Did Jackie Mason Give Ed Sullivan “the Finger” on National Television?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Jackie Mason gave Ed Sullivan the “finger” on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Jackie Mason became a stand-up comedian in the late 1950s/early 1960s, after deciding to no longer be a rabbi.

He made a few notable appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, likely THE biggest platform for up and coming performers at the time.

Mason was so popular that within the next year or so, Sullivan booked him to a five-year agreement that he would appear X amount of times on the program for $45,000.

In any event, in October of 1964, while making his twelfth appearance on the program, Mason and Sullivan’s relationship changed…for the worse.

On the night of the program (which ran from 8pm to 9pm), President Johnson was giving a speech at 8:30 PM.

The show decided to keep filming, with the intent of just cutting back into the performance (you know, “We return to your regularly scheduled program, already in progress”).

The show began airing again at roughly 8:50.

Sullivan was quite nervous about the show going over time, so he began to motion to Mason that he needed to wrap things up. Putting up two fingers to denote that there was two minutes left and then one finger to note that time was up and he had to get off of the stage.

Mason was irritated, thinking Sullivan was just trying to yank him because he was not doing particularly well.

So Mason then began to work the finger signs into his performance – telling the audience, “So we’re talking with fingers now” and he began to do manic finger movements to great applause from the audience.

Once he came off of the stage, Sullivan was livid.

He felt that Mason had just given him “the finger” on national television!

He fired Mason and terminated their contract.

Mason was undeterred, and sued Sullivan for $3 million dollars in a libel suit. The case went to trial and the court in New York viewed the footage and agreed that Mason had NOT, in actuality, given Sullivan the finger.

Sullivan, to his credit, apologized and brought Mason back on to the show in 1966 to apologize. Mason made a few more appearances on the show before it finished its run.

Mason has always claimed that even though he “won,” he still “lost” because people did not usually treat those who clashed with Ed Sullivan all that well.

But hey, Mason’s still performing now, over fifty years since the incident, so things couldn’t have been TOO bad!

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

One Response to “Did Jackie Mason Give Ed Sullivan “the Finger” on National Television?”

  1. Huh…I’d thought Mason had died recently. Probably got confused by the Simpsons killing off his character…thought they’d done it because Mason had passed on, I suppose.

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