of the title, Oliver! The first person to sing is Davy Jones, future Monkee, who played the Artful Dodger in the musical. How sweet that little Davy is the first person to sing on TV after The Beatles. He does just fine.

Next is Frank Gorshin who does about ten impressions in his few minutes, turning into one celebrity after another in a routine based on the wacky notion, what if movie stars held political office? He starts with Broderick Crawford, in an impression that I've also seen Jim Carrey do. Jim Carrey clearly copied Gorshin's Broderick Crawford, though Carrey, when I saw him do it, made it seem as though it was a special Carrey sort of madness that he would make a weird choice like Broderick Crawford to impersonate--especially interesting since Carey played a role Gorshin had made famous, The Riddler. Anyway, Gorshin was just brilliant, doing Brando, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, and more.

The true horror of the evening is Tessie O'Shea, a very large woman who belted songs and played the banjo in a way that must have made sense when people still remembered vaudeville. The strange time overlap represented by this show reaches its height as Tessie tosses her white fur boa about and sings about her "curves" while stroking her huge abdomen.

Then there's a comedy routine, a lesser Stiller & Meara called McCall & Brill, and finally The Beatles come back for two more songs, ending with "I Want to Hold Your Hand." But there's still more time on the clock, so out comes a comic acrobat, a woman encased in a costume that makes her torso appear to be a face. Somehow she's able to make the eyes look back and forth as she does a little dance and ends by taking off the costume hat, which had been covering her head. Great! Then The Four Fays come out and do comic acrobatics for a few minutes, ending with their finale: one woman lies down on a table, gripping its edges, and two other women each grab one of her feet and run around the table several times in opposite directions. The audience loves it!

That's the big show!

UPDATE: I revisit this post on the 50th anniversary of this episode of the show in 2014 and provide some links to YouTube and more.

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