CBS TV Studio 50
(the Ed Sullivan Theater)

CBS TV Studio 50, New York, NY January 1956
Photo courtesy Robert Gordon's "The King on the Road"

On January 28, 1956 Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ made their first National Television appearance on the Dorsey brother's "Stage Show".  It was the first of six appearances on the show and the first of eight performances recorded and broadcast from CBS TV Studio 50 at 1697 Broadway in New York City.  Initially only booked for four appearances in January and February ( 4th, 11th, 18th ), after the success of their first appearance they were signed to two more on March 17th and 24th.

Photo © EPE courtesy Elvis Insiders

Elvis on the Dorsey Bros. Stage Show - March 17, 1956
Photo© courtesy Alfred Wertheimer

Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey were bandleaders from the big band era of the 1920s, '30s and '40s.  Starting out together in the same band Tommy eventually left and started his own orchestra.  In 1953 the Dorsey Brothers reunited when Jimmy joined Tommy's band.  From 1955 until Tommy's death in '56 they hosted "Stage Show," their own variety show on CBS.1   Stage show was produced by Jackie Gleason and preceded the Honeymooners at 8:00 PM on Saturday nights.

Tommy Dorsey with band at CBS Studio 50
Photo © courtesy CBS retiree's by Tony Cucurullo

June Taylor Dancers from Dorsey Bros. Stage Show at CBS Studio 50
Photo © courtesy CBS retiree's by Tony Cucurullo

Though the band had been touring the south for 17 months, had 5 records out on the Sun label and Elvis had recently signed with RCA for at the time the most money ever paid for a recording contract they were still relatively unknown to most of the American public.  Variety shows like "Stage Show" and The Ed Sullivan Show at that time were performed live on stage before a live audience and as a rule those serving in the armed forces were generally given priority admittance to the performances.  One serviceman stationed in New Jersey in attendance that evening said ,"I often went on Saturday nights to the Dorsey brothers show and I was there when Elvis Presley made his national television debut on that show.  I had never heard of him and was startled when he appeared on stage and hundreds of girls began screaming."2

Tommy Dorsey, Elvis and Jimmy Dorsey
Photo courtesy Cristi Dragomir

Stage Show 2nd appearance - February 4, 1956

Old CBS Studio Photo - typical camera crew
Photo © courtesy CBS retiree's by Tony Cucurullo

The band was set up and performed in an area of the stage directly in front of the Dorsey Orchestra with DJ's drums set up on a small platform.  Scotty's and Bill's amps were also placed on this platform with Elvis in front using a RCA77DX microphone.  They were filmed with two (or possibly three) Television cameras, one on a crane.  On the first two appearances the band performed with all of their own instruments.  

Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ - March 17, 1956
Photo © Al Wertheimer courtesy Ger Rijff

Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ - March 17, 1956
Photo © Al Wertheimer courtesy Ger Rijff

On the third, fourth and fifth appearances Bill used a rented bass (different on the third from the fourth and fifth) and DJ a rented drum set.  On the fifth and sixth Elvis performed with a Martin D18 that he would occasionally use instead of his D28, but on their sixth and final appearance on Stage Show the band performed with all of their own equipment.  The band would return to Studio 50 two more times to perform on that stage for their second and third appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, on October 28, 1956 and January 6, 1957.  These would also be their last television appearances of the 1950s.  Their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show was broadcast live from Hollywood.

on the Ed Sullivan Show - October 28, 1956
Photo courtesy FECC/Elton

Hoyt Hawkins, Hugh Jarrett, Elvis and Scotty on the Ed Sullivan Show - October 28, 1956
Photo © courtesy EPE, inc.

Elvis, Scotty, DJ and Bill on the Ed Sullivan Show - January 6, 1957
Photo courtesy Michael Ochs Archives

The Ed Sullivan show, which got it start in 1948 as "Toast of The Town" at Studio 51, the Maxine Elliot Theater, was by January of 1953 also recorded at and broadcast from Studio 50 on Sunday nights.  Studio 50 was originally built in 1927 by Arthur Hammerstein and named Hammerstein's Theatre after his father Oscar.  

Hammerstein's Theater - 1929
Photo courtesy "Lost Broadway Theaters" by Nicholas Van Hoogstraten

Inside the Hammerstein theater c.1927
Bill Morrison collection, courtesy of The Shubert Archive

Inside the Hammerstein theater c.1927
Bill Morrison collection, courtesy of The Shubert Archive

The 1200 seat historic theater was designed by Herbert J. Krapp and opened on November 30, 1927 but Arthur was forced to close the theater less than 4 years later during the Great Depression.  "Cary Grant, when he was still known as Archie Leach, appeared in Golden Dawn, the first show to play there."

as the Manhattan Theater - 1935
Photo courtesy NYPL Digital Library

On September 8, 1931 it reopened as the Manhattan Theatre, then as Billy Rose's Music Hall in 1933, and finally the Manhattan Theatre again in 1935.

Interior conversions for CBS Radio Theater - 1936
Photo courtesy Office for Metropolitan History

as CBS Radio Theater
Photo by Wurts Brothers courtesy NYPL Digital Library

Later, in 1936, CBS signed a long term lease and began broadcasting as CBS Radio Playhouse.

Patti Page at CBS Studio 50 in an ad for Oldsmobile - 1958
courtesy Plan59

In 1950 it was converted for television and it became CBS-TV Studio 50.  Though many shows, like Stage Show, were broadcast from that studio including "What's My Line?", "To Tell the Truth", "Password" and "The $10,000 Pyramid" the most important tenant was Ed Sullivan, so much so that in 1967, Studio 50 was officially renamed "The Ed Sullivan Theater".3

The Beatles at CBS Studio 50 recording 2-9-64 for broadcast 2-23-64
Photo © courtesy Bill Eppridge

During its tenure as the home of the Ed Sullivan show the stage saw no end to landmark performances in Rock and Roll's lineage (Bill Haley and the Comets, Elvis, Buddy Holly, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Doors to name but a few).  "Although The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show nine times, they actually only broadcast live from the stage at Studio 50 one time on February 9, 1964 (they rehearsed there on the day before).  Each time after, it was either telecast live from another location or on video tape.4

The Ed Sullivan Theater - 1989
Photo courtesy Ger Rijff

In 1965 Studio 50 became equipped with Norelco Color Cameras and The Ed Sullivan show began broadcasting in color.  The cameras were specially shielded to counter the magnetic field from subway power station transformers at the rear of the stage.5  The first show in color was broadcast on September 19, 1965.  In 1971 The Ed Sullivan Show went off the air and the theater closed and fell into a state of disrepair.

As the Ed Sullivan Television Studio, stage and light grid over orchestra section - 1990
Photo from Lost Broadway courtesy Steve

Photo © Isaiah Wyner

In 1993 David Letterman switched networks from NBC to CBS and CBS purchased the Ed Sullivan Theater which it had leased for years.  With a multimillion dollar renovation it became the home for The Late Show with David Letterman.  "This technically-advanced television broadcast studio was inserted within the volume of a 1,200-seat historic theater. Electronic requirements dictated the studio's configuration: the number of seats was reduced to 400, and sound absorptive areas were added. Two principal design innovations--the "Sails," which are concave, fabric-clad plywood membranes, and the production "Ellipse," a ring that reinforces the curvilinear geometry of the theater and visually contains lighting and technical paraphernalia--create a more intimate house and diminish the impact of theatrical lights and acoustical baffles. To preserve the architectural integrity of the landmark, all interventions are reversible."6

Photo © Isaiah Wyner

The Late Show went on the air on August 10, 1993 and David and his guests now sit in approximately the same spot that Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ first performed for Television audiences across the country almost 50 years ago.

Elvis and Scotty (believed to be) Feb. 4, 1956 rehearsal

James V. Roy
December, 2005

1 courtesy Red Hot Jazz
2 courtesy Ryal Haakenson
3 courtesy Wikipedia and the IDBD
4 courtesy I am the Beatles
5 courtesy Ed Reitan's History of Color Television
6 courtesy Polshek Partnership Architects LLP

Special Thanks to the CBS Retirees and the people at Andrew Solt Productions

Stageshow is owned by Jackie Gleason Enterprises, LLC.  Chicago, ILL

Available now, the complete Ed Sullivan Show appearances on DVD.  Click for details

Stage Door Entrance

as CBS Radio Theater 53rd St. entrance c.1936
Photo by Sperr, Percy Loomis courtesy NYPL Digital Library

Stage door entrance to Studio 50 (Ed Sullivan Theater) - 1989
Photo courtesy Ger Rijff

Stage door entrance to Studio 50 (Ed Sullivan Theater) -1956
Photo © Al Wertheimer courtesy Ger Rijff

Stage door entrance to Studio 50 (Ed Sullivan Theater) -1956
Photo © Al Wertheimer

Stage door entrance to Studio 50 (Ed Sullivan Theater) 1989 and 1956
Photos by Ger Rijff and © Al Wertheimer courtesy Ger Rijff

photos courtesy Ger Rijff added November 12, 2008


Earlier this week a fan emailed us about this page on CBS Studio 50.  Having grown up in the area he had the opportunity attend a lot of the performances there and shows taped at the other studios.  Having since become a fan of the many area theaters he was kind enough to share here some of his memories and souveniers and also links to some of the photos of the Hammerstein from the NYPL Digital libraries that I've added to the page above.

Steve's photo of the sign at the 53rd st. entrance

Dear James,

I like the Scotty Moore site because it has a lot of info on Studio 50, the Hammerstein's Theater.

Steve's "Ed Sullivan" autograph

I was a big Elvis fan when I was young [born 1951] but then the Beatles came along.  I used to hang out at Studio 50 and go to the TV Shows there. I'd get autographs at the stage door. I went to the 1964 Ed Sullivan Christmas Show and the Aug 14, 1965 taping of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

a reproduction of the ticket for the Beatles taping

They sang I Feel Fine, I'm Down, Yesterday, Help, Act Naturally, and Ticket to Ride. I'm in a lot of the audience shots. During "I'm Down," Paul is briefly superimposed on myself and my friend. We were 13 at the time and huge Beatles fans.

Steve's original Ticket holder

What was really cool was it was taped. That meant I got to see it at home on Sep 12, 1965. That was huge. In 1965 there were no VCRs. We were lucky to have a B&W TV. I used to go to 53rd St to hang out on Sunday afternoons to see the entertainers go in. I also went to every TV show in NYC. NBC, CBS & ABC. The tickets were free, and they let me in without a parent! 

Some of the other tickets in Steve's collection

I was just awestruck by the technology.  To sit there and see a regular human being in color, and there they are on dozens of monitors, knowing that I was going to go home and watch the same thing all over again. Plus shows like Candid Camera - which was in Studio 50, looked weird to me because they re-configured Ed's stage to look totally different.

Steve's original ticket stub

I had my real stub to the Aug 14, 1965 Beatles Show. I sold it in 2003 through It's Only Rock and Roll Auctions [now defunct].

March 5, 2010


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