On Saturday, January 28, 1956 Elvis appeared on the Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey Brothers Show entitled “Stage Show” on CBS (note: this was a weekly variety show which routinely booked new acts and/or up and coming performers and was produced by Jackie Gleason the infamous actor/comedian). Elvis’ appearance garnered an 18.4% TV viewership rating. This was Elvis’ first network television debut and was the first of six appearances Elvis would perform on “Stage Show”.
During the second appearance Elvis sang “Hound Dog”. It was during Elvis’ performance, of Elvis “rocking and rolling and moving all around”, that caused a “national uproar” from the Press and by many “leaders” in communities throughout the Nation. A national debate occurred between the teenage (i.e. younger crowd who loved Rock N Roll music) and the “establishment” which preferred Jazz, Opera, and Orchestra music. Elvis Presley, and his appearances on TV, became the lightning rod for everyone who disliked Rock N Roll and feared that it was contributing to the corruption of Americas youth.
Elvis next TV appearance would be on the “Steve Allen Show” on NBC. Steve Allen, Host of the “Steve Allen” show, purposely undermined the talent and stage show presence of Elvis Presley during Elvis’ appearance on the Steve Allen Show (July 1, 1956) by having Elvis appear wearing a black tuxedo outfit (complete with a top hat, white tie, and tails) and singing “Hound Dog” to a Basset Hound. After the show Elvis was FURIOUS at Steve Allen and swore to never do his show again. In later years, when asked about this appearance, Elvis said “it was the most ridiculous appearance I ever did and I regret ever doing it”.
Through the years Steve Allen has tried to minimize his blatant disrespect of Elvis and even included his version of the events in his book entitled “Hi-Ho Steverino”. Here is what Steve Allen said occurred:
“While Elvis Appeared on my program, before he performed on Ed’s (Sullivan), I had seen him a few months earlier on Jackie Gleason’s summer replacement Stage Show, which featured bandleaders Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey. I didn’t catch his name that night and have no recollection now as to what he sang, but I found his strange, gangly, country-boy charisma, his hard-to-define cuteness, and his charming eccentricity intriguing. The next day I typed a memo to my staff people to find out who he was, and to book him for our new Sunday night show.
“Between the date of the memo and when he appeared–July 1, 1956–his recently released recordings had made him an important attraction, as a result of which our program that evening far surpassed Sullivan’s in the ratings race.
“When I booked Elvis, I naturally had no interest in just presenting him vaudeville-style and letting him do his spot as he might in concert. Instead we worked him into the comedy fabric of our program. I asked him to sing “Hound Dog” (which he had recorded just the day before) dressed in a classy Fred Astaire wardrobe–white tie and tails–and surrounded him with graceful Greek columns and hanging draperies that would have been suitable for Sir Laurence Olivier reciting Shakespeare.
For added laughs, I had him sing the number to a sad-faced basset hound that sat on a low column and also wore a little top hat. (I learned not long ago that small ceramic statues of the dog-and-top-hat are now among the more popular items of Presley memorabilia. I think somebody owes me royalties.) We certainly didn’t inhibit Elvis’ then-notorious pelvic gyrations, but I think the fact that he had on formal evening attire made him, purely on his own, slightly alter his presentation.
“For his other spot, I wrote a spoof of a typical country-and-western TV or radio show. Presley played my sidekick and the two of us were well supported by Andy Griffith, who in those days was a comedian, and the always delightful Imogene Coca.
In a 1996 interview Allen was asked about the show. Asked if NBC executives expressed any concerns about Elvis’s planned appearance, Allen replied that he’d “read more nonsense about ” it, and “a lot of wrong reports have gotten into the public -“. “If there ever was, I never heard about it. And since it was my show, I think it would have brought to my attention. ” Regarding Elvis’s movements he stated “No! I took no objection to the movements I’d seen him make on the Dorsey Brothers show. I didn’t see a problem. Of course, I had read about some of the controversy, much of it generated by Ed Sullivan, who was opposite of our show on CBS. It didn’t matter to me. I was using good production sense in booking him.”
Elvis’ next TV appearances would be on the “Ed Sullivan Show” and Elvis, justifiably so, was able to perform with minor restrictions (note: at one point Elvis was filmed from the waist up) and set TV audience records for TV viewership. The rest, as they say, is…history.