"The Swinging, Soulful Sixties," Ed Sullivan's tribute to the past decade this past Sunday (21), should have had an "as told to Ed Sullivan" byline attached to it.
On paper, Sullivan's lineup of names should easily have drawn his best ratings of the season. In fact, only Peter Gennaro, Robert Goulet, Petula Clark, David Frost, Diana Ross & the Supremes, and John Byner were presented in live or contemporary tapes--everybody else was reprised from past Sullivan performances.
Not that the above "live" roster isn't an impressive one. But the show had been heralded as an all-star bash to end all--and in that context was a disappointment. The decade now ending was a wildly creative one, with show business particularly in a state of innovative revolution in form and content--but Sulllivan hardly touched the heart of that matter. What the viewer got instead was a fragmented look at some of the headliners who surfaced during the '60s. with their past Sullivan appearances as the assumed high point of the ascent. End result was the feeling that Sullivan was paying tribute to his own role in the decade, rather than to time period covered.
What aired was a Peter Gennaro telescoped review of the dances of the '60s from the twist to the popcorn, followed by Goulet's medley of some great showtunes, including "The Impossible Drean." Peter Clark limned the British invasion, mostly her own, before David Frost inserted a pungent commentary on changing mores, good for some needed laughs.
Diana Ross palavered a bit with the host, then segued into a truncated medley of her hits, accompanied by the Supremes, in what Sullivan proudly called her last appearance with the girls.
Appearances of Barbra Streisand and The Beatles were strictly past Sullivan shots, effective enough in their own right, but still obviously dated. With time running out, comic John Byner surfaced for the sharpest show-
manship of the hour, heckling Sullivan and assorted film clips in fast and rib-tickling fashion. A dramatic rendition of "Smile" by the late Judy Garland provided a poignant finale.
Sullivan has always had the top headliners on his stage. That fact, as well as any, explains why he has endured for 22 seasons in primetime. But he has seldom added any outstanding tv craftsmanship to their appearance. The show remains a taped vaudeville bill while other variety formats have taken on more of a viable tv style. ("Hollywood Palace", excluded). Sunday's show forcefully reminded one that the Sullivan format never changes, with vintage footage meshing reasonably well with current stuff. The unchanging formula may provide the clue as to why Sullivan is lagging behind in the numbers this season.
Quick tape flashes of big names dotted this decade review, with the likes of Herb Alpert, Phyllis Diller, Richard Burton, Flip Wilson, Gwen Verdon, The Rolling Stones, Tony Bennett, Jack Benny, Anthony Newley and Sophie Tucker, among others, zooming briefly across the screen. New shows previously announced, included Louis Armstrong, Dionne Warwick, The 5th Dimension and Mom's Mabley. (No explanations offered, but one can assume they ended up on the cutting room floor.)
It's impossible, of course, to capture 10 years in an hour. The trouble with Sullivan's collage was that it confused name-dropping with pure entertainment, leaving only a skeletonized montage of faces and snatches of songs as a hurry-up remembrance of things past. The only memorable segments, based on their own content, were the Garland song, the Beatles doing "Yesterday" (plus the excitement of their American invasion) and the Frost and Byner humor. For an hour, that's enough; for a full decade, it was mighty skimpy.