Sullivan was notorious for arbitrarily chopping someone’s act down to next-to-nothing just prior to air on his Sunday night show, and objections or complaints would bring out language in the Great Stone Face that he’d never be allowed to use on television.
Even Dennis Day, long-time colleague of a Sullivan friend, Jack Benny, was victimised. We don’t know what Sullivan thought about it, but Day griped to columnist Hal Humphrey about what happened to him. This appeared in papers on June 18, 1960.
Dennis Day Has No Pull On Ed Sullivan's Show
Hollywood—Even if you happen to be an Irishman, it cuts no ice for you on Ed Sullivan's show. Dennis Day (born Eugene Patrick McNulty) had some funny patter and a couple of sharp impersonations ready for a recent turn on Sullivan’s "big shew." During the dress rehearsal Dennis lost everything but a couple of songs. "I had some stuff about international TV. For example, I was going to point out that in Ireland the favorite was called ‘The Fastest Shillelagh in the West,’ and how Israel had a commercial on TV plugging Shapiro's Chicken Fat as the only thing that would louse up a Paper-Mate pen.
"The chicken fat joke went out because they said the Paper-Mate reference constituted a plug. I think shillelagh bothered them a little but they couldn’t be sure if it was a brand name.
"But the silliest thing was cutting my impersonation of Khrushchev," says Dennis.
Don't tell me Sullivan considered it a plug for East Berlin?"
"I didn’t even see Sullivan until he introduced me on the air. No, the Khrushchev bit was cut during the rehearsal.
Somebody thought that viewers didn't want to be reminded of Russia and bombs. Of course, there was nothing about Russia or bombs in my impersonation, but that didn't seem to matter."
Dennis says he understands that Sullivan is hidden somewhere around the theater when the show rehearses in front of an audience. If an act or line of dialogue doesn't get a good reaction from that audience, out it goes with a wave of Sullivan's hand. It's a kind of kangaroo court.
After his two songs and a handshake from Sullivan, Dennis got on a plane and jetted for home, dreaming about a guest appearance where the star of the show says to him, "Do just what you want to, lad, and good luck!"
This week Dennis is back playing the lovable schnook whom Jack Benny invented in 1939, when Dennis took over from Kenny Baker. Benny is filming shows for next season already, because he is going to be on every week. Dennis is set for a minimum of eight Benny appearances.
Just once Dennis would like to play someone else in a dramatic role. His agents control Revue Productions, which films "Wagon Train," "Riverboat" and a flock of other TV series, but each time Dennis pleads with them to find him a role in one of these epics, the answer is "Be patient, Dennis, we're looking for the right thing for you."
"Frank Sinatra had to lay siege to Harry Cohn and practically work for nothing to get that first dramatic part of his in 'From Here to Eternity'," Dennis recalls. "Maybe I'll have to do it that way."
During the next few months most of the country's TV viewers will have a chance to see Dennis' old TV series which ran on NBC in the 1953-54 season. He sold the 36 films for syndication and the comedy in them is fresher than most of the stuff on TV today.
"Nobody saw these shows the first time around because they ran opposite ‘I Love Lucy’ on Monday nights," reports Dennis. "And Cliff Arquette was in most of them with me. At that time his Charley Weaver character was considered corny. Now he does the same character on Jack Paar's show, and the New York critics rave about him."