Elvis Presley First Appears on The Ed Sullivan Show

Elvis, wearing a loud plaid jacket, greeted the audience from a set decorated with stylized guitar shapes.

He announced that the show was “probably the greatest honor I have ever had in my life,” and then launched into “Don’t Be Cruel.” The camera stayed above his waist for now, sometimes closing in on his face, sometimes turning to show his backup singers, but something Elvis was doing out of lens range was causing unexplained screams from the audience. After the number was over, he acknowledged the vocal segment of the crowd, saying, “Thank you, ladies.” To finish the first segment, he played the title song to his new movie, “Love Me Tender,” introducing it as ”completely different from anything we’ve ever done.” Nationwide, disk jockeys taped the performance and played the song, which had yet to be released, on their radio shows, increasing pre-release orders to almost a million and pushing forward the single’s release date.

Although at first Ed Sullivan said he would never want Elvis on his show, Sullivan changed his mind when The Steve Allen Show with Elvis as a guest had about twice as many viewers as Sullivan's show that night (they were competing for the same audience since they were in the same time slot). After negotiating with Elvis' manager, Ed Sullivan paid Elvis the huge sum of $50,000 for appearing on three of his shows: September 9, 1956, October 28, 1956, and then on January 6, 1957.

Elvis Presley had appeared with Milton Berle and Tommy Dorsey, but Sullivan's deal with Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, created national headlines. The sexual energy of Presley's first appearance on 9 September 1956 jolted the staid, Eisenhower conformism of Sullivan's audience. By his third and final appearance, Elvis was shot only from the waist up, but Sullivan learned how to capture a new audience for his show, the baby boom generation.