Sullivan's reaction to Presley's performance on the Milton Berle Show was, "I don't know why everybody picked on Presley, I thought the whole show was dirty and vulgar."
Elvis mythology states that Sullivan censored Presley by only shooting him from the waist up. Sullivan may have helped create the myth when he told TV Guide, "as for his gyrations, the whole thing can be controlled with camera shots." In truth Presley's whole body was shown in the first and second shows.
At the time, Presley was filming Love Me Tender, so Sullivan's producer, Marlo Lewis, flew to Los Angeles to supervise the two segments telecast that night from CBS Television history in Hollywood. Sullivan, however, was not able to host his show in New York City because he was recovering from a near fatal automobile accident. Charles Laughton guest-hosted in Sullivan's place. Laughton appeared in front of plaques with gold records and stated, "These gold records, four of them... are a tribute to the fact that four of his recordings have sold, each sold, more than a million copies. And this, by the way, is the first time in record making history that a singer has hit such a mark in such a short time. ...And now, away to Hollywood to meet Elvis Presley."
However, according to Greil Marcus, Laughton was the main act of Sullivan's show. "Presley was the headliner, and a Sullivan headliner normally opened the show, but Sullivan was burying him. Laughton had to make the moment invisible: to act as if nobody was actually waiting for anything. He did it instantly, with complete command, with the sort of television presence that some have and some—Steve Allen, or Ed Sullivan himself—don’t."
Host Laughton wrongly introduced the singer as "Elvin Presley". Once on camera, Elvis cleared his throat and said, “Thank you, Mr Laughton, ladies and gentlemen. Wow”, and wiped his brow. “This is probably the greatest honor I’ve ever had in my life. Ah. There’s not much I can say except, it really makes you feel good. We want to thank you from the bottom of our heart. And now..." "Don't Be Cruel", which was, after a short introduction by Elvis, followed by "Love Me Tender" According to Elaine Dundy, Presley sang "Love Me Tender" "straight, subdued and tender ... —a very different Elvis from the one in the Steve Allen Show three months before".
When the camera returned to Laughton, he stated, “Well, well, well well well. Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis Presley. And Mr. Presley, if you are watching this in Hollywood, and I may address myself to you. It has been many a year since any young performer has captured such a wide, and, as we heard tonight, devoted audience.”
Elvis's second set in the show consisted of "Ready Teddy" and a short on-air comment to Sullivan, "Ah, Mr Sullivan. We know that somewhere out there you are looking in, and, ah, all the boys and myself, and everybody out here, are looking forward to seeing you back on television." Next, Elvis declared, "Friends, as a great philosopher once said, ‘You ain’t nothin’ but a Hound Dog...,' " as he launched into a short (1:07) version of the song.
According to Marcus, "For the first of his two appearances that night, as a performer Elvis had come on dressed in grandma’s nightgown and nightcap." Concerning the singer's second set in the show, the author adds that there were "Elvis, Scotty Moore on guitar, Bill Black on stand-up bass, D. J. Fontana on drums, three Jordanaires on their feet, one at a piano. They were shown from behind; the camera pulled all the way back. They went into 'Ready Teddy.' It was Little Richard’s most thrilling record," however, "there was no way Elvis was going to catch him, but he didn’t have to—the song is a wave and he rode it. Compared to moments on the Dorsey shows, on the Berle show, it was ice cream—Elvis’s face unthreatening, his legs as if in casts ..."When "he sang Little Richard’s 'Reddy Teddy' and began to move and dance, the camera pulled in, so that the television audience saw him from the waist up only."
Although Laughton was the main star and there were seven other acts on the show, Elvis was on camera for more than a quarter of the time allotted to all acts. The show was viewed by a record 60 million people which at the time was 82.6 percent of the television audience, and the largest single audience in television history. "In the New York Times," however, "Jack Gould began his review indignantly: "Elvis Presley had 'injected movements of his tongue and indulged in wordless singing that were singularly distasteful.' Overstimulating the physical impulses of the teenagers was 'a gross national disservice.'"