Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show

Elvis rehearsing on stage, black and white photo.

Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

Experienced showmen like Ed Sullivan weren't sure the world was ready for such wild moves as those the slick Elvis Presley was offering. But when Elvis proved too popular not to book, Sullivan scheduled him. Elvis made his first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on September 9, 1956.

Getting Booked

Elvis Presley had already appeared on other national television shows, including "Stage Show," "The Milton Berle Show," and on the popular "The Steve Allen Show" when Ed Sullivan booked Elvis for three shows.

Elvis' pelvic gyrations during his appearances on these other shows had caused much discussion and concern about the suitability of airing such provocative and sensual movements on television.

Although at first Ed Sullivan said he would never want Elvis on his show, Sullivan changed his mind when "The Steve Allen Show" with Elvis as a guest had about twice as many viewers as Sullivan's show that same night. The two were competing for the same audience since they were in the same time slot.

After negotiating with Elvis' manager, Ed Sullivan paid Elvis the huge sum of $50,000 for appearing on three of his shows: September 9, 1956; October 28, 1956; and January 6, 1957.

Sullivan Didn't Host and Elvis Wasn't on Set

For Elvis' first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on Sunday night at 8 p.m. on September 9, 1956, Ed Sullivan himself was not able to host. He had recently been in a very serious car accident that left him in the hospital. In his place, Oscar-winning actor Charles Laughton hosted the show.

Elvis was also not on location in New York for the show. He was in Los Angeles for the filming of "Love Me Tender." Laughton hosted from New York and when it came time for Elvis' appearance, Laughton made the introduction and cut to the stage in Hollywood with Elvis.

The Performance

Elvis appeared on a stage with large, artistic guitars as decoration. Wearing a plaid jacket and holding his guitar, Elvis thanked Mr. Laughton and the audience and then said, "This is probably the greatest honor that I've ever had in my life. There's not much I can say except that hope it makes you feel good and we want to thank you from the bottom of our heart."

Elvis then sang "Don't Be Cruel" with his four back-up singers (the Jordanaires), followed by "Love Me Tender," the not-yet-released title track from his new movie.

During this second set, Elvis sang "Ready Teddy" and ended with a portion of "Hound Dog."

Throughout Elvis' entire performance, viewers could hear girls in the audience screaming, especially when Elvis did his special twitch, swung his hips, or swiveled his legs. Elvis appeared to enjoy himself, frequently smiling or even laughing, which made him seem friendly, sweet, and hunky — depending on who was watching.


During Elvis' first performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," the cameras shot him mostly from the waist up during the first half. The second time he appeared that night, the camera widened out and the TV audience was able to see Elvis' gyrations.

While many have felt that Elvis was censored by cameras only showing him from the waist up on "The Ed Sullivan Show," that really only happened during Elvis' third appearance on January 6, 1957. For some still-unknown reason (although there are a lot of rumors as to why), Sullivan allowed Elvis to only be shown from the waist up during that third and final show.

Breakthrough Performance

Elvis' appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" was a major success. Over 60 million people, both young and old, watched the show. Many people believe it helped bridge the generation gap for Elvis' acceptance into the mainstream culture.