Early January represents at least two important events to the fans of Elvis Presley. One is his birthday on January 8; he would have been 72. (I’m assuming here that those reports of his living are greatly exaggerated.)
The other is his third and final appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, January 6, 1957, fifty years ago tomorrow. Elvis was signed to do these shows for the princely sum of $50,000 after Elvis’ appearance on The Steve Allen Show beat Sullivan in the ratings. Late last month, I received a review copy of the three-disc set of all three appearances.
Disc 1 covers the show of September 9, 1956, which was the last of five consecutive shows the host missed because of a severe auto accident, the results of which are shown on the disc’s extra features. So it was British actor Charles Laughton in New York who introduced the shy young singer who was in Hollywood, as he did his four numbers, including “Ready Teddy”, but they were well done. Fortunately, one could zap past some of the intervening acts, though Laughton’s reading of “The Girl and the Wolf”, based on “Little Red Riding Hood”, was interestingly bizarre. Other extras on the disc includes interviews, all done in early 1992, with Elvis confidants such as Sam Phillips and Wink Martindale, who said he still has a kinescope of an early interview he did with Elvis.
Disc 2, October 28, 1956: Ed is back, and Elvis is in the building, a tad more confident. As Sullivan noted, Presley just moved his shoulders and the girls in the audience would go wild. Apparently, the host had implored the fans not to scream during the songs, which, curiously, included “Hound Dog”, “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Love Me Tender”, AGAIN, plus “Love Me”. It was on “Hound Dog” that we see Elvis the Pelvis, most tame by current standards. Most of the other performers were unfamiliar, save for Senor Wences, who was doing much the same gig when I started watching Sullivan a few years later. The show also includes a couple songs from a Frank Loesser musical, “The Most Happy Fella”; it doesn’t really age well, but its appearance with the cast of 40 showed the clout Sullivan had in the theater community. The disc extras include promos for Elvis’ first two appearances.
Disc 3 is the infamous program where Elvis was shown only from the waist up, and after each set, the screen would go briefly black. The songs included a medley of “Hound Dog”/”Love Me Tender”/”Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t be Cruel” in an early segment; “Too Much” and “When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold” a bit later, and at the end, “Peace in the Valley”. Presley is far more confident in this show. The rest of this program was the most interesting of the three, including the comedy dance of Bory and Bor, a Brazilian powerhouse female vocalist named Leny Eversong, and a young comic singing woman named Carol Burnett in her Sullivan debut, who tugged on her ear before she started. Extras include home movies and items from the Graceland archives.
Another interesting thing about these shows are how the commercials are integrated into the show: Sullivan announcing the “good news” about the sales of the 2006 Mercury, or plugging the November 12 release date of the 2007 “Big M”, fascinated me.
But the key value is watching the rapid development of “the King” and his performing style over a four-month period.