Ed Sullivan - Politics

Politics

Sullivan, like many American entertainers, was pulled into the Cold War fervor of the late 1940s and 1950s. In 1949, Sullivan booked dancer Paul Draper to appear on Toast of the Town. However, Draper’s scheduled appearance in January 1950 was met with opposition from Hester McCullough, a woman who involved herself in the hunt for subversives. McCullough accused Draper of sympathizing with the Communist Party, and although Draper denied the accusation, McCullough demanded that Sullivan’s lead sponsor, the Ford Motor Company, cancel Draper’s appearance. Despite McCullough’s protest, Draper was a guest on Toast of the Town, as was originally scheduled. After the program was broadcast, Ford received over a thousand angry letters and telegrams in response to Draper’s appearance. Consequently, Sullivan was obliged to write a letter of apology to Ford’s advertising agency, Kenyon & Eckhardt, promising to never again move forward with such a controversial guest. Meanwhile, Draper was forced to move to Europe to earn a living.

Another guest who never appeared on the show because of the controversy surrounding him was legendary African-American singer-actor Paul Robeson, who, at the time of the Draper incident, was undergoing his own troubles with the industry's hunt for Communist sympathizers.

After the Draper incident, Sullivan began to work closely with Theodore Kirkpatrick of the anti-communist Counterattack newsletter. Sullivan would check with Kirkpatrick if a potential guest had some "explaining to do" about his politics. Sullivan wrote in his June 21, 1950 New York Daily News column that "Kirkpatrick has sat in my living room on several occasions and listened attentively to performers eager to secure a certification of loyalty." Jerome Robbins, in his PBS American Experience biography, claimed that he was forced to capitulate to the House Un-American Activities Committee, identifying eight Communist sympathizers and disgracing himself among his fellow artists, allegedly because Sullivan threatened to reveal Robbins's homosexuality to the public.

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