first telegram or when Edison put sound on wax for the first time. According to the author of “Church of Rock,” Clyde Basil: “its birth is found somewhere on the performing stages, in the garages and gospels halls of odd lot twangers, strummers and riffers. It’s a strange cast of characters that include the likes of the hyperventilative Reverand Little Richard, the felonious duck-walking Chuck Berry, and the incestuous Jerry Lee Lewis, scandalized for marrying his 13-year-old cousin.”
Although it may be more mythical than accurate, in the minds of these complaining Elvites, he came first; he put rock and roll on the map and influenced all the major groups, including The Beatles, The Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones.
The apostles of Elvis also take issue with the article’s appraisal of the importance of the Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Even though the Beatles technically topped him by 10 million viewers, when Elvis took the stage eight years earlier far fewer people had televisions. Elvis attracted 80% of the television viewing audience, eclipsing the Beatles appearance by almost 100%. It remains today an unbroken record.
Over 60 million viewers watched that first show; roughly the same number of people would have voted in the Presidential election that year. Today that would mean an audience of about 130 million.
His appearance on the Ed Sullivan show had big problems
Although his appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show was a fantastic success, it was plagued with calamities.
The first problem was location.
Elvis couldn’t even get to the New York theatre. He was stuck 3,000 miles away, at 20th Century Fox in Los Angeles filming the highly forgettable “Love Me Tender.” Seemingly, making matters worse, the host, Ed Sullivan couldn’t appear on the broadcast. On the biggest night of his career, the showman was on the third floor Brooklyn hospital hooked up to a respirator-the victim of a head on collision with a 12-cylinder convertible Cadillac driving to a classic car show.
The duties were passed to one of Sullivan’s Hollywood cronies. Although a veteran actor, he was an insufferable choice.
Charles Laughton was famous for playing the monstrous Quasimodo in the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and later the brutal Captain Bligh on “Mutiny on the Bounty.” Although a towering screen and stage presence, he was surprising ill-equipped to handle the modest duties of hosting a variety show. It began poorly. At the very start of the show Laughton awkwardly read short passages of obscure poetry, punctuated with incomprehensible double entendres. That set the miserable tone for the entire show. Laughton was uncharacteristically nervous and ill at ease, and seemed to catatonically ramble; perfectly acceptable for an intimate soiree but this was television’s biggest night ever. Sociologist Thornton Cummings, in his essay entitled “Coming out of the ‘50s closest” theorizes about what may have been the cause of the poor performance. “Just a few days earlier,” says Cummings, “in several newspapers, columnists were making snide references to a