From 1948 until 1971, Sunday nights were vaudeville nights on televisions across the U.S.. For twenty-three years Americans tuned in to CBS for Ed Sullivan’s ‘really big shooo…‘ From circus acts to ballet dancers, from ventriloquists to opera singers, from Elvis Presley and the Supremes, to the Beatles and The Doors, from classic vaudevillians to Broadway musicals, The Ed Sullivan Show meant variety.
Still, no one was prepared for the night of May 27, 1956. Scheduled to appear on the show were entertainment favorites like singer Kate Smith, and ventriloquist Senor Wences, as well as The Haslevs (tumblers & trampoline artists). Pretty normal fair for Sunday night – it would turn out to be anything but.
… I’m gonna tell you if you have youngsters in the living room tell them not to be alarmed at this ‘cause it’s a fantasy, the whole thing is animated…It is grim, but I think we can all stand it to realize that in war there is no winner. – Ed Sullivan, 27 May 1956
After referencing the first test drop of an H-bomb the week previous, and giving a subtle hint of what was to come to the parents who might have been viewing the show with their children, Sullivan introduced the animated short film, A Short Vision. The live television audience were then shown the horrific vision of a nuclear apocalypse created by husband and wife team, Peter and Joan Folde:
A Short Vision (1956) | BFI National Archives
Needless to say, the airing of the film sent a shock wave across the country. The next morning the news and entertainment media enthusiastically covered the event and the reactions from the public. The New York World-Telegram and Sun reported that, (f)or some it was ‘seven minutes of terror.’ For others it was ‘the best piece of anti-war propaganda ever shown.’
With how tightly television is controlled these days, it’s highly unlikely that such a stunning surprise would ever be allowed to jump out at viewers today. The images played over and over again on September 11, 2001 were/are indeed ghastly, but that event was an unpredicted disaster. What occurred during The Ed Sullivan Show in May of 1956 was a grim warning about the all too predictable horror and destruction that awaits the world with the release of that Thing.