The Life and Times of Ed Sullivan

About the book

A perfect mirror of its time, The Ed Sullivan Show ran from 1948 to 1971, echoing this period’s every chapter: the birth of television, the conformist 1950s, the dawn of the rock era – featuring a hip-shaking Elvis and the Beatles’ U.S. debut – and finally, the tumultuous late 1960s.

Through it all, Sullivan presented his signature mix of highbrow and corn pone, Borsht Belt and middle America, from Fred Astaire to Richard Pryor, Walt Disney to Janis Joplin. He was the variety show producer as curator of national culture.

Like his show, Sullivan’s life was a mirror of its time, and Impresario, the first major biography of this iconic showman, tells his story as an engaging narrative. From his birth in a Jewish-Irish ghetto in Harlem to his career as a Broadway gossip columnist, his years in the sweat-and-sawdust vaudeville circuit, his stint in Hollywood and his struggles in television, the man behind the scenes is revealed: mercurial and tyrannical, yet also charming and deeply sentimental – this introvert who hungered for a mass audience was defined by his contradictions.

The pucker-faced showman who was so uncomfortable in the spotlight’s glare took dictatorial control of his show’s every aspect, shaping it down to the last punch line. He proved so gifted at this that some 40 million viewers watched year after year, making Sullivan an unofficial Minister of Culture. Yet paradoxically, his supposedly staid Sunday night variety show proved to be an agent of social change, especially when Sullivan gave the ultimate subversive force – rock ‘n’ roll – his hallowed stamp of approval.

Impressively researched – including interviews with top performers like Joan Rivers, George Carlin, and Carol Burnett – Impresario tells the story of a pioneering showman who both shaped and reflected American culture at the birth of the modern media age.