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Cardiff Giant. Sullivan started on TV in 1948. Where Milton Berle and Arthur Godfrey had their time of glory and then fell back exhausted, Ed has thrived and grown stronger in the heat of conflict. The battleground of TV is strewn with entertainers who could not quite stay the courseRed Buttons, Wally Cox, George Jessel, Ed Wynn, Ray Bolger, Bing Crosby. Sullivan is the first to admit that any one of these entertainers makes his own talents seem dim indeed. On camera, Ed has been likened to a cigar-store Indian, the Cardiff Giant and a stone-faced monument just off the boat from Easter Island. He moves like a sleepwalker; his smile is that of a man sucking a lemon; his speech is frequently lost in a thicket of syntax: his eyes pop from their sockets or sink so deep in their bags that they seem to be peering up at the camera from the bottom of twin wells. Yet, instead of frightening children, Ed Sullivan charms the whole family.
The blasts of the critics in his early days on TV would have broken the spirit of an ordinary man. But Ed Sullivan is a fighter and, like most good fighters, a hungry one. Hungry, that is, for fame, national recognition, the deference of headwaiters and the friendship of the great. He burns up energy as a jet burns up fuel, but the only damage it has done is to give him an ulcer. The crises and satisfactions of his life can best be described in his favorite cliches of sport and Broadway. Ed "plays the game hard"; he "hates to be pushed around"; he thinks "the public is always right." He spent most of his youth 25 miles from Broadway, but the gleam of its bright lights was always in his eyes.
Royal Barge. Sullivan is about the longest shot ever to have paid off in show business. It is as if Featherweight Willie Pep knocked out Rocky Marciano with a single punch in the second round. No one has any ready explanation, although many have tried. Fred Allen cracks: "Ed Sullivan will last as long as someone else has talent. He has a natural feeling for the mental level of his audience, which is subterranean." Dave Garroway argues that Sullivan is a good master of ceremonies "because he tells the facts and then gets out of the way." Even Sullivan is mystified. He once asked a show-business friend: "What have I got?'" Replied the friend: "I don't know, but you've got it."
In effect, no one likes Ed except his 35 million viewers and his ecstatic sponsor: the Lincoln-Mercury Dealers. The dealers speak of Ed with reverential awe. Dealer Paul Pusey in Richmond reckons that Ed "does two-thirds of our selling job for us."
Nearly every major meeting the dealers attend finds Sullivan on hand with a load of entertainers. To further the cause of Lincoln-Mercury, Ed has addressed steelworkers before their blast furnaces in Pittsburgh, landed on Boston Common in a helicopter, gone down 20 ft. in a Navy diving suit and sailed up the Mississippi in a barge before 75,000 spectators at the opening of the Memphis Cotton Carnival. His identification with his sponsor is so strong that any Lincoln or Mercury buyer who is dissatisfied with his car is apt to drop Ed a complaining line. (Within ten days after such a complaint, the local district manager is on the phone or the car owner's doorstep, solicitously asking what he can do to help.)