August 11, 2014 5:08 PM EDT

For someone under 40, seeing Ed Sullivan on a television screen is astonishing. Stooped, brusque and imposing, he seems not only pre-televisual, but prehistoric. (His contemporaries nicknamed him “Old Stone Face.”) This guy brought us The Beatles? And yet for over two decades Sullivan defined pop culture every Sunday night. By making comfortable older viewers who had grown up before TV, the square Sullivan bridged the generation gap like a Soviet-bloc leader transitioning from socialism to runaway capitalism. Then the revolution overtook him; The Rolling Stones mocked him, The Doors defied him and the young audience finally clicked away from him. But not before he established TV as America’s new arbiter of taste and tastelessness.

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