On the rainy night of August 7, 1956, TV top rated host Ed Sullivan had flown into Bridgeport with his son-law-Robert Precht, age 27. They were headed to Sullivan’s weekend retreat at 367 North Hill Road in Southbury, an otherwise modest home on 130 acre dairy farm. Ralph Cacace, Sullivan’s watchman on the Southbury property had driven down to pick them up as he did most Sunday night’s.
It was 2:00 Am when the party entered Seymour on route 8. Thick patches of fog had dogged on the ride up the twisting road. Sullivan, who was then 55, was driving the 1956 black Lincoln convertible. His son-in-law was in the front seat and Cacace was in the backseat. Suddenly, a car driven by 22-year old Joseph Palmucci, an X ray technician, of Ansonia, swerved into Sullivan’s lane causing a violent head on collision that wrecked both cars.
Palmucci broke his jaw. Precht had a fractured left ankle, a series of gashes across his scalp and a 15 inch laceration under his chin. Cacace was tossed from the back seat into the front seat and suffered various cuts and bruises on his chest and lips. Ed Sullivan’s body was thrown up against his steering wheel with such force that he broke a rib in half and crushed his sternum.
“There was a taste of blood in my mouth and the smell of smoke in my nostrils and I couldn’t breathe because my chest was caved in” Sullivan later wrote.
When police arrived they found Sullivan sitting on the side of the road. Precht and Cacace were trapped in their seats and had to be pried out by the fire department. Palmucci was also thrown from his car and was lying on the road.
All parties were rushed to the Griffin Hospital and the accident was flashed across the wires and made international news. It would take Ralph Cacace four days to regain consciousness.
In July of that year, Sullivan had agrees to sign Elvis Presley on his program after first refusing the singer any air time at all. The problem was that after Elvis made his second appearance on The Milton Berle Show on June 5, 1956, Elvis had bumped and grinded his way through “Hound Dog”. The teens loved it but the press and most adults were outraged to say the least. When Ed Sullivan was asked if he would book Elvis on his show, he said he would not, feigning outrage over the sexuality of Elvis’s act. The truth was, Sullivan was hyper-protective of his career and his program and wanted to avoid the wrath of the press by allowing Elvis on his show.
On July 1st, 1956, Elvis appeared on the Steve Allen Show, which aired opposite The Ed Sullivan Show. To avoid controversy Allen demanded that Elvis appear on stage dressed in a tux and had him sing “Hound Dog” to a basset hound….without moving his hips. The ploy work, the adult world forgave Elvis and his hips and the Steve Allen Show crushed Sullivan in that week’s ratings.
On the following day, Monday morning, Sullivan signed Elvis for his program. He was to appear three times for the then incredible sum of $50,000, the highest amount ever paid to a performer to appear on TV.
His first appearance would be Sunday night, September 9th, 1956. Then on August 7, Joseph Palmucci, the x ray technician from Ansonia rammed his 54 Chevy into Ed Sullivan’s car on route 8 causing Ed Sullivan to miss hosting one of the most iconic performances in the history of entertainment.
British actor Charles Laughton hosted the show instead. Sixty million viewers tuned in to watch the King of Rock sing “Don’t Be Cruel” “Love Me Tender” and Little Richard’s hit, “Ready Teddy.”
At the end of the last song, Elvis solemnly thanked “Mr. Sullivan for having me on his television program” and wished him a speedy recovery and then said “As a great philosopher once said…’you ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog!’” and the gyrating began. However Sullivan had ordered that the cameramen only shoot Elvis from the waist up.