couple, which sounded much like he and his wife, Elsa Lanchester, best known for her role as the ‘Bride of Frankenstein.’” Both having played iconic characters, they were easy targets for the malicious wit exemplified by Walter Winchell, and the lesser gossiphounds plying their trade in the New York dailies. The marriage, they claimed was a sham. He was ‘queer.’ Could these accusations have been that worrisome to a man whose effeminate demeanor and urbane manor would be instantly detected as gay today. “Yes!,” replied Cummings. “This was the Eisenhower era of manic conformity. Joseph McCarthy’s witch trials were in full swing and “I Love Lucy’s” interracial marriage with Cuban Desi Arnaz was already pushing the limits of social tolerance.”
Laughton was oblivious; as poorly as he handled his duties, his condescending manner suggested the acts were inconsequential diversions from the main attraction of the evening: himself.
It was as if nothing special was going to happen that night. Elvis was just another juggler or dog trickster.
However, it worked in Elvis’ favor.
The contrast could not have been greater. While Laughton was pudgy, gray, and haughty, Elvis was lean, agile and polite.
When the owner of that white, 12-cylinder Cadillac came crashing into Ed Sullivan’s shiny black Lincoln, no one could have ever guessed that this would give a teenager from Tupelo a lucky break.
Ed Sullivan was not chosen for the show by accident. It was his personality that made him such an attractive figure to CBS president William Paley. The main competition was the rambunctious Milton Berle, whose Texaco Hour was the Saturday Night Live of the 1950s. Uncle Milty, or Mr. Television as had he been known, possessed the personality of ten people-he was John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and a dozen characters in drag played by Gilda Radner, or any woman who can make people laugh. If a guest didn’t arrive, or the show was a little long on time and short on material, Milty would think nothing of adlibbing. Without a moment’s preparation, he could fill in the whole hour himself.
Whereas Ed Sullivan had the frosty personality of an air conditioner turned on low. The point was made most clearly on the John Daily quiz show called “What’s My Line?” Random House publisher, Bennet Cerf, a blindfolded member of the panel, asked Sullivan a question that sent the audience into hysterics. “Do you do a one-man show?”
While at the time he was one of the most famous men in America, on his show he was the invisible man. The performers were the stars.
Whereas, Laughton came across as an egotistical bore of a raconteur who oozed a slithery personality, reminiscent of the collection of heavies and freaks portrayed in his lengthy catalog of films.
For the young singer, this played to his strengths.
Elvis, that night, incised his brand on the consciousness of the world. He could sing like no other, he moved like liquid sex, and he could speak with