Appellate Judge Tom Becker ain't nothing but a maltipoo.
"Friends, as the great philosopher once said…"
Elvis Presley died more than 30 years ago. More than 20 years before that, he'd burst into America's consciousness, a true entertainment phenomenon. There'd been teen idols before, but Elvis was one of the first to have the advantage of TV exposure. One of his earliest television appearances was on one of the most popular shows of its time—of all time, really—The Ed Sullivan Show.
For more than 20 years—from TV's earliest days—there was no better place on television for exposure than The Ed Sullivan Show. Called Toast of the Town in its first few seasons, it was the original TV variety show, with Sullivan acting as simple MC for the different acts—music, comedy, drama, circus acts, opera, kids' entertainment, scenes from currently running plays and musicals, and the occasional visit from a politician or dignitary. Unlike later variety shows like Carol Burnett's, Sullivan did not really participate in skits. He booked the acts, introduced them, and said a few words. The Ed Sullivan Show was appointment television, an enduring American pop culture landmark that helped make stars out of countless performers.
At first, Sullivan had determined that young rock star Presley would not appear on his program, but his attitude changed when Elvis made a ratings-rewarding appearance on Sullivan rival Steve Allen's show. Sullivan booked Presley for three appearances during the 1956-57 season, one in September, one in October, and one in January. This was good for everyone: Sullivan got a ratings bump, Presley got exposure, and Presley's first film, Love Me Tender, got a nice boost. All three of these appearances are contained on The Ed Sullivan Show: The Classic Performances: Elvis.
Presley had earned four gold records by the time of his first appearance, and although the show was much ballyhooed, Sullivan did not host the program on Sept. 9, 1956. He'd been injured in a car accident some weeks earlier, and a series of guest stars had been filling in for him. Elvis was introduced on The Ed Sullivan Show by Oscar-winning actor Charles Laughton. Laughton was in New York and Presley in California making Love Me Tender and appeared via live feed. Presley, with his frequent back-ups, The Jordanaires, cut-up a bit for the audience and performed "Don't Be Cruel," "Love Me Tender," "Ready Teddy," and "Hound Dog."
For his next appearance, Oct. 28, 1956, Elvis was in New York, and Sullivan was there to meet him. This is probably the best of the three performances. Sullivan wisely broke Elvis' appearances up during the broadcast, so people tuning in late wouldn't miss him and people tuning in on time would have to sit through the other acts appearing that night—including ventriloquist Senor Wences and the Little Gaelic Singers from County Derry. While Elvis looked constrained in September, he seems much more at ease this time, performing the same line up as before, just substituting "Love Me" for "Ready Teddy." Contrary to legend, he was not filmed from the waist up—we get full-length shots of Presley dancing and posing for his screeching audience of admirers. His performance of "Hound Dog" is really the only one on this set that illustrates the singer's monstrous appeal. He was sexy and boyish, primal and playful, and Sullivan's audience was in full shriek and swoon mode.
Apparently, he was a little too primal and playful for Sullivan, because in his third appearance, the following January, Presley's performance was all filmed above the waist. While the studio audience went wild, home viewers could only imagine what they were looking at; Presley's signature "pelvis moves" remained unseen. Love Me Tender had been released the previous November to decent reviews and good business, Presley's popularity was spiking, and for his final visit to Sullivan's show, he was heavily made up and wearing a puffy shirt and shiny vest. This was also Presley's last time on The Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan tried to book him again, but Presley's manager, Col. Tom Parker, made demands that Sullivan considered outrageous. Presley did send Sullivan congratulatory telegrams, as well as a "good luck" note for the Beatles that Sullivan read on the air.
This is not the first time these performances have been released on home video. There was a three-disc set that contained the entire Sullivan episodes, which I believe is now out of print. I guess if you're a fan of both Elvis and Sullivan, it would have been neat seeing the shows in their entireties, but I'd think most people would have just sought out the Presley performances.
We get a lot of fun extras here, and they're all fairly short. First up is a brief featurette that gives background on Sullivan and talks about the car accident that sidelined him for Elvis' first time on the show. Next are previews and announcements for his appearances. A third section gives us Elvis-related comedy routines from John Byner and Jack Carter, as well as footage of Sullivan reading Presley's telegrams.
It might have been nice if these supplements had been incorporated into the main feature. As it stands, we just get the performances and the introductions from Sullivan and Laughton. There is nothing during the main feature that tells us when the shows were aired or anything else about them. Adding the featurette and bits of archival footage, as well as giving the dates of the shows—available in the scene selection menu—would have made this seem like more of a cohesive piece rather than just a recording of the performances.
We get a few more extras: some silent home movie footage, including a 19-year-old Elvis performing at a state fair and some shots of Presley and his wife, Priscilla, as well as testimonials about Elvis and Sullivan from people like Wink Martindale and Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records. The testimonials were shot in 1992.
The full-frame image here looks very good for a more than 50-year-old TV show, though it's far from perfect. The disc offers two audio options, the original mono or a remastered 5.1 surround track. While the surround track is louder and a bit richer, it had an artificial sound to it. I had to raise the volume levels to accommodate the mono track, but overall, that one sounded more authentic.
If you're a fan of Elvis Presley and don't already own copies of these performances, this reasonably priced set is a good bet. With decent tech and some fun extras, this is a nice little remembrance of two American icons.
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