Good morning, it’s Wednesday, June 20, 2018. On this date in 1948, a television show called “Toast of the Town” debuted on CBS. Its host was a former sportswriter from New York City who had, in the old phrase, “a face like the map of Ireland.” Actually, it was a face that revealed an amateur boxing past. Then again, the voice wasn’t so great either, and the accent lent itself easily to parody. He would promise audiences “a really big show,” which came out “a really big shew.” But guess what? Ed Sullivan delivered the goods.
He did this without laying claim to any particular talent of his own: As comedian Alan King said, “[He] can’t sing, can’t dance, and can’t tell a joke,” adding, “but he does it better than anyone else.”
But what is the job of an impresario, anyway? I’ll offer some thoughts on that in a moment.
First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:
* * *
Lawmakers Seek Border Policy Fix as Trump Holds Firm. Caitlin Huey-Burns updates developments in the crisis that has the GOP fearful of midterm election backlash if a solution cannot be found soon.
Protecting Our Border Does Not Make Us Nazis. Steve Cortes writes that comparing the Trump administration’s policies to those of the Third Reich insults the victims of German atrocities and the men and women of Homeland Security.
Why the Supreme Court Punted in Redistricting Case. Rick Esenberg weighs in on this week’s ruling in a Wisconsin lawsuit.
Bahrain’s Hezbollah Problem Is America’s Problem Too. Shaikh Abdullah bin Rashid Al Khalifa calls on Congress to approve arms sales to Bahrain to combat the Iran-backed terrorist group.
NATO Can Help Itself by Pulling Ukraine Closer. In RealClearWorld, Alexander Vershbow argues that strengthening the treaty organization’s partnership with Ukraine is one initiative that can unite allies across the Atlantic.
After AT&T-Time Warner, Antitrust Cops Should Call It Quits. In RealClearMarkets, Randolph May and Theodore Bolema assert that today’s dynamic communications and media environment requires new thinking on mergers.
Trump's Newest Assault on Obamacare. In RealClearPolicy, Arielle Kane takes issue with the administration's effort to abolish provisions related to the individual mandate.
Going It Alone Against China. Also in RCPolicy, Jeffrey Kucik argues that the president's unilateral approach on trade will hamper its effort to combat intellectual property theft.
Offshore Oil and Natural Gas Development Aid National Security. Jim Webb and Jim Nicholson make their case in RealClearEnergy.
Mark Mills on “Work in the Age of Robots.” Christian I. Giadolor kicks off a new RealClearBooks series, RealClearAuthors, with an interview of Mark P. Mills about his new book on automation.
* * *
Alan King’s affectionate punch line about Ed Sullivan neatly summarized the unlikely brilliance of a man whose hour-long variety show ran from 1948 to 1971. In 1955, CBS officially changed the title to the name everyone in America already referred to it as -- “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
The opening program featured Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, along with the composing duo of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, who provided the audience with a sneak preview of their upcoming Broadway hit, “South Pacific.”
It was a leisurely pace by today’s standards -- each act got about 10 minutes of airtime -- with Sullivan spending too much time chatting. From the start, though, he revealed an intriguing facet of the new medium: In television, you didn’t need to be a performer to perform. Ed Sullivan would surround himself with talented musicians and comedians, offer up sneak previews of movie clips, and occasionally film the show from an exotic change of venue to spice things up. This formula is widely copied even today, although with Sullivan it was more than a ratings-boosting gimmick: He went to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, and another time he interviewed Fidel Castro in Cuba.
Movie clips that late-night hosts use to break up the monotony? That’s Ed Sullivan, too. The live music and monologues featured on shows from Johnny Carson to “Saturday Night Live”? Another Ed Sullivan specialty. He was not the first to air Elvis Presley (Milton Berle and Steve Allen beat him to the punch), but Sullivan did put The King on his show three times in 1956-1957.
Perhaps because he had been slow on the draw with Elvis, Sullivan didn’t hesitate hosting the Beatles. In a run that spanned parts of four decades, “The Ed Sullivan Show” introduced Americans to an astonishing array of musical talent and interesting guests who ran the gamut from Margaret Truman to Yogi Berra.
Sullivan’s judgment wasn’t infallible. He gave short shrift to antiwar sentiment, attempted to censor Bob Dylan (who didn’t go along), and also tried to rein in The Doors and the Rolling Stones, with only mixed success.
But among Sullivan’s many legacies, two principled stances distinguish the man. First, he was color blind at a time when that was noteworthy in American public life. African-American performers on his show included Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, the Jackson 5, Flip Wilson, and The Temptations. A favorite -- they appeared repeatedly -- was The Supremes. Sullivan shook hands on the air with Nat King Cole and kissed Pearl Bailey on the cheek at a time those were rare gestures of affinity from a white man on television.
It was a sensitivity he came by honestly: His marriage to a Jewish woman was at the time called a mixed marriage. “The most important thing,” Sullivan said in a 1958 interview while discussing the show’s first decade on the air, “is that we put on everything but bigotry.”
And his sensitivity to prejudice extended beyond race and ethnicity.
On May 17, 1953, Sullivan was standing in the wings talking with famed theater and film director Joshua Logan when Logan complained that a clip that had just been shown about him was too adulatory. Logan had just suffered his second mental breakdown, and said he thought he should talk about mental health. Sullivan invited him to do so then and there, and Logan walked out on stage and did just that.
“He moves like a sleepwalker,” Time magazine said of the host in 1955. “His smile is that of a man sucking a lemon; his speech is frequently lost in a thicket of syntax; his eyes pop from their sockets or sink so deep in their bags that they seem to be peering up at the camera from the bottom of twin wells. Yet, instead of frightening children, Ed Sullivan charms the whole family.”
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics