Elvis Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, the USA’s most popular television show, for the first time.

Ed Sullivan was a former New York entertainment columnist who had once vowed never to have Elvis Presley appear on his variety show. He had previously turned down an opportunity to hire the singer for $5,000 but realised his mistake when his show ratings were crippled by Elvis’ appearance on a rival show hosted by Steve Allen.

Sullivan consequently agreed to pay the unprecedented sum of $50,000 for three appearances, the first of which took place on the new season premiere. Sullivan, however, was not able to host the show as he was recovering from a head-on collision that had almost killed him. British actor Charles Laughton was recruited as the stand-in host, and introduced the rock n roll star with the words “…and now, away to Hollywood to meet Elvis Presley!”

Elvis needed to perform at CBS Television City in Los Angeles, rather than the New York studio where The Ed Sullivan Show was based, because he was in the middle of filming his debut movie. Having opened with his recent hit ‘Don’t Be Cruel’, Elvis went on to perform the title song from the forthcoming film, ‘Love Me Tender’.

He appeared again later, performing Little Richard’s hit ‘Ready Teddy’ and a shortened version of ‘Hound Dog’. This segment included some full-body shots of Elvis, but when he began dancing the cameras tended to focus only from his waist upwards.

Sullivan’s decision to hire Elvis to appear on the show paid off. 60 million people tuned in to watch the show, a staggering 82.6% of the evening’s television audience. Knowing they would be unable to compete, Steve Allen’s network chose only to show a movie.

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© Scott Allsop