Adam Lambert stirred up a fuss on live TV, but he’s far from the first entertainer to do soBy Frazier Moore, AP
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
A noble tradition: Entertainers misbehaving on TV
NEW YORK — Entertainers have been misbehaving on TV — or accused of it, at least — long before singer Adam Lambert was even born.
A half-century ago, the king of controversies was whipped up by none other than the King, Elvis Presley, although no one seemed more mystified by all the fuss than Elvis himself.
Yes, he was shown on-camera only from the waist up, to protect the nation’s youth from the sight of his gyrating nether regions.
But contrary to popular myth, Presley had already been exposed on several variety shows before this defensive camera work was introduced.
In fact, this was his third appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” when, the night of Jan. 6, 1957, he performed a number of songs — all while limited to waist shots. And it followed by several months his first, full-body “Sullivan” appearance.
New York Times TV critic Jack Gould likened that spectacle in September 1956 to Presley’s “striptease behavior on last spring’s Milton Berle program.”
“The issue is not one of censorship, which solves nothing,” Gould boldly ventured. “It is one of common sense.”
A decade later, The Doors’ lead vocalist, Jim Morrison, took leave of his senses (but exercised artistic freedom) by defying the dictates of the all-mighty Sullivan. On Sept. 17, 1967, this rising rock foursome was appearing on “Ed Sullivan” to perform their breakout hit, “Light My Fire.”
But the show’s producers demanded a change in the line, “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher,” fearful as they were that it was making a drug reference. During the rehearsal, Morrison complied and sang a modified lyric. Then, on the show’s live telecast, he sang “Light My Fire” the original way.
The Doors were not invited back.
On Oct. 3, 1992, Irish singer Sinead O’Connor went further and defied the Catholic church. Appearing on “Saturday Night Live,” she sang “War,” written by the late Bob Marley, a fellow critic of Catholicism.
When she was done, she held up an 8-inch-by-12-inch photo of John Paul II and ripped it to pieces, saying, “Fight the real enemy.” She flung the pieces toward the camera, then blew out several candles. Many viewers and church members expressed outrage following the broadcast.
Unlike “SNL,” the MTV Video Music Awards seems to encourage outrageous displays by its participants. The night of Aug. 28, 2003, Madonna didn’t disappoint, memorably sharing an openmouthed kiss with both Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears.
Of course, they were humbled just a few months later by a Super Bowl-scale lapse in good taste. As no one needs to be reminded, the halftime show for Super Bowl XXXVIII ended shockingly (and, according to its performers, accidentally) when Justin Timberlake committed a wardrobe malfunction on Janet Jackson’s right breast.
It was a rule-breaking, groundbreaking moment in TV. The debate and hysteria unleashed at that instant over public morals hasn’t come close to subsiding. We can thank Adam Lambert for the latest reminder.
The Associated Press News Research Center contributed to this report.
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