Ed Sullivan Meets the Avatar
Ed Sullivan Meets the Avatar
The God of Sunday Night Meets the God-Man
by Clive G. Adams
22 May 2015
Some years ago, probably around 1995–96, I was staying at Meher Center when I met a man in his late 60s or early 70s who was visiting the Baba Center for his first time. Possibly because of my innate curiosity, the man confided the following amazing story of how he came to know about Meher Baba. Although he did not view himself as a “Baba-lover” per se, he said he had always intended to visit the Center, after seeing and then reading about Meher Baba in 1956.
I cannot recall the man’s name (though it is written in an old address book packed away in our family storage unit in Asheville), so let’s refer to him for now as Mr. X. After fact-checking a number of key points, I believe the story to be absolutely true. To my knowledge, no one else was present when he shared the story, but I expect he must have told the story to Kitty or Jane, or possibly others, some years earlier. While listening to the story in the Original Kitchen, I kept feeling Baba was poking me to pay attention and remember this story. So I did and now it is shared for the first time.
Mr. X lived in New York City and for many years worked as a bartender at the Hotel Delmonico on 59th Street and Park Avenue. The hotel’s cocktail bar was a well-known Upper East Side watering hole, the Delmonico cocktail bar was situated somewhere near the lobby or entrance area of the hotel. This location gave Mr. X a unique vantage point to see guests coming and going at the hotel and allowed him to keep tabs on people getting in and out of the elevators as well.
One day (it had to be between July 20 and 22, 1956), as Mr. X was tending bar, he noticed a striking-looking man enter the hotel, flanked by two women and followed by a large party. As I recall, Mr. X had already heard that a famous Indian spiritual leader was staying, or going to be staying, at the Delmonico. I believe Mr. X said he had been told his name was Meher Baba, but he hadn’t yet seen him. However, as soon as this striking-looking individual entered the hotel lobby, Mr. X knew this had to be the “expected one” from India.
Attracted by the energy of Meher Baba and his party, Mr. X positioned himself to watch as they moved quickly through the hotel lobby towards the elevator bank, where they stopped to wait for an elevator to take them to Baba’s rooms on the 18th floor of the 32-story hotel. Suddenly one opened directly in front of Meher Baba, and standing opposite him, ready to step out of the door, was the lone occupant (along with the elevator operator)—the famous TV personality Ed Sullivan.
According to Mr. X, Baba’s and Ed’s eyes appeared to lock in a timeless embrace. This was followed by a momentary awkwardness as Ed seemed to lose himself in Baba’s gaze, so that Ed failed to immediately exit the elevator, making it impossible for Baba’s party to enter. As I recall, Mr. X said that he saw Baba give Ed a very broad smile, and then Ed staggered out and Baba and party entered.
According to Mr. X, Ed Sullivan left the elevator somewhat dazed and then got hold of himself and made a beeline over to the cocktail lounge. Mr. X confided that he was on intimate terms with Ed Sullivan, having known him for many years. Ed was nocturnal and liked to drink and socialize into the wee hours. The first words out of Ed’s mouth when he reached Mr. X were “Who was that Man?” Mr. X proceeded to fill Ed in on what little he knew about Meher Baba, something to the effect that Baba was a well-known spiritual leader from India. Ed asked his friend Mr. X to find out more about Baba and report back.
Twelve years before, Ed Sullivan and his wife, Sylvia, had rented a suite of rooms at the Hotel Delmonico, after living at the famous Hotel Astor in Times Square for many years. The couple made their home at the Delmonico from 1944 until their deaths, in 1973 (Sylvia) and 1974 (Ed). They also owned a country home in Connecticut, but the Delmonico was where the family (they had a daughter named Betty) spent most of their time. Ed even rented a suite next door to the family suite, which he used as an office until The Ed Sullivan Show was canceled in 1971.
Meher Baba stayed at the Delmonico Hotel and gave private and group interviews from Friday, July 20, thru Sunday, July 22, 1956. Online sources confirm that Ed Sullivan rented a suite of rooms at the Delmonico Hotel from 1944 on and was in residence when Baba stayed there in July 1956. Most of Meher Baba’s interviews over these three days were conducted on the mezzanine floor of the hotel, where two large rooms were reserved for the purpose. (A few private interviews were also conducted in Baba’s suite.) As described in Darwin Shaw’s book As Only God Can Love, Jeanne Shaw arranged for a special chaise longue to be brought to the interview room for Baba to recline on if he wished; Anna Rosa Karrasch found a white bedspread to drape over it. Jeanne had the room decorated with a variety of fragrant flowers, and a bowl of grapes was placed on a table for Baba to give out as prasad. He was photographed and filmed by the press and others, reclining on the chaise; one video shows Baba playfully tossing grapes to those gathered around him.
Significantly, Baba went up and down from the mezzanine level to his suite on the 18th floor, multiple times each day, creating many opportunities for Baba to interact with the elevator operators and the public, and leading to other possible “chance” encounters in and around the elevators, similar to the “random” meeting with Ed Sullivan.
Mr. X said he had spoken with one or two of the Western ladies who were among the people accompanying Baba and one of them (possibly Kitty?), gave him Charles Purdom’s 1937 biography of Meher Baba, The Perfect Master. The last thing I recall him saying was that he had read the book and was deeply impressed by Meher Baba, resulting in the desire and intention to visit Meher Center. He confessed that he had not had an opportunity until now—some 30 years after he had witnessed the Avatar of the Age entering the lobby of the Hotel Delmonico.
I asked Mr. X where he was living now (in the mid-1990’s), and he said he had left New York City some years ago and moved to Taos, New Mexico, where he was involved with painting and art galleries. I took down his contact information, which I still have. I recall thinking at the time: the fact that Ed Sullivan introduced America and the world to Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, the Supremes, and dozens of other incredible talents and legends, may have played into why Baba “arranged” to meet Ed Sullivan, no matter how briefly. Based upon a close study of Baba’s life over almost half a century, it occurs to me that nothing the Avatar does is accidental or random, and in the case of a “chance” meeting with Ed Sullivan, it seems Baba may have been “borrowing” him and his karmic connections to further some purpose that He alone knows. This is just hypothetical and purely conjecture, but speaking as one who watched many of the Ed Sullivan shows, including the Beatles’ introduction to America, in some strange way I felt God’s hand moving through this unique period of television history.
I know one thing: Baba looked deeply into Ed Sullivan’s eyes, according to this sweet, gentle old man—and something happened. It was no doubt part of the Avatar’s Amazing Divine Work.
Postscript: Meher Baba’s 1956 trip to America was his fifth visit to our shores. Four men mandali accompanied him: Eruch Jessawala, Adi K. Irani, Meherjee Karkaria, and Dr. Nilu. The Avatar’s flight arrived at Idyllwild Airport around 7:00 a.m. on July 20. Baba was greeted by many of his lovers at the airport waiting room, unlike in 1952, when hardly anyone was allowed to meet him when he arrived in New York. The party went directly to the Hotel Delmonico. It was during this trip, while staying at the Hotel Delmonico, that Meher Baba and 150+ other guests had a famous celebratory dinner at Longchamps Restaurant, on Sunday, July 22, 1956. Longchamps was located in a building called Manhattan House, and Baba had visited this location in 1952 as well. The dinner was a reception to welcome Baba back to America and alternately to celebrate Baba’s recent birthday with a special cake to mark the occasion.” (See The Awakener Magazine, vol. 4, no. 2, p. 31.)
A few of those present, as recounted in Darwin’s book, were (in alphabetical order): John Bass, Enid Corfe, Margaret Craske, Sylvia DeLong, Charmian Duce, Ivy Duce, Bili Eaton, Harry and Marion Florsheim, Jeanne Foster, Filis Frederick, Ben Hayman, Karrasch Anna Rosa (and her son, Larry), Michael and Ann Kohanow, Elizabeth Patterson, Virginia and Harold Rudd, Darwin and Jeanne Shaw with daughters Leatrice and Renae, Don Stevens, Beryl Williams, Fred and Ella Winterfeldt, and Adele Wolkin.
The Hotel Delmonico was located at 502 Park Avenue, near Central Park and not far from the theatre district. The building was originally built in 1929 and opened first as the Viceroy Hotel and then changed its name to Cromwell Arms and finally, Hotel Delmonico. In 2002 it was sold to Donald Trump & Co. for $115 million. It is now known as Trump Park Avenue and contains 120 luxury condos and 8 penthouses.
On November 11, 1963, Ed Sullivan invited Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles, to meet him at his suite at the Hotel Delmonico, to discuss having the Beatles appear on The Ed Sullivan Show. At the time, the Beatles were virtually unknown in America. It was at this very meeting that the deal was struck, and the rest is now part of legend and history. When Ed introduced the Beatles to America, it attracted the largest single U.S. television audience (73 million) of any TV show in history, before or since. The Beatles stayed at the Hotel Delmonico, once or twice, while they were fulfilling the terms of their three-show contract with the The Ed Sullivan Show. Based on my reading, I believe that Baba’s purpose was always spiritual, even when his activities had to do with worldly events. Ed introduced more talent to America in the ’50’s and ’60’s than anyone in history and helped to make many groups famous, if not legend. Ed Sullivan had an uncanny ability to recognize great talent, which may explain why he was so moved when he met the Avatar of the Age, the most unique and singular Talent of all!
Following is a partial list of the legends and talents who appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show over the years, taken from the Vanity Fair article:
Woody Allen, Louis Armstrong, Fred Astaire, Gene Autry, Lucille Ball, the Band, Tallulah Bankhead, Brigitte Bardot, Lionel Barrymore, Count Basie, the Beach Boys, Tony Bennett, Irving Berlin, Eubie Blake, Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, James Brown, Richard Burton, the Byrds, Sid Caesar, James Cagney, Maria Callas, Cab Calloway, Johnny Cash, Fidel Castro, Ray Charles, Montgomery Clift, George M. Cohan, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Bill Cosby, Bing Crosby, Salvador Dalí, Rodney Dangerfield, Bobby Darin, James Dean, Jack Dempsey, Fats Domino, Peter Duchin, Clint Eastwood, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Duke Ellington, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Ira Gershwin, Jackie Gleason, Cary Grant, Alec Guinness, Bill Haley and His Comets, Oscar Hammerstein II, W. C. Handy, Alfred Hitchcock, Judy Holliday, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, John Huston, the Ink Spots, Harry James, Jefferson Airplane, Gene Kelly, B. B. King, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Gene Krupa, Bert Lahr, Dorothy Lamour, Burt Lancaster, Mario Lanza, London Lee, Jerry Lee Lewis, Joe E. Lewis, Liberace, Sonny Liston, Sophia Loren, Moms Mabley, Jayne Mansfield, Rocky Marciano, Willie Mays, the McGuire Sisters, Yehudi Menuhin, Glenn Miller, Robert Mitchum, Ogden Nash, Paul Newman, Rudolf Nureyev, Merle Oberon, Gregory Peck, Itzhak Perlman, Edith Piaf, the Platters, Cole Porter, Perez Prado, Richard Pryor, George Raft, Johnnie Ray, Ronald Reagan, Jerome Robbins, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Carl Sandburg, Albert Schweitzer, Jean Seberg, Ravi Shankar, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, the Supremes, Elizabeth Taylor, the Three Stooges, Margaret Truman, Sophie Tucker, Ike and Tina Turner, Lana Turner, the Vienna Boys’ Choir, Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, Betsy von Furstenberg, John Wayne, Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, Tennessee Williams, Henny Youngman, Darryl F. Zanuck.
To learn more about the interesting and unusual life of Ed Sullivan, see the excellent article by Nick Tosches in the July 1997 Vanity Fair.
This website has a great article about Ed Sullivan and the Beatles, plus links to many other legends who came on his show.
Article © 2015 by Clive G. Adams
Added by Kendra Crossen Burroughs, February 19, 2017
Meher Baba and Donald Trump: How Many Degrees of Separation? As noted above, the Hotel Delmonico, located at 59th Street and Park Avenue, was converted in 2002 into 120 exclusive condominium residences known as TRUMP PARK AVENUE (502 Park Ave.). The building is described on the website as “rich in history” and “a prized address” (if they only knew). Is there anything else about this connection that might be worthy of note?
I thought of one other connection:
The Beatles met with Bob Dylan at the Hotel Delmonico during their American tour, in 1964. Dylan allegedly introduced the group to marijuana during this visit. As is well known, Meher Baba explicitly warned against the spiritual harm of marijuana use. For example, he said to Robert Dreyfuss in 1965, “Tell those who indulge in these drugs [LSD, marijuana, and other types] that it is harmful physically, mentally and spiritually, and that they should stop the taking of these drugs. Your duty is to tell them, regardless of whether they accept what you say, or if they ridicule or humiliate you, to boldly and bravely face these things. Leave the results to me; I will help you in my work.”
Donald Trump has taken contradictory stances toward cannabis legalization over the years. He has said in the past that it should be a state-by-state decision, but his choice for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has been quoted as saying that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” There are a number of speculations online as to whether President Trump will promote legalization, but no one really knows what his plans are, if any.
Any other Baba connections? (Not too far-fetched, please.)