On turning 70, Itzhak Perlman remembers Ed Sullivan

Ed Sullivan congratulates 13-year-old Itzhak Perlman, 1958.Pinn Hans; public domain


On turning 70, Itzhak Perlman remembers Ed Sullivan

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August 31, 2015

Itzhak Perlman was born in Tel Aviv on Aug. 31, 1945; as a toddler, he became interested in violin after hearing a classical music on the radio.

When he was old enough, Perlman studied with Rivka Goldgart at the Shulamit Conservatory and at the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv, giving his first recital at age 10. Later, Perlman moved to New York to study at the Juilliard School with Ivan Galamian and Dorothy DeLay.

But there was a pivotal moment in Perlman's early life that greatly advanced the career he enjoys to this day; it was a chance Perlman was given by television impresario Ed Sullivan. In 1958, Sullivan selected a 13-year-old Perlman to perform on television's The Ed Sullivan Show, introducing the young violinist to a widespread American audience. The rest, as they say, is history.

As he turns 70, here's how Itzhak Perlman recalls his experience with Ed Sullivan:

"When I came to the United States, my first thing was television — Ed Sullivan and so on. So I'm a big television believer, that it brings music to people so very quickly. … When I was about 13, [Sullivan] came to Israel and he wanted to audition a bunch of people in the different types of arts and so on to appear on his show. And it was going to be a show of just Israeli acts. So people from all over the country would flock into Tel Aviv or other cities and he'd come in and he'd listen. And then at the end, they made a choice as to who would come on the show. And so I was chosen. I was — for him, I suppose — I was kind of a perfect candidate because I was chubby, I was walking with crutches, I was young, I was cute. And I played pretty well. So that was a nice little thing, a combination of human interest story plus talent and so on. … Look, Sullivan was a true connoisseur of the variety show. He had everyone you wanted … the combinations were incredible. He was a great showman."

One person watching the broadcast was our own classical host, Mindy Ratner. "I remember him swinging out onto the stage with his crutches, and then playing so brilliantly that it took my breath away!" she recalls. "Watching him play convinced my father — who thought that music was a big waste of time — that violin lessons might be acceptable for me. Of course, he also labored under the misconception that I would naturally be a brilliant fiddle player like the young Israeli. It didn't work out that way, but I never lost my love for music — and look at where that got me."

Perhaps, then, Perlman's appearance on Ed Sullivan helped shape more than one career.

Itzhak Perlman performing on The Ed Sullivan Show, age 13 (1958)

Perlman performs on The Ed Sullivan Show, age 19 (1964)