Right Here on Our Stage Tonight! Ed Sullivan's America

Right Here on Our Stage Tonight! Ed Sullivan's America

Right Here on Our Stage Tonight! Ed Sullivan's America

Right Here on Our Stage Tonight! Ed Sullivan's America


Before the advent of cable and its hundreds of channels, before iPods and the Internet, three television networks ruled America's evenings. And for twenty-three years, Ed Sullivan, the Broadway gossip columnist turned awkward emcee, ruled Sunday nights. It was Sullivan's genius to take a worn-out stage genre-vaudeville-and transform it into the TV variety show, a format that was to dominate for decades. Right Here on Our Stage Tonight! tells the complete saga of The Ed Sullivan Show and, through the voices of some 60 stars interviewed for the book, brings to life the most beloved, diverse, multi-cultural, and influential variety hour ever to air. Gerald Nachman takes us through those years, from the earliest dog acts and jugglers to Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and beyond. Sullivan was the first TV impresario to feature black performers on a regular basis-including Nat King Cole, Pearl Bailey, James Brown, and Richard Pryor-challenging his conservative audience and his own traditional tastes, and changing the face of American popular culture along the way. No other TV show ever cut such a broad swath through our national life or cast such a long shadow, nor has there ever been another show like it. Nachman's compulsively readable history, illustrated with classic photographs and chocked with colorful anecdotes, reanimates The Ed Sullivan Show for a new generation.


You can tell a lot about a people by how they choose to amuse themselves. “The Ed Sullivan Show,” for millions of otherwise culturally deprived Americans, was the prime source of pure entertainment, television’s most powerful, influential show for 23 years, between 1948 and 1971.

Popular culture is a quick, reliable barometer of the national spirit at a moment in time, and for nearly a quarter century “The Ed Sullivan Show”—and Sullivan himself—produced and nurtured America’s cultural life. Not just pop culture but haute culture, art with a capital A. the hot, the new, the old and cold, the classic, the fleeting, the frivolous, the serious, the bizarre—all of it came tumbling out of Ed Sullivan’s flickering tube of plenty each Sunday night. This is a biography of that show and, to an extent, the man who made it happen, which is to say a memoir of pop culture in mid-20th-century America.

Ed and I share a fuzzy history. the first review I ever wrote, in 1953, was of “The Ed Sullivan Show”—or “Toast of the Town,” as it was then called. I was 15 years old and wrote the review, for myself, in my bedroom on a secondhand Underwood typewriter. I gave the show a mixed notice, my debut as an entertainment critic.

I gradually settled into watching Ed Sullivan, Milton Berle, “Masquerade Party,” Arthur Godfrey, Hopalong Cassidy, “Martin Kane, Private Eye,” and “What’s My Line?”—gray images cast on our neighbors’ seven-inch porthole screen. My father, a community theater actor, refused at first to buy a tv set. He eventually relented and purchased . . .

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