Ed Sullivan tribute coming to the Annenberg

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Jorie Parr

It was a fun finale to the weekend, gathering around the TV set Sunday nights at 8, gazing at the tiny screen at some of the greatest talent in the world. Who wouldn’t miss the Ed Sullivan Show (1948-1971)?

Standing in front of a plain curtain, his deadpan demeanor unaltered by the wonders of his entertainment triumphs, Ed Sullivan announced his great “shooo.” Short of stature — they had the tall swim star Esther Williams sit on a stool so she wouldn’t tower over him — he was a giant in the industry.

Celebrating this phenomenon, a vaudvillesque Broadway-style production, ”A Really Big Shooo,” debuts at the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan.  27.  Follow up dates are Wednesday, Feb. 24; Thursday, March 17 and Wednesday, April 13. Tickets are $59.

Professional tribute performers reprise “The Beatles,” Sullivan’s biggest scoop, scoring 73 million viewers Feb. 9, 1964, along with Elvis Presley, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Joan Rivers and more. And for a hometown link, a cadre of Fabulous Palm Springs Follies alums also will be on the boards.

Producer Melinda Marinoff gets the spirit of Sullivan’s heyday. “I was part of the go-go boots Beatles generation,” she said.

Now living in Palm Springs, she has launched decades of tribute-type performances in Times Square, New York City. She maintains headquarters there to this day.

Innovative program

Marinoff filled us in on some Ed Sullivan history. A lifelong journalist, in print he rivaled Walter Winchell, he had an ace nose for news. He structured his television program with the lead act not last but first, reflecting the inverted pyramid of a news story. And he believed in live action fronting a real audience.

Sullivan set an example for a country emerging from the darkness of racism. On his show he held hands with singer/comedienne Pearl Bailey. He treasured his friendship with Louis Armstrong. He introduced to television land many other African-American luminaries, like Nat King Cole, Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Ella Fitzgerald.

“He had a penchant for [promoting] African-American female groups like Diana Ross and the Supremes,” Marinoff says.

Furthermore, he fed rural America’s hunger for culture. The impresario presented the Bolshoi Ballet for the first time on the little screen. By the way, he took his show to Moscow, during the cold war.

Featuring Follies cast

George Thomas of Los Angeles plays Elvis in the current production, singing the famous hound dog number to
a puppet dog. Marinoff says that when the actual Elvis appeared on the Steve Allen show
in 1956, a real basset hound was placed on a table to block the king’s naughty gyrations.

A few months later, Charles Laughton, the distinguished character actor — talk about contrasts — introduced Presley on the Ed Sullivan show. Sullivan was recuperating from an auto accident.

As for the Follies troupers, the lineup includes chanteuse Judy Bell, plus Terri Olsen, Jill Gordon and Dan Westfall.  The ladies will sing their hit number, “Tennessee Waltz.” 

A new puppet has been created to emcee the Follies bit. Marinoff won’t say who that puppet represents, but to Follies fans he’ll be instantly recognizable.

For tickets to “A Really Big Show,” call the Annenberg box office Wednesdays-Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., (760) 325-4490.