Surprisingly, inflation did not play a role in the fee The Beatles were paid for performing on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964. When compared to the amount Elvis Presley was paid, $50,000 for three performances in late 1956/early 1957, The Beatles worked for peanuts, a measly $10,000 for three shows.
However, when The Steve Allen Show beat Ed Sullivan in the ratings due to Presley’s appearance in July 1956, Sullivan changed his mind. Having the upper hand, Colonel Parker was able to negotiate the highest fee ever paid to an act by Sullivan at that point in time, increasing the fee from $5,000 to over $16,000 per show. Elvis appeared three times over a five-month period from September 1956 to January 1957.
In actuality, Sullivan only gave The Beatles top billing for two out of the three performances. Nevertheless, history proves that Epstein made the right choice, since more than 50 years later, The Beatles’ first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show is still celebrated as the launch of Beatlemania in the U.S.
The cordial relationship started as early as February 1964 when Elvis and The Colonel sent a telegram to The Beatles before their legendary first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Sensing how popular The Beatles were going to become, Parker thought it best to make friends with his client’s biggest competition to date.
Dated February 6, 1964, the telegram read: “Congratulations on your appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and your visit to America. We hope your engagement will be a successful one and your visit pleasant. Give our best to Mr. Sullivan. Sincerely, Elvis and The Colonel.”
But that was just the beginning! Many more telegrams and interactions took place behind the scenes not only between Colonel Parker and Brian Epstein, but also between Elvis and The Beatles throughout the rest of their careers – not to mention their infamous meeting in August 1965.