On January 6th, 1957, Elvis Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. He sang seven songs, including; Hound Dog, Love Me Tender, Don't be Cruel, and Peace in the Valley. His performance was viewed by an estimated 52 million people, but that appearance was not his first.
In 1956, television was still a kid of an invention, growing in fits and starts, and redefining itself and the world on a daily basis. In that era actors could not be shown sleeping in bed together and no profanity or sexual references were tolerated lest TV stations lose their coveted broadcasting licenses from the ever watchful FCC.
Another kid appearing about that time was the irrepressable singer from the south whose new style of music began burning up the radio airwaves like a wildfire a year before. Elvis got his break on a Memphis radio station in 1954, but national success had not arrived. He recorded five singles for Sun Records which were released to increasingly more radio stations with each new issue. He and band members Scottie Moore and Bill Black toured the South while he steadily gained more and more air play around the country. In, November of 1955, he was signed to a contract with RCA Records who immediately put their promotion machine to work. On January 28th, Elvis made his first appearance on the Dorsey Brothers Stage Show. Contrary to popular belief, his trademark hip swiveling was not censored by the Dorseys' producers at this time. The rock and roll phenom appeared on the Dorsey Brothers' Show a total of six times in 1956.
His two appearances on Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater in the Spring and Summer of 1956, however, drew millions more viewers and began the controversy over his pelvic undulations. Uncle Miltie nicknamed him "Elvis the Pelvis", and parents began to worry as their daughters began to gush with teenage glee every time he appeared. By the time he sang on "The Steve Allen Show" in July of 1956, they were having him sing "Hound Dog" to a Beagle in order to tone down his bad boy image and make his suggestive style more palatable to the older generation who, despite their public outrage, really enjoyed him as well. Then came the series of appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show.
The first appearance was hosted by Charles Laughton, a Broadway actor who filled in for Ed who had been in an auto accident. No special precautions were taken to hide his gyrating hips. But after his second appearance on the ultimate in family shows of that era, Ed Sullivan's producers worried that Elvis's sex-appeal was becoming too blatant, and so it was decided on his third appearance in January of 1957, that he would no longer be shown full length on the screen.
Historians have suggested that Elvis became too controversial to appear on television in this era, but it may have been merely a coincidence that his television appearances ceased in January of 1957, as Elvis began work on the first of three movies (Jailhouse Rock, Loving You and King Creole), which took up the better part of the year. In March of 1958, Elvis was called up to serve in the Army, ending his television appearances for the next two years.