SALON: How the Beatles really got booked on “The Ed Sullivan Show”

On this episode of "Everything Fab Four," host Kenneth Womack dives deep into the legacy of "The Ed Sullivan Show"



Television host Ed Sullivan stands with English rock 'n' roll sensations the Beatles in between rehearsals at CBS television studios in Manhattan. (Getty Images/Bettmann)

Television host Ed Sullivan stands with English rock ‘n’ roll sensations the Beatles in between rehearsals at CBS television studios in Manhattan. (Getty Images/Bettmann)

Speciale, Sullivan’s granddaughter and the daughter of producer Bob Precht, is a documentarian whose latest project traces her grandfather’s life and work as not only a television pioneer but a visionary with a radical dedication to diversity. As the youngest of Sullivan’s five grandchildren, Speciale was not yet born when the Beatles made their legendary February 9, 1964, debut on the show (which Womack calls “bar none, the number one Beatles origin story” on Everything Fab Four). But she said her older brothers were huge fans of the band. “They got to meet the Beatles and get their photo taken with them. They also went to Miami for the [Sullivan Show] appearance there.”

As for how Ed Sullivan lined up the band to be on his show in the first place? Speciale said to Womack, “There are two stories – the PR story and the real story. There’s an oft-repeated tale of my grandfather discovering them at an airport, but no – the truth is a lot more involved than that.”



Emmy- and Grammy-winning producer Solt (who co-wrote and directed the 1988 documentary “Imagine: John Lennon”) was a teenager at the time and distinctly remembers the days leading up to the Beatles’ “pivotal” appearance on “Sullivan.” “It was so exciting,” he told Womack. “The albums were out everywhere, but we hadn’t seen them talking, singing, moving and acting. It was a game-changer for everyone my age. Everybody was singing their songs and getting ready for that Sunday night.”

The two also discussed how Sullivan was a “curator of culture” at a time when “television was more communal” and multiple generations would watch shows together as a family. As Speciale said, the show really became “a microcosm of a fully integrated society.”

And Solt (who purchased “The Ed Sullivan Show” library in 1990, an archive consisting of over 1,000 hours of footage and 10,000 live performances broadcast by CBS between 1948 and 1971) marvels at how Sullivan was “thinking big picture all the time. When it came to the unusual, the special – he took chances.”

As for what Sullivan was like personally, Speciale said “he loved people, he loved engaging with people, and he loved talent.” And throughout her life, she grew to love the music of the Beatles herself because “it was always there. When they came, it was a breath of fresh air. They brought light. So many people remember my grandfather because of the Beatles.”

“All the stars lined up,” said Solt, “but it was the music that had us. And the British Invasion happened because of February 9, 1964. Ed made that happen.”

Listen to the entire conversation with Speciale and Solt, including how Ed Sullivan rescued school-aged Margo from a bully, on “Everything Fab Four” and subscribe via SpotifyApple PodcastsGoogle, or wherever you’re listening. “Everything Fab Four” is distributed by Salon.

Host Kenneth Womack is the author of a two-volume biography on Beatles producer George Martin and the bestselling books “Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles” and “John Lennon, 1980: The Last Days in the Life.” His latest project is the authorized biography and archives of Beatles road manager Mal Evans, due out in November 2023.