ELVIS 1956 September
First Ed Sullivan Show
By Paul Belard
Book Review by Nigel Patterson, June 2020
Elvis 1956 - September 9, First Ed Sullivan Show - by Paul Belard
Reviewed by Nigel Patterson, June 2020
(Note: this book was edited by the reviewer prior to its publication)
“What Elvis is doing is definitely evil and can only be inspired by the devil!”
The latest photo-book by Paul Belard showcases just one night in Elvis’ storied career, his first appearance on America’s top rating entertainment program, The Ed Sullivan Show (Toast of the Town) on September 9, 1956.
It was an appearance that stunned TV viewers, with the sixty million Americans watching either spellbound or shocked, as a gyrating Elvis made a sensational debut on the country's most popular programme.
Paul Belard writes that it ‘is the day that rock ‘n’ roll truly established itself as the ascendant and unstoppable musical force in America and the world’.
While Elvis’ third appearance on the Sullivan Show is more remembered, due to him being filmed “from the waist up”, it is his first appearance that broke television viewing records. As Paul Belard states,
Viewership records established by Elvis’ appearance were only broken on 9 February, 1964, when the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, also for the first time. It is however comparing apples to oranges, since the number of television sets and teenagers were more numerous than 7 years earlier. But not even the Beatles, or anyone for that matter, not the Moon landing, or the Kennedy Funeral, even Lady Diana’s, or anything related to any political or sports event, has been able to better the percentage share achieved that glorious night by Elvis for CBS, a humongous 82.6%, which is the record, to this day.
Belard also observes, ‘...at the time of Elvis’ appearance critics viewed him as obscene and vulgar. And even during Elvis’ first appearance, the reaction of his female fans in the audience led to the cameraman finding tighter shots of Elvis on stage.
The vehemence intrinsic to the public controversy around Elvis in 1956 is reflected in another article, Ed Sullivan Challenged on ‘Good Taste’ for Elvis Presley TV Intrusion In Homes. Written by Monsignor John S. Kennedy, it includes:
Anything more outrageously offensive to good taste, is hard to imagine – within the limits of the law. The young man seems devoid of talent, unless one recognises such a thing as a talent for vulgarity.
How then, does he happen to appear again and again on a program allegedly governed by the American family’s sovereign demand for things of good taste?
The article also quotes New York Times columnist, Jack Gould, who opined:
To resort to the world’s oldest theatrical come-on just to make a fast buck.....is cheap and tawdry stuff.
Ed Sullivan was interviewed about Elvis’ appearance on his show and had a very different view:
“...I believe millions will vote with me that his performance was in good taste”
As with other Belard photo-books, it is the visual element that dominates.
The majority of the images are black and white and number around 200. Most are sourced from AP/Museum of Television & Radio. Given they were filmed almost seven decades ago, several images are quite dark and this is arguably not helped by the black page border (a white border might be a better choice to improve the appearance of lower quality images). This issue is not evident with any of the colorised images, which have a strong visual resonance.
Overall, there is a visual feast on offer. Starting with the great front cover image, the highlights include:
p49: a full length shot of a “very cool” King of Rock ‘n Roll
p61: a seated Elvis surrounded by a bevy of his adoring female fans (you wonder just what he is thinking)
p73: a colorised image of the “Menace from Memphis” (the original b&w image taken from a Rave magazine article, “The 7 Sins of Elvis Presley” (arguing Elvis is evil!)
p79: an unusual live on stage image
p97: a darkened, lonely stage and a lonesome cowboy
p114: Elvis, in the make-up room, having his face “brushed”
p124: a great, well framed and clear image of Elvis and the Blue Moon Boys
p143: Elvis holding the curtain at the stage edge – is he about to jump into the audience?
p177: an overly colorised, but nevertheless, striking, cover image of the TV Radio Mirror edition featuring Elvis
The visual element is nicely complemented by an array of important and fascinating archival material. Among the historic items are:
- press ads for Elvis’ appearance
- reviews of Elvis’ appearance on the Sullivan show
- a two-page feature article from Collier’s magazine, Ed Sullivan’s Thoughts on Elvis
- NBC Rules Out Elvis Presley’s Offensive Tactics on TV
- Elvis On The Ed Sullivan Show: The Real Story
- Letter from TV Guide to RCA Victor enclosing an advance copy of the magazine with Elvis on the cover
- the New York Times article, Tonal Plethora (the second page of which is unfortunately hard to read due to the font size being small)
- Why Elvis Presley got paid much more than The Beatles for the Ed Sullivan Show
Verdict: Elvis 1956 September 9 First Ed Sullivan Show is another strong release by Paul Belard. Elvis historians and researchers will especially appreciate the fine archival record it offers with hundreds of visuals and primary source material of one of the most significant events in the Elvis Presley story.
The book is published in softcover (21.5 x 27.5 cms) by Linden Press (ISBN-13: 978-1733922111). The first edition, signed by the author, is limited to 50 copies. Contact the author to order: firstname.lastname@example.org
Review by Nigel Patterson.
-Copyright EIN June 2020
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
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The Paul Belard Book List
(highlighted books reviewed by EIN)
Elvis A Humanitarian
Elvis The Gospel Singer
Elvis Black and White to Technicolor
Elvis January - February 1956
Elvis March 1956
Elvis April 1956
Elvis May 1956
Elvis Las Vegas April - May 1956
Elvis December 1956
Elvis in Hawaii November 1957
Elvis September 1958 Germany Bound
Elvis 1960 Seven Days in March
Elvis 1960 March 7 to March 31
(Book Review) Elvis Black and White to Technicolor (Paul Belard and Joseph Krein): The latest release from Paul Belard (with Joseph Krein) is one of the more important Elvis books in recent years. The reason why is that addresses the controversial issue that Elvis was racist. The authors tackle the subject of Elvis' relationship with Black America head on through a balanced and impressive mix of text and image.
Belard and Krein's research has uncovered rare archival material on the issue and the book includes hundreds of comments about Elvis by Black Americans.
Read Nigel Patterson's detailed review
(Book Reviews; Source;ElvisInformationNetwork)