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DVD Review: The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring the Beatles

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She said:

Four impossibly clean-cut young men in suits took the stage of the Ed Sullivan Show February 9, 1964, and fully launched a mania across America and around the world. Oh, we’d all heard their music and seen their photos, but seeing them live in our living rooms (chaperoned by Mom and Dad, of course) was beyond  fab. The Beatles were the headliners in a program featuring acts that ranged from the boring to the silly to the bizarre. Did anyone tune in that night to hear  the vocal styling of Georgia Brown or Tessie O’Shea? Sure, Frank Gorshin was a great impersonator in his time…but the Beatles!

If the Beatles aren’t enough to get the viewer worked up, the ads for Pillsbury products will do the trick (you’ve got to see the lemon/pineapple four-layer cake—wow!). Yes, The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring the Beatles (February 9, 1964 – September 12, 1965) includes the original commercials—the first one for Anacin is guaranteed to give you a headache. The draw for this two-disk set may be the early Beatle appearances, but the ads are the slice of Americana that gives added value.

Watching these old clips, it’s hard to imagine parents making fun of the “wild” music and “long” hair the Beatles brought us.  Thank heavens we’d left home by the time Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper were doing their “things.”

All four programs are punctuated with singers, dancers, acrobats, comedians, magicians, jugglers, and novelty acts that make us experience mixed emotions—we’re sad that that there are no longer variety shows like The Ed Sullivan Show…and we thank heaven that there are no longer variety shows like The Ed Sullivan Show.

Technically, these are not the best Beatles performances  ever recorded. On the first program the sound system is inadequate; at times, in their second set on the second program, they just sound bad. These things make absolutely no difference—it’s the Beatles!

The bonus material on the first disc includes  three clips of Ed Sullivan talking about  the Beatles; there are seven clips on the second disc, all featuring Ed Sullivan—donning a Beatle wig with Topo Gigio, and making announcements about the Beatles.  Viewers have the choice of watching only the Beatle clips or the entire four shows. But if you don’t watch the full episodes you’ll miss lots of singers with Snooki Polizzi’s famous “pouf”/“bump.”

 Looking for a great holiday gift for baby boomers? You can’t go wrong with The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring the Beatles,  just don’t remind them these performances are over 45 years old.

Bottom Line: Would I buy The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring the Beatles? Of course I would—Soupy Sales  (Hey, do “The Mouse,” yeah!) appears in the fourth program.


He said:

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, tonight, from New York, the Ed Sullivan show, brought to you by ___. And now, heeeere he is Ed Sullivan.”  At various times, Art Hannes and Ralph Paul were the announcers, and for over twenty years introduced the Irish impresario known for bringing world acts to American television along with his stellar mix of state-side talent like Elvis and The Supremes.  The four episodes of the long running CBS program contained in the four DVD set, The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows starring The Beatles, not only document the start of “Beatlemania”, but showcase entertainment and media perceptions of Americana in the sixties.

Everything from original commercials for products like Aeroshave, Anacin, Dristan, and a tempting array of Pillsbury products “from the dairy case” to frequent shots of the audience show tidbits of how Americans lived and chose to appear in public.  George Fenneman is on hand for frequent Lipton tea commercials hawking their patented “flow-thru tea bag”.

This collection has been produced by SOFA Entertainment and according to Andrew Solt, Executive Producer, “The quality is better than it ever was, in fact, better than when the shows aired, especially visually. For example, the February 16 performance was from Miami’s Deauville Hotel, not from a studio. The quality of the tape image was very fragile. We went back and improved it frame by frame.”  In spite of how efficient the restoration, the present quality points out the obvious technological improvements made in film and sound production since 1964.  

Still it’s fun to relive the times.  My family had one television.  It was a black and white set and was a monster filled with tubes, wires and assorted mysterious electronic components.  It was in the living room and we gathered around the set to watch specific programs at specific times.  This was years before the household where my kids would have a television on whenever someone was awake.  Sunday nights were cause celeb for “The Ed Sullivan Show”.

I was too young to realize just how significant these programs were, but I had just seen the network coverage of the Kennedy assassination not three months before.  I’d seen history made on television and here was more.

The two disc set has two episodes on each with bonus features on each DVD.  The Beatles open with “All My Loving” and they appear relaxed, and genuinely happy (especially John).  Looking back, it’s hard to imagine, but the producers actually placed graphics on the screen with the group’s names and a comment about John, “Sorry girls, he’s married.”  “She Loves You” featured the first head shake with “woooo” and Beatlemania began for millions of teens.

Interesting bits of trivia pop up throughout the four episodes including Ed’s comment that “Those first three songs were dedicated to Johnny Carson, Randy Parr, and Earl Wilson.” It’s also noteworthy to point out that Sullivan did not change up the format to accommodate the Beatles. Included in the weekly line ups were the usual assortment of jugglers, magicians, comics, and introductions of notables from the audience (Joe Louis, Sonny Liston and Olympic gold medalist Terry McDermott).  

The first episode actually had a troupe of acrobats following the Fab Four.  Perhaps “Wells and the Four Fays” would be the inspiration for “Mr. Kite”?  There was no reluctance to book other musical acts either. Mitzi Gaynor, Acker Bilk, Cilla Black, Steve Rossi, and Soupy Sales all sang and/or danced. In fact, in the third show, Cab Calloway took an effective stab at upstaging the Brits with a classic, hot, and steamy, show-stopping rendition of “St. James Infirmary Blues” and a jazzed up cover of “Ol’ Man River”.  It was a hard act to follow and the Beatles closed the show with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” to the obvious delight of the hundreds of screaming teens present.

Throughout their four appearances in 1964 and ‘65, the Beatles performances were carefully  prepared and well executed. George’s movements sharing mikes with Paul and John were smooth and well timed to the music.  His guitar solos, although brief, previewed his talent that would shine in years to come.  Their harmonies were intact both in voice and behavior, hiding any differences that may have been brewing even then.  They played their roles flawlessly with Ringo introducing himself as “all nervous and out of tune” when he sang “Act Naturally”.

The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows starring The Beatles, deserves a special place in the libraries of music fans as well as history classes around the world.  Seldom have four men had such impact and seldom has one showman been available to introduce their phenomenon. How rare it was for five men to have been in the right place at just the right moment in history.

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About Miss Bob Etier

  • Reese McKay

    I almost never buy these kinds of DVDs, but these were truly historic events. In my memory at least there has been nothing quite like the cultural shakeup the Beatles started, at least not in the music and show business world.

  • Ernie Clark

    This latest release of the Sullivan shows looks terrible and the sound is messed up too. The first issue of these shows were better than this mess and even those looked blurry. Too bad
    this wasn’t done right…