On September 9, 1956 television history was made with the first appearance of Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Tomorrow, September 9, marks the 58th anniversary of first appearance of Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show. Prior to this, Elvis had performed on several other popular national television shows, including The Milton Berle Show and The Steve Allen Show. The sight of his trademark gyrations on television had caused quite a controversy, as people were not accustomed to seeing such suggestive dance moves during the 1950’s.
Ed Sullivan initially held that he would never bring Elvis on his show. But he changed his tune once Elvis appeared on The Steve Allen Show. Steve Allen was Sullivan’s direct competition; they were on during the same time slot. When Sullivan learned that Allen’s viewers doubled the night that Elvis performed, he decided that he too needed to book the King of Rock and Roll. Sullivan negotiated a fee of $50,000 for three appearances, a huge amount that was unprecedented at the time. The first appearance was September 9, 1956 and the second was on October 28. The third appearance was January 6, 1957.
Ed Sullivan was absent for that first appearance on September 9. He had been in a serious car accident and Oscar-winning actor Charles Laughton hosted in his place. Elvis was on location in Los Angeles filming Love Me Tender and the show filmed in New York, so Laughton introduced Elvis and then they cut to the stage in Hollywood. Elvis first sang “Don’t Be Cruel,” followed by “Love Me Tender,” which was the unreleased title track from his new movie. During this first set the cameras filmed him mostly from the waist up, but during the second set they widened the shot, giving the TV audience a glimpse of Elvis’ controversial gyrating. He performed “Ready Teddy” and “Hound Dog” during this set.
Sixty million people watched this first performance of Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show, which was a major success. This performance brought Elvis to a much broader audience and it is credited as helping him to gain mainstream acceptance.