In the summer of 1965, Ray Bourbon was appearing in a mystery-comedy play, Daddy Was a Lady, in Cripple Creek, Colorado at the Grubstake Theatre. The show would almost open on Broadway a year later. I’ll post a blog entry about the show at a later time, but want to explore one small tidbit that came up during this production.
Underground cartoonist Skip Williamson, then a college student taking his first job away from home, was hired to be Ray’s publicity assistant. Skip emailed me in 2000 about his experiences, then expanded the story to a lengthy blog post at the now-defunct Open Salon blog platform, and created a four-page comic in Blab #18 based on the story.
Skip mentioned that Ray claimed to have appeared on the The Ed Sullivan Show, something I hadn’t heard from any other source or seen in any of the articles I’ve dug up on his career.
Could Ray have had a solo spot on the popular CBS variety program? Maybe the cast of Mae West’s Diamond Lil, which was produced in 1948-1950, appeared on the series?
I wrote to SOFA Entertainment, the company that now houses not only the original surviving kinescopes and videotapes of the series, but a complete index of all the acts that appeared on the show.
They confirmed that neither Ray nor the cast of Diamond Lil were on Ed Sullivan. However, on December 19, 1948, during the run of Diamond Lil, Mae West made her television debut on the program – she was sitting in the VIP section for the show and made a bow from the audience. (You can see the brief appearance 10 seconds into this video on YouTube.)
So, Ray’s claim of appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show didn’t pan out.
But … what if Ray really was telling the truth?
Before Sullivan was tapped to host Toast of the Town, the series that would later bear his name, he had a long career in radio, going back to the early 1930s. Sullivan was a syndicated showbiz gossip columnist for the New York Daily News, like Hedda Hopper or Walter Winchell, covering Broadway and nightclubs.
Sullivan hosted his own radio shows on local New York station WABC (now WCBS) where he would talk about items from his column and sometimes interview guests. He also hosted some short-lived network series on the CBS radio and the Blue Network with a talk/interview or variety formats, the first in 1932.
So, Ray could have appeared on Ed Sullivan’s radio show at some point. He may have appeared on Sullivan’s WABC show when he was getting attention for his turn as Florian in Mae West’s Catherine Was Great in 1944-45 or even sometime in the 1930s during the Pansy Craze of the early part of the decade or when he happened to be in town for one of his nightclub appearances.
It might be that, in 1965, Ray was telling the truth about appearing on Ed Sullivan. Back then, who would bother to check if he was referring to the popular television program or Sullivan’s earlier local or network radio series?
If Ray did appear on Sullivan’s radio show at some point, a recording isn’t likely to exist. Most all of Sullivan’s surviving radio work comes from his appearances on more well-known network broadcasts.
If someone is willing to run through Sullivan’s papers at the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research, they might finally solve this little mystery.
If you run into a reference showing Ray appearing on one of Ed Sullivan’s radio broadcasts, let me know!