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Known in the trade as "the Pope of Video," Sullivan keeps a sharp lookout for anything that might be suggestive. He recently disapproved a Playtex bra commercial because "we don't want to show a girl in a filmy thing on a day when everyone's been to church and all." After he signed Elvis Presley for a record $50,000 for three appearances, Sullivan would not allow the camera to show the singer's gyrating pelvis. "He may be a purist," says Comic Jack
Carter, "but you can't argue with the fact that he knows his audience."
Finger Stitcher. And his audience knows himas a straight, if sometimes confusing, pitchman whose lack of polish is somehow his shining virtue. "There's too much damn talk on TV," he says. "Other variety shows have skillful and amusing hosts, but they spend too much time getting into the act. The most difficult thing in the world is to shut up. Besides, whoever said a master of ceremonies had to be a glamour boy? What counts is the kind of product he puts out."
With a weekly budget of $150,000 and a vast network of talent scouts, Sullivan's product sells chiefly because it is first with the best. His first show, in 1948, introduced a young comedy team named Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Since then, he has presented the U.S. TV debut of such performers as Edith Piaf, Clark Gable, Maria Callas, Humphrey Bogart, Jackie Gleason, Marian Anderson, Julie Andrews, Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn, and the Beatles, not to mention such oddities as Liberace and Rise Stevens singing
Cement Mixer, Burt Lancaster doing acrobatics, Jayne Mansfield playing the violin, Lauren Bacall reading Casey at the Bat, and James Cagney and Jack Lemmon dancing.
To keep abreast of new talent, Sullivan is out most nights until 4 a.m. prowling theaters and nightclubs; in the summer, he spends six weeks abroad rounding up Swiss bell ringers, Japanese jugglers and enough animals to stock the Bronx Zoo, including such rare species as a water-skiing elephant and a piano-playing dog. For many years, his scout on the Chicago vaudeville circuit was the late Poet Carl Sand burg. "He got us the Australian woodchopper act," says Sullivan proudly, "and the fellow who stitches his fingers together with a needle and thread."
Sure as Mass. Sullivan says that he would like to smile more, but he claims that his stiff upper lip is a habit that he cultivated after having his teeth shuffled while playing high-school football. He has since got new choppers, but he hesitates to flash them because he feels that his friendly-undertaker look has become an important part of his image. With a weekly salary of $20,000, ratings that have placed him in the top 20 for most of two decades, and advertisers waiting in line to spend $52,000 for 60 seconds of air time, he is not about to change anything. He says that he has learned to control his celebrated temper and swears that he no longer dashes off such angry letters to critics as the one he sent to Harriet Van Home when she was TV colum nist for the N.Y. World-Telegram: "Dear Miss Van Home: You bitch. Sincerely, Ed Sullivan."