‘The Ed Sullivan Show’: Ed Sullivan Allegedly Told This Guest He Would ‘Destroy’ Them for Making ‘Obscene Gestures on Camera’

CBS has aired plenty of iconic TV shows over the years, and few could forget Ed Sullivan. The Ed Sullivan Show ran from 1948 to 1971, and the variety show featured comedians, musical guests, and plenty of entertainment through the years.

Unfortunately, it seems a number of guests on the show had issues with Sullivan. And one guest in particular was accused of making “obscene gestures on camera” during their performance. Here’s what happened.

Jackie Mason was a huge comedian in the 1950s and ’60s

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From The Beatles to Elvis Presley, Sullivan was known for his wide variety of incredible guests featured on his program. And he also gave comedian Jackie Mason the opportunity of a lifetime.

The Los Angeles Times notes Mason grew up in New York City and was the son of a rabbi. Because his three brothers also became rabbis in their adult lives, the family expectation was that Mason would follow suit. While he initially did, he couldn’t stop telling jokes while giving sermons. It became abundantly clear that he was meant for comedy.

Mason’s first network TV debut was on the Steve Allen Show in 1960, which he was able to book after a successful performance in Beverly Hills. Shortly after, he scored a spot on The Ed Sullivan Show. Unfortunately, his career was deeply derailed due to his performance for Sullivan.

Ed Sullivan banned Mason from ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ for ‘obscene gestures’

Portrait of television show host Ed Sullivan on the set of its 20th anniversary performance, 1967
Portrait of television show host Ed Sullivan on the set of its 20th anniversary performance, 1967 | Arthur Schatz/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

So, what happened that made Sullivan suddenly hate Mason? According to The New York Times, the incident in question happened after President Johnson’s televised speech, which interrupted Mason’s set on The Ed Sullivan Show. When Mason was able to get back on stage after the interruption, Sullivan lifted two fingers to indicate Mason had two minutes left. Then, Sullivan lifted one finger to indicate there was only one minute left.

After that, Mason started making jokes about the fingers. He joked to the audience that he was “getting lots of fingers tonight,” and he then appeared to give Sullivan the middle finger. “Here’s a finger for you and a finger for you and a finger for you,” he joked while pointing around the audience.

Sullivan was quite upset by the jokes. Mason then claimed that Sullivan told him, “I will destroy you in show business.” Sullivan then accused Mason of making obscene gestures on camera” and canceled Mason’s $45,000 contract with the show. Not only that, but producers also charged Mason with “insubordination and gross deviation from material agreed upon.”

Mason claims he never made the gestures

While Sullivan was sure there was some foul play going on, Mason claimed he never made that gesture. And it wasn’t just the finger that had Sullivan upset. The New York Times notes Sullivan was upset that Mason was using material in his routine that they didn’t agree to use. Mason apparently added a few political jokes that didn’t go over well, but he also denied ever doing so.

“Everything I used on Sunday night I had used before on the Sullivan show,” Mason said.

It seems Mason was in the right after all. The Los Angeles Times notes recordings of the show proved Mason didn’t give Sullivan the finger, and Sullivan later apologize on the air. Unfortunately, the incident nearly ruined Mason’s career, and he had trouble getting any network TV gigs for many years after.

Ultimately, Mason was able to make a comeback — but we’re sure he and Sullivan stayed far, far away from each other.

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