The Best of the Ed Sullivan Show

TheEdSullivanShow_6DVDBestOfCollectorsSetWhen Ed Sullivan Ruled Saturday Night

It is ironic that while television helped kill vaudeville, Ed Sullivan kept it alive for nearly 25 years. First called “Toast of the Town” when it premiered in 1948, his variety show was changed to “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1955 and kept going until 1971. And the man himself—who couldn’t sing or dance and could barely speak before an audience—brought into the limelight all sorts of performers, some of whom faded quickly, some of whom became superstars.

There is now a 6-DVD set on the Star Vista label titled “The Best of the Ed Sullivan Show.” It should have great appeal to two audiences. There are those who recall the original telecasts and want to wallow in nostalgia; and there are those born too late but will enjoy seeing the early appearances of artists who became familiar to them in later years.

The first disc, “Unforgettable Performances,” runs 88 minutes and is a quick history of highlights from the series. This show is hosted by Carol Burnett, who is seen in an early appearance. “50th Anniversary Special” (46 minutes) is more of same, including some repeated spots. “The All-Star Comedy Special” (70 minutes) breaks the subject down to nightclub, musical, impressionist, ventriloquist, and team acts. Here Mary Tyler Moore hosts.

The bizarre “World’s Greatest Novelty Acts” (55 minutes) includes jugglers, contortionists, balancing acts, acrobats, and even a quick draw and a lasso act. Some today will object to “Amazing Animal Acts” (60 minutes), but they are straight out of vaudeville and sensibilities then were different. “Bonus Interviews” (115 minutes) are the least exciting but have many moments of interest.

Listing the performers would take me far beyond my word limit. But to give some idea, here are just a few: Elvis Presley (from the waist up), Carol Burnett, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Lucille Ball, The Beatles (with screaming female teens in the audience), Richard Prior, Marlon Brando, The Supremes, Janis Joplin, Alan King, Rodney Dangerfield (he who gets no respect), Henny Youngman (“take my wife, please”), Flip Wilson, Milton Berle, and Joan Rivers.

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Again with the finger? Watch it, Jackie!

Most valuable (to me) are the stars of then-current Broadway shows recreating numbers from shows that once closed could never be accessed again as they were first seen. The most interesting is Paul Lynd and his “Bye, Bye Birdie” family singing the hymn to Ed Sullivan. The most dramatic moment is when Jackie Mason angered  Ed with what Ed considered an obscene motion with a finger. Ed was furious and nearly ruined Mason’s career.

Although a bit spotty in organization, this set has great historical as well as entertainment value.

World War I, The People’s Story

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The Sorrows of World War I Told in the Words of Those Who Suffered Them

A brief look at a superb set of 2 DVDs from Athena Learning, titled “World War I, The People’s Story.” In four episodes of 98 minutes each, the horrors of The Great War are shown in multiple ways. Actors read from a great store of personal diaries, letters, and other manuscripts as they portray the people who wrote those words. Interspersed with that are archival films of the events being described and songs of time are heard on the soundtrack.

Individuals from all walks of life are represented, from farm hands and gentry serving in the trenches, fiancées and wives doing what they can in the home front, even a minister from a town whose male population has vanished with only hopes of some of them returning.

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.

Sokolov and Pollini

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Two Great Pianists Are Featured on CDs

Deutsche Grammophon has issued two CD sets that will be of great interest to those who follow the careers of the top pianists.

“Sokolov, The Salzburg Recital” captures on two discs Grigory Sokolov’s performance (or whatever part of it was retained) at the 2008 Salzburg Festival. He begins with two Mozart piano sonatas, K. 280 and K. 332, both in F major. The second part, on the second disc, consists of the 24 Chopin “Preludes.” The program ends with six encores by Scriabin, Chopin, Rameau, and J.S. Bach.

The program notes have much to say about Sokolov’s career and technique, all of which will be of great interest to both teachers and students of the classical keyboard.

A-PolliniOf greater interest is Beethoven’s “Complete Piano Sonatas,” as played by Italian virtuoso Maurizio Pollini. While the program notes are concerned only with the composer’s works, it is well known that Pollini began to record the cycle in 1975 and completed it in time for that CD to appear as a single at the same time this 8-CD boxed set was issued. So this might hold some sort of record—40 years—to complete a project such as this one!

Now, I have studiously avoided making any comments about the quality of playing of either artist in this report. Chopin’s notes are there on the page with as many dynamic markings as the composer chose to include. The same for Beethoven’s. Pollini’s “Moonlight Sonata” is not Schnabel’s or Richter’s or (for all we know) Beethoven’s.

But I read reviews of his recordings of these works, as they appeared over the years, in old editions of “The Penguin Guide”; and they are uniformly highly praised. So I would give careful consideration to this new set.