Elvis Presley, at age 21, broke television records with his first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on this day in history, Sept. 9, 1956.
Elvis — along with his famous “gyrations” — had been banned previously by Ed Sullivan from appearing on his show.
However, after several of his competitors saw massive ratings when Presley appeared on their shows, Sullivan reconsidered his ban, said the History Channel’s website.
Sullivan signed Presley to a three-appearance contract, paying the rock star $50,000. This was an “unprecedented” fee at the time, noted the History Channel.
Adjusted for inflation, that contract would be worth more than $500,000 in 2023, according to the website Inflationtool.com.
Presley’s appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” was watched by 60 million viewers, making it the most-watched television broadcast of the decade, said the History Channel.
The 60 million figure was equivalent to 82.6% of the total number of television viewers in the United States.
Presley performed three of his songs, “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Hound Dog” and “Love Me Tender,” as well as Little Richard’s “Ready Teddy.”
While “The Ed Sullivan Show” was based in New York City, Presley was in California shooting his first movie, “Love Me Tender.”
So he performed remotely from Los Angeles.
Presley told the screaming audience that appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show” was “probably the greatest honor I have ever had in my life.”
He then debuted “Love Me Tender,” saying it was “completely different from anything we’ve ever done before.”
The single for “Love Me Tender” was the first in music history to sell over a million copies prior to its release, said Variety.
At the time, Presley was infamous for his hip-shaking moves while performing, earning him the nickname “Elvis the Pelvis.”
These moves were considered too “vulgar” for the 1950s audiences.
Despite these fears, Elvis’ performance was broadcast from head to toe, and not cut off at the waist, said the History Channel.
“When it was over, parents and critics, as usual, did a lot of futile grumbling at the vulgarity of this strange phenomenon that must somehow be reckoned with,” said a reviewer for Time magazine.
The phenomenon was eventually reckoned with, in a way: On Elvis’ third and final appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Jan. 6, 1957, he was shot only from the waist up, according to the website ElvisBiography.
This was due to “thousands of complaints” Sullivan received after Elvis’ first two appearances.