28 January 1956

Elvis Presley first appears on American television.

His first TV appearance was on January 28, 1956 on the little remembered, Stage Show, co-hosted by Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey. He appeared on the next 3 episodes and a total of 6 appearances. I’m not sure if the show lasted much longer than that but the press really didn’t pay much attention. His first national TV appearance was on April 3, 1956 on the Milton Berle Show. Berle remembered that there were many stars on that night including Hugh Jarrett, Esther Williams, Buddy Rich and Harry James. Milton Berle also mentioned Buddy Hackett but the rundown of those who appeared does not list Hackett. In any event, Elvis was an unknown young performer. Elvis’s agent, Colonel Parker (see book about Parker and Presley) had called Berle and asked him to give Elvis an audition. Berle did and was impressed enough to book Elvis on the show. Elvis performed “Shake Rattle and Roll,” “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” Of the three, Elvis wrote “Heartbreak Hotel.”

The New York Journal-American wrote that the young man’s “primitive physical movement difficult to describe in terms suitable to a family newspaper.” The San Francisco Chronicle called the performance “In appalling taste.” The New York Daily News said that Elvis “gave an exhibition that was suggestive and vulgar, tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos.” Berle said that 4 days after the show he received 400,000 “pan” letters. Not “fan mail” but “pan mail.” People wrote to Berle and said that they would never watch his show again after he showed that disgusting young man. Berle said that he called Colonel Parker to inform him that he had a star on his hands. Berle recognized that if that many people took the time to write letters then he had to be on the minds of just about everyone. All publicity is good publicity.