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Who Walks Out On The Ed Sullivan Show?

Bob Dylan circa 1963 (Getty Images)

What’s the biggest TV break you can get in this multi-media age? Is it the Tonight Show? Saturday Night Live? Ellen? Letterman? Back in the 1960’s the Ed Sullivan Show was the biggest of the big time. If you could get on the Sullivan show you’d be on your way to stardom. The Beatles, Elvis, the Supremes, Jackson Five, Rolling Stones, The Doors, Carol Burnett, George Carlin, Rodney Dangerfield all got their big breaks on the Sullivan Show and quickly rocketed to stardom.

So what do you think about somebody who gets a huge break, then later turns it down. That’s what happened to Bob Dylan when he was invited on to the show, actually auditioned the song he wanted to do in front of Sullivan and got the invite. But during rehearsal a CBS executive heard the words and told him he’d have to change the lyrics or do another song.

The song Dylan selected poked fun at the conservative John Birch Society. CBS was concerned about a defamation lawsuit. Dylan refused. He politely said if he can’t play his song, he’d rather not appear on the show. So he walked out.

Sullivan was upset – not at Dylan, but at CBS. In interviews Sullivan criticized the network decision and probably created more publicity than if Dylan had actually appeared on the show.

Dylan’s career didn’t suffer. He ended up winning 11 Grammy Awards, an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. He’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. And two years ago he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

But it was on this day in 1963 Bob Dylan refused to compromise his work and walked out on the Ed Sullivan Show.


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