Judge Ryan Keefer also likes his sandwiches fried.
"I wanted to say to Elvis Presley and the country that this is a real decent, fine boy…we have never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we had with you; you're thoroughly all right. So now, let's have a tremendous hand for a very nice person."—Ed Sullivan
It's without a doubt that Elvis Presley's appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956 and 1957 were not only a vital moment in rock and roll history, but they remain a defining cultural moment many people have still not recovered from. Elvis' star was arguably at its brightest when he first appeared on the show (which ironically enough, Sullivan couldn't host, as he was in the midst of convalescing from an automobile accident) and introduced by Charles Laughton (he of Spartacus fame). On Sept. 9, 1956, he appeared on the show, where he would return twice over the next four months. Even with his first appearance, a reported 70 million people (roughly 40 percent of the population) tuned in that Sunday night in September to watch Presley perform "Don't Be Cruel," "Love Me Tender," "Ready Teddy" and "Hound Dog." You can tell in the first performance he's a little uneasy, but as the songs progress, he clearly becomes more comfortable in his skin and is quite a showman, with wild hip gyrations that threw the collective American female into a tizzy, so much so that subsequent episodes refused to film him below the waist, for fear of what would happen if the world saw Elvis' dancing. Ed does return for Elvis' live appearance (the first one was done by satellite), and doesn't waste any time getting to him in the second appearance, after an opening act and a commercial. Oh, and the second appearance provides a larger shot of Elvis during "Don't Be Cruel," and the set list is pretty much the same, with the exception of "Ready Teddy" being substituted for "Love Me" in this one. And by now, Elvis has long since been aware of the adoration of the fans, and has as much fun with performing as he can. And even to this day, some of his antics produce chills in the most cynical a music fan. In the final disc, Ed doesn't even wait for the Mercury commercial, Elvis is the first act straightaway after the introduction, and he appears at several points through the show. The first appearance is a medley of "Hound Dog," "Love Me Tender," and "Heartbreak Hotel," followed by "Don't Be Cruel." He returns to sing "Too Much" and "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again" before closing the show with a surprisingly good version of "Peace in the Valley."
To their credit, the folks at Image Entertainment could have gone the easy way out and released a disc of strictly the performance footage, but they've included each of Presley's appearances on the show, one on each of the three discs, and included the episodes in their entirety. Looking at them now, the episodes are pretty kitschy, in the first one, a group called the Vagabonds (think the Kingston Trio mixed with Victor Borge and Spike Jonze) sings a song called "Up the Lazy River," there was an animal act here and there, and a lot, I mean a lot, of live commercials for Lincoln Mercury cars in all three episodes. The second one is the keeper, because it has Senor Wences in it, of course. And God bless Ed, he goes right from an Elvis song into a "circus act," and damn near has to act like a schoolteacher to calm the crowd down to do it. Bonus points for the segue of said act though. The third episode may be the fullest, along with the performances, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson appears, and a very young Carol Burnett gets some screen time too (wow, she was tugging on her ear back then), Jackie Robinson is in the crowd and spotted by Ed to take a bow for the people, and yes, even more almost obligatory Mercury commercials.
Each disc has some bonus material to boot. First, there's an option where you can play just the Elvis songs on the episode, and on Disc One, there is some interview footage, presumably from whatever Elvis-related anniversary took place in 1992, where Sun Records' Sam Phillips, Presley friend (and current web travel shill) Wink Martindale and others recollect about their relationship with the King. On Disc Two, there are some introductions and teasers promoting Elvis' appearances on the Sullivan shows, along with three or four minutes of handheld silent footage that may be believed to be the first existing footage of Presley performing back in 1954. Disc Three includes some home video footage from Presley friend Jerry Schilling on and off the movie and music stages, and some clips from various episodes of the series when Ed references Elvis.
All in all, this is a nice handy set that looks at a pivotal moment in American music. Image Entertainment could have phoned this in and did it the easy way, but they've put together a nice set that's worthy of pickup for any music fan, not to mention fans of Elvis and Ed Sullivan should probably add this to their library.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Rare Elvis Home Movies with Performances and Family Footage
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