For 23 years, from Sunday June 20, 1948 to Sunday June 6, 1971, Ed Sullivan served as the host of the quintessential variety show, presenting viewers with acts from across the entertainment spectrum. This six-DVD set, sporting the generic title of The Best of The Ed Sullivan Show, serves as a great example of what audience saw.
The first two discs offer greatest-hits collections ("Unforgettable Performances" and "50th Anniversary Special"). The next three feature clips arranged by subject: "The All-Star Comedy Special," "World's Greatest Novelty Acts," and "Amazing Animal Acts." The final disc presents Bonus Interviews of participants from the show.
Hosted by Carol Burnett, who made her Sullivan Show debut in 1957, "Unforgettable Performances" (98 min) was presented in 1992. While there is some history about Sullivan and the show, the main focus is on guests, a who's-who of mid-20th Century entertainment.
And even a "who's that?" because alongside short clips of the Rolling Stones performing "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" in 1966 and Jackie Gleason doing his Poor Soul character in sketch from 1952 (when the show was called Toast of the Town) there is Chong & Mana, who did rope tricks with fire.
The special is filled with musical guests. Of course, there are the rock 'n' roll legends like Elvis and the Beatles, singers of pop standards, like Louis Armstrong and Judy Garland, and stars of Broadway musicals, such as Richard Kiley with "The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha and Julie Andrews with "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady.
Comedy was also an integral part of the show with stand-ups like Moms Mabley and George Carlin, impressionists like Will Jordan and John Byner, and strange acts like ventriloquist Senor Wences and his hand.
A number of formers guests are interviewed about the show and working with Sullivan, such as Alan King, Ella Fitzgerald, Will Jordan. Some talk about the controversies that occurred such as Jackie Mason getting banned for making fun of Ed signaling him and Ray Manzarek of The Doors revealing how they were told they couldn't say "higher" in "Light My Fire", but they did it anyway rather than edit themselves like The Stones asking to spend "some time" rather than "the night" together."
There's a Bonus Feature of the only surviving on-camera interview with Ed Sullivan and his wife Sylvia from 4/2/58 with Hy Gardner (5 min)
"The 50th Anniversary Special" (46 min) from 1998 is hosted by the Smother Brothers. Although there are no chapters on DVD, there's no need to skip around because there's plenty of new material that it doesn't feel like a double-dip of "Unforgettable Performances".
"The All-Star Comedy Special' from 2011 is hosted by Mary Tyler Moore and contains over 50 performers, ventriloquists, comedy teams, and comedy acts with music. "World's Greatest Novelty Acts" (56 min) is a delightfully odd mix of acts, such as a plate spinner, a fire-eater, gymnasts, magicians, jugglers, and acts with bicycles, whips, and ropes.
"Amazing Animal Acts" (61 min) is hard to watch through modern eyes because I can't see the dogs, bears, monkeys, etc. doing these things naturally and assume some form of rough coercion took place. Like during the elephant act, a trainer smacks a baby a little bit to get it to do its trick of lying down. Seems obnoxious to do that just for humans' entertainment and can only assume what took place away from audiences.
There is one good anecdote about lion tamer Clyde Beattie. He told Sullivan the stage set-up was too small, but the host wouldn't listen. Beattie had trouble controlling the lions and Sullivan goes into audience to to distract viewers. As he introduces celebrities in the audience (a common occurrence) sounds of lion roars, whip cracks, and blanks guns heard in the background and audience members are enthralled by what is happening before them
The final disc presents nearly two hours of interviews with 24 people; a small portion of some appears in programs already mentioned above. Marlo Lewis was a producer from 1948-61 and Steve Allen was a competitor on NBC so they get to provide different perspectives about Sullivan and the show.
Presenting over seven hours of material, The Best of The Ed Sullivan Show is a great record of one of the all-time great television shows.