When it comes to late night television hosts, Ed Sullivan is the granddaddy of them all. From the late 1940s to the early 1970s, he presided over the airwaves with his unique presence, charming, entertaining, and informing viewers with equal measure. His show was, undoubtedly, a cultural institution.
But even the biggest shows have their issues behind the scenes; The Ed Sullivan Show was no exception. In fact, there’s more than one surprising detail about the beloved host and his colleagues that weren’t supposed to reach the public.
Ed Sullivan was a television pioneer. In the early days of TV, he was a natural showman, capable of bringing countless bands, comedians, and performers right into the viewers’ living room.
But Sullivan wasn’t always comfortable on camera. He came from a newspaper reporting background, meaning he struggled with one major issue at the start of his television career.
He was always a bit awkward on camera; he squirmed in his seat and wasn’t immune to flubbing his lines. Knowing that wouldn’t bode well for ratings, he found a way to use those quirks to his advantage.
See, it became clear that the flaws helped make him approachable and welcoming; rather than an intimidating host, he was just a friend sharing some music or comedy that he enjoyed. In fact, the show’s original name reflected just that.
Sullivan’s show was originally known as Toast of the Town, since it would highlight exceptional performers each week. Producers, however, underestimated Ed’s star power and quickly gave him the lead billing!
That star power was so potent that the American public couldn’t resist watching the show. In fact, nearly 40% the country’s population tuned in when the Beatles hit The Ed Sullivan Show’s stage.
Funnily enough, Sullivan actually missed one famous performance on his own program, though. When Elvis was scheduled to make his appearance, the host was recovering from a car accident; actor Charles Laughton presided over the episode instead.
While plenty of famous guests graced The Ed Sullivan Show, Canadian comedians Wayne and Shuster just kept coming back more often than anyone else. In total, they appeared 58 times during the show’s run.
Guests knew that Sullivan famously boosted the popularity of bands like The Beatles, so being on his show was a good career move. Still, that wasn’t his only contribution to show business. In fact, he helped promote acts other shows avoided.
Sullivan was unafraid to highlight African American performers like James Brown, Louis Armstrong, and The Supremes. Even at the height of segregation, they were always welcome to appear on his show.
Yet, despite that welcoming and affable nature, Sullivan was known to hold a grudge. In fact, there are actually quite a few musical guests who ended up on his bad side.
For instance, when Buddy Holly and The Crickets planned to play “Oh Boy,” Sullivan felt the lyrics were too inappropriate for television. The band decided to play it anyway, prompting the host to take revenge.
Not only did he intentionally mispronounce Holly’s name and ensure his microphone didn’t work properly, but Sullivan decided the band would never be allowed on his show again.
The Doors were also banned after they refused to change some of their suggestive lyrics. Sullivan didn’t care for Jim Morrison’s signature vocals, either. But one performer had an even worse time on the show…
When Bo Diddley appeared on the show, Sullivan suggested that he play Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.” Diddley agreed, but something confusing happened when he hit the stage.
The teleprompter read, “Bo Diddley. Sixteen Tons.” The performer thought that meant he should play “Bo Diddley,” then “Sixteen Tons,” but the show cut to commercial after the first song. Sullivan was livid
Thinking that the musician had intentionally disobeyed his personal request, Sullivan vowed that Bo Diddley would never be on his show again. But that’s not even the worst feud he found himself in!
During his newspaper days, Sullivan had a heated rivalry with columnist Walter Winchell. One evening at the Stork Club, Ed’s famous temper emerged during a confrontation.
Jerry Bowles remembered that Sullivan “grabbed Winchell, held his head firmly in the bottom of a urinal and ‘gleefully pumped the flush lever’ while his victim uttered ‘sobbing noises.” That’s one way to get your point across.
Despite that temper, Sullivan was unafraid to talk about sensitive issues like mental health on television. He even invited director Joshua Logan on the show to share his struggles with mood fluctuations.
Sullivan’s humor and eye for talent combined to make the show a smash, but no one predicted how successful it would be. More than 1,000 episodes of the iconic program would be filmed over four decades.
Unsurprisingly, The Ed Sullivan Show is considered one of the best programs in television history. It was so influential that CBS paid Sullivan one major tribute during his career.
On the 20th anniversary of The Ed Sullivan Show, CBS renamed TV Studio 50 as The Ed Sullivan Theater. Fittingly, The Late Show still calls the venue home to this day.
While Sullivan changed the late-night landscape, he also changed America’s music scene by giving The Beatles a chance to play for everyone. After seeing the Fab Four on TV, Americans would never forget their faces. Still, before their iconic performance, the band nearly looked very different.
When Pete Best walks down the street, nobody stops him for an autograph. His long hair betrays a bohemian touch, but you wouldn’t exactly say he looks like a celebrity. Still, he is forever connected to the biggest cultural phenomenon in modern history.
The Telegraph / Paul Cooper
In late 1950s Liverpool, Pete grew acquainted with The Quarreymen. The skiffle group included a few talented lads Pete’s age, including John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison. A blossoming musician himself, Pete was headed on a collision course.
Pete’s mother Mona ran The Casbah Coffee Club, one of the hottest music venues around. Naturally, she urged her son to perform as often as possible. In 1960, the whole scene was abuzz with news that The Quarreymen changed their name and were hunting for a new drummer.
Now dubbed “The Beatles,” this rock-focused outfit needed a steady presence in its rhythm section. The boys knew Pete could play decently, was popular with the girls, and had connections to a key venue, so it was a no-brainer to bring him aboard.
With painter-turned-bassist Stuart Sutcliffe rounding out the lineup, The Beatles cultivated a real fanbase around Northern England. Soon, they got offers to tour all around, even in the exotic streets of Hamburg, Germany.
As the other Beatles bonded and became a tighter unit, Pete found himself the odd man out — often by his own volition. When his bandmates adopted mop-top hairdos, for example, the drummer refused to follow suit.
Pete could only watch while Stuart went back to his art and John, Paul, and George became best mates. While they would paint the town red and fraternize with other musicians, Pete lingered in the background. Or he would just go off on his own.
Pete, while handsome and mysterious, didn’t have the humor or personality to jell with The Beatles. On top of that, the other three were outpacing him musically. As they nailed daring harmonies and solos, Pete struggled with anything beyond a simple rhythm.
Pete started flaking out on paid gigs, putting up weak excuses or none at all. However, his bandmates didn’t mind. They asked Ringo Starr — known as the best drummer in Liverpool — to fill in. Ringo fit right in, but unfortunately he was in another band.
National Portrait Gallery
However, all four Beatles were laser-focused when EMI invited them to audition. They already blew a chance with another record label, so they made sure to play their best for producer George Martin. After hearing the lads, he had some interesting feedback.
Besides smaller changes, Martin disclosed Pete lacked the technical skills for studio drumming. The other Beatles feared EMI would reject them if they kept Pete. They knew what they needed to do.
So, Beatles manager Brian Epstein called Pete in for an impromptu meeting and laid out the facts fairly bluntly. He stated that the band wanted him out — though they did need him to keep playing for a few weeks before they nailed down a replacement.
A shellshocked Pete agreed without really processing what had happened. Ringo Starr left his old group and assumed his seat behind The Beatles’ drum kit, despite the protests of a few hardcore Pete Best fans.
Of course, The Beatles — right after Ringo joined them — skyrocketed to unprecedented success and redefined music and celebrity as we know it. That’s all clear. But what happened to Pete?
Having built up a decent level of popularity, Pete chose to front his own band. With various backing groups, he toured in England and later moved to the United States. However, none of his efforts panned out. He retired from music a virtual unknown.
For years, Pete refused to speak about his Beatles’ association. His former bandmates avoided mentioning him in interviews as well. He undoubtedly resented his friends leaving him in the dust for fame, but Pete got a big surprise in the 1990s.
Twitter / Lauren Cressler
When the surviving Beatles released previously unheard songs in 1995’s Anthology, they included recordings featuring Best’s drums. Pete never expected to see a dollar. So imagine his surprise when he got a surprise phone call from an old pal.
Pete immediately recognized the voice of Paul McCartney, who told him he’d receive a few million pounds for his contributions. Pete was floored. He didn’t get any kind of apology, but the basic contact and sudden windfall provided long-overdue validation.
Ultimate Classic Rock
Around that time, the reclusive ex-Beatle finally opened up about his time in the Fab Four, almost embracing his role as the unluckiest musician in history. He cameoed as himself, for instance, in the similarly-plotted Rainn Wilson comedy The Rocker.
Pete also picked up his drumsticks once again — and that wasn’t all. The musician made his acting debut in the play Lennon’s Banjo, a well-received comedy lampooning The Beatles’ hallowed legacy. Of course, there’s one Fab Four rumor he hasn’t commented on.
WireImage / Miquel Benitez
See, while the Beatles officially called it quits in 1970, fans are still digging up new information on their legendary career. They aren’t just focused on the music either. Dark rumors still swirl around the band’s most terrible secret.
Drummer Ringo Starr may be the only person who knows the real truth. While he doesn’t like to address it in interviews, one question about a former bandmate still comes up again and again. Ringo admitted that it was a troubled time for the Fab Four.
See, ever since the mid-1960s, rock listeners have had questions about the whereabouts of Paul McCartney. Sure, he and Ringo appeared in public together as recently as 2018, but not everyone is convinced both men onstage were real Beatles.
How could that be? Since Beatlemania erupted on a worldwide scale in 1964, not one of John, Paul, George, or Ringo have been able to go anywhere without being recognized. They reached an unprecedented level of fame.
Everywhere they went, throngs of frenzied girls followed them. But after one 1969 radio broadcast, Beatles fans were screaming for a completely different reason. Many feared one of their heroes had met a grisly end.
One night, Detriot disc jockey Russ Gibb took a call from an anonymous source who claimed that Paul McCartney had secretly died and been replaced with a double. Russ entertained the crackpot for a while but never imagined listeners would believe him.
Ultimate Classic Rock
In the ensuing weeks, tabloids and reporters began running the story as if it were fact. The “Paul Is Dead” rumors actually started years earlier – back when The Beatles stopped touring and changed their look — but now it had hit the mainstream.
Here’s the myth: Paul was speeding down a long-and-winding road one November night in 1966. Amid the icy conditions, he lost control of his car and veered into a pole, killing him instantly. Before the press picked up the tragedy, the band covered it up.
YouTube / freakineagle
Allegedly, manager Brian Epstein predicted that Paul’s demise would sink The Beatles and cause mass panic. So, in secret, he organized a search for a McCartney lookalike. They found their double in a man named William Shears Campbell.
At the same time, the three surviving musicians supposedly wrestled with extreme guilt. They could only bear it by hinting at Paul’s secret death and replacement. Before long, fans claimed to identify clues all over The Beatles’ catalog.
For example, conspiracy theorists thought the band’s alter-ego experiment in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was all a nod to the cover-up. The Beatles did name drop Billy Shears in “With A Little Help From My Friends,” after all.
Far-fetched as it sounded, a number of fans bought into the story. They pulled out photos of Paul from 1964 and 1967 and claimed there were enough facial differences to prove these were two different men! Naturally, they ignored the effects of aging and facial hair.
The Beatles added fuel to the fire by acknowledging the rumors in their work. For instance, a garbled voice appears at the end of the song “I’m So Tired.” When played backwards, it chants aloud, “Paul is a dead man. Miss him, miss him!”
The Beatles Bible
In addition, the cover of Abbey Road resembled a funeral procession. John led the way in a minister’s white outfit, Ringo followed in a black undertaker’s suit, Paul signified his death with a cigarette and no shoes, and George wore the blue-collar denim of a gravedigger.
With the Detroit radio broadcast, the “Paul is dead” conspiracy reached its peak. Though after The Beatles broke up in 1970, Paul disappeared from the public eye. Was there some truth to his downfall?
No, not so much. Following the band’s breakup, Paul and his wife Linda retreated to their Scotland farm. He did regular interviews to prove to everyone he was still alive and kicking, but a small group of naysayers just weren’t buying it.
Many hit singles and sold-out tours later, tinfoil hat wearers still insisted that this man simply wasn’t Paul McCartney. They alleged that the same impostor from 1966 was coasting off of The Beatles’ success, as he knew most people would never believe his secret.
Los Angeles Times
These days, Paul has mostly laughed off the hoax. Maybe the Fab Four shouldn’t have indulged the paranoids out there, but they were mostly just making fun of it. However, he admitted he did get into a crash in 1966.
Fortunately, this accident wasn’t nearly as horrific as the urban legend. The Beatle fell off his moped, resulting in him chipping his tooth. Paul actually grew a mustache shortly after to hide a small scar on his lip too!
As for Ringo, he never suspected his longtime friend of being replaced by a lookalike. That theory is simply too absurd and convoluted, he claims. Plus, The Beatles never could’ve found a quality double — there is only one Paul McCartney.