Elvis Presley helped make the Ed Sullivan show the legendary institution it became when he made his notorious debut on September 9th, 1956, when he treated the crowd to a provocative rendition of ‘Don’t Be Cruel’.
Elvis had been seen by the masses in America as being a troublemaker and epitomised everything wrong with youth culture. The King had become a character who was hated and adored in equal measure after his scandalous performance of ‘Hound Dog‘ on NBC’s Steve Allen Show which drove his young fans into a feeling of euphoria but the parents and conservative media thought otherwise, almost blacklisting the singer from TV as he didn’t leave much to the imagination with his performance.
Elvis’ star was already high, one who was riding the wave of success following his number one with ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and 60 million viewers were waiting patiently at home to watch his highly anticipated offer. When Ed Sullivan was asked if he would book Elvis on his show, he initially said he wouldn’t because he didn’t want to be the recipient of scathing criticism yet again from the media.
However, Sullivan then agreed to pay Elvis the magnificent fee of $50,000 for a hat-trick of appearances, one which is an incredible sum for a television appearance today, let alone in 1956. The deal would make him the highest paid performer to appear on TV.
Before Elvis had first made his debut on television and his stock had not risen to the incredible heights it was by the time he appeared on the Sullivan show, the bosses had dramatically turned down the opportunity to book Elvis for just $5,000. Sullivan allegedly believed that Presley wouldn’t be suitable for his show’s family audience.
The King then proved that he was worth every single penny of the fortune that Sullivan paid to secure him on his programme when 82% of all people watching television in America tuned in to watch him perform ‘Don’t Be Cruel’.
For his debut on September 9, 1956, neither Elvis nor Ed Sullivan was in the studios that day for filming. The host had suffered injuries in a car accident and was at home recuperating with the actor Charles Laughton deputising on presenting duties. Elvis wasn’t in New York City either and filmed his set from Hollywood where he was filming a blockbuster movie.
After his final performance on the programme on January 6, 1957, just two days before his 22nd birthday, Elvis treated the audience to a medley of hits including ‘Love Me Tender’, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Too Much’.
Following his set, Sullivan paid tribute to Presley who’d won him over completely with the host telling the audience Elvis was a “real decent, fine boy. We want to say that we’ve never had a pleasanter experience with a big name than we’ve had with you.”
See the clip, below.