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1958: Wayne and Shuster debut on the Ed Sullivan Show

The Story

On May 4, 1958, Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster, Canada's most famous and successful comedy duo, make their much-anticipated debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan, the host of the iconic American variety show, hand picks Wayne and Shuster and signs them to an unprecedented one-year contract. "They are literate, they are truly amusing and gay," Sullivan tells the CBC a few days before the duo's debut. "I told them, please stay in Canada and don't be contaminated by any of our gag writers down here."

Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: May 2, 1958
Guest(s): Ed Sullivan
Host: Maria Barrett, Bill McNeil
Reporter: Walter Harris
Duration: 4:17

Did You know?

• Johnny Wayne was born Lou Weingarten on May 28, 1918. Frank Shuster was born on Sept. 5, 1918.

• Frank Shuster and Johnny Wayne first met as high school students in Toronto. They both graduated from the University of Toronto with English degrees. During their university days, they wrote, produced, and starred in a number of variety shows. They also edited and wrote for the university newspaper, the Varsity.  

• In 1941, Wayne and Shuster began hosting a spot called Javex Wife Preservers (doling out household advice and jokes) on CFRB radio in Toronto. Later that year Wayne and Shuster got a national radio gig with CBC's Buckingham Blended Rhythm Show. It quickly made the two a household name in Canada.

• Following their 1958 debut on the Ed Sullivan Show, Jack Gould of the New York Times described them as "the harbingers of literate slapstick on TV."

•The word gay is now widely used to mean homosexual but in the days of Ed Sullivan, it was used to express "lighthearted and carefree, mirthful; characterized by cheerfulness or pleasure." (Canadian Oxford Dictionary 2004)

• For their 1958 debut on the Ed Sullivan Show, Wayne and Shuster performed one of their most memorable sketches, Rinse the Blood Off My Toga. They turned the assassination of Julius Caesar into a hard-boiled detective story with the famous catch phrase "Julie, don't go!"

• Wayne and Shuster set a record by appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show a total of 67 times over the next 11 years.

• Frank Shuster, who usually played the straight man, was the cousin of Joe Shuster, the creator of Superman. He was also the father-in-law of Lorne Michaels, the creator of Saturday Night Live.

• In an interview with CBC's Peter Gzowski, Wayne and Shuster cited the Shakespearean baseball game sketch as the height of their career. Their famous 1958 skit featured characters from Hamlet and Macbeth playing baseball on opposing teams.

• By the late 1970s, some critics described Wayne and Shuster as hopelessly out of date, sophomoric and often embarrassingly bad. But they managed to retain their fans. In 1980, 80 half-hour specials were syndicated worldwide including the U.S. and South Africa.

• Johnny Wayne died on July 18, 1990. Frank Shuster died on Jan. 13, 2002.

Also on May 4:
1859: The Royal Bank of Canada, the Bank of Western Canada and La Banque Nationale are all incorporated.
1973: The Anglican Church of Canada allows women to become ordained ministers.
1992: Hundreds of people go on a four-hour vandalism and looting rampage on Toronto's Yonge Street. It follows a peaceful rally to protest the Toronto police shooting of a black man, as well as the acquittals in the Los Angeles police beating of motorist Rodney King.


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