Watch: Maria Callas on 'The Ed Sullivan Show'

Jul 6, 2017

A few weeks ago during Opera and More, I was remembering soprano Roberta Peters, who died earlier this year. I said that Peters had been Ed Sullivan's most-featured guest, more than Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland or Topo Gigio, the Italian mouse.

I went on to say, "And if you don't know Ed Sullivan, call me up on the phone."

Quite a few listeners did call, including a lovely plethora of 20- and 30-somethings for whom Ed Sullivan was not even in the history books.

A quick review: Ed Sullivan (1901-1974) was a New York-based newspaper columnist from the 1920s. Show biz and Broadway were his beats.

Ed Sullivan with Topo Gigio
Credit The Ed Sullivan Show / CBS

Sullivan was not handsome, he wasn't witty and his personality was like a failed lemon souffle — bitter and flat. The papers gave him clout.

From radio, he migrated into the early days of television. And he stayed on TV, as host of a hugely popular variety show that bore his name, until 1971. 

Sullivan brought Elvis Presley to TV. Presley could only be shown above the waist, so his gyrating hips wouldn't inflame the TV audiences. The Beatles made their American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show

On Nov. 25, 1956, Maria Callas and George London sang from Act 2 of Tosca on the show.

Taped live from the Ed Sullivan Theater, the segment is introduced by a constipated Rudolf Bing, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. You'll see Sullivan at the curtain calls. In between, two giants, Callas and London square off on the most popular show on American television.

Fun fact: Callas and I shared a birthday. A week after her Ed Sullivan Show appearance, on Dec. 2, she turned 33, and I was born.

I used to send her birthday cards. Do you think she ever sent me one?