Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ed Sullivan & the Ides of March

Anyone who attended school in the United States certainly knows about the ominous Ides of March and why one should beware them -- and also that they are an "it" and not a "them." It all started with the assassination of the Roman dictator Julius Caeser in 44 B.C., which happened so long ago I can't even do the math. Not really buying the whole concept of "B.C." and not even wholly embracing the existence of "C.", I did however study Shakespeare at college and read his play, Julius Caesar, wherein he detailed how Brutus led sixty co-conspirators in the bloody mass stabbing. (There was also a 1948 novel by Thornton Wilder called The Ides of March that got far less attention than his earlier masterpiece, Our Town, a play in three acts that should be read repeatedly by anyone battling depression or just plain seeking a reason to live.) 

But there's another reason the date is to be rued that is rarely mentioned: On March 15, 1971, the CBS-TV network announced the cancellation of The Ed Sullivan Show after 23 years of making Sunday nights something to be anticipated rather than dreaded by millions of faithful viewers. For me personally it was the impetus to get all my homework done by showtime, so in one sense Ed Sullivan was responsible for me even graduating high school.

Senor Wences and his talking hand.
The Ed Sullivan Show had it all, and I mean that literally. Anyone who was anyone showed up at one time or another, be they fair-to-middling oddities, one-shot wonders or lifelong superstars: The Beatles made their famous debut, The Rolling Stones appeared six times, and Elvis Presley stunned audiences with his gyrating hips. An audience favorite was Senor Wences, a comical Spanish ventriloquist who saved money on dummies by using his own hand with a face painted on it. (I still pull out my lipstick to make one of those if I've had too much wine.) Jugglers balancing plates in the air on long sticks, unicycle riders, dancing dogs, entire casts from hit Broadway shows and singers including Tony Bennett, Petula Clark, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison and The Doors and Diana Ross and The Supremes eventually shared the hour with the Muppets, various lion tamers, families of acrobats from foreign countries and a constant parade of hilarious stand-up comedians, most notably Jackie Mason who famously gave Sullivan the finger on the air.

And of course there was Ed himself, stiffly introducing each act, looking like a walking, talking corpse with a giant bobble-head. I always suspected that after each show he went back inside his coffin where he laid dead until the following Sunday night.

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