As mentioned in the main article, it was the enduring childhood memories of the baby boomers who remembered A SHORT VISION from The Ed Sullivan Show that inspired us to do this feature. Therefore, it is only fitting that we devote as much space as it takes to collecting the stories of the Fifties kids out there who remember seeing the world end on TV back in 1956.
We hope that the initial four remembrances below will inspire many more people to write in. If you would like to share your “Short Vision” Sullivan recollections, let us know via the CONELRAD contact form (or just add your Comment below). We look forward to hearing from you!
We begin, fittingly enough, with Laura Graff, the woman who first mentioned this movie to us. In 2009 we visited Ms. Graff and re-screened A SHORT VISION for her. She had not seen it in more than fifty years.
SHORT VISION MEMORIES
“RE-EXPERIENCING A SHORT VISION” by Laura Graff
Memories are fleeting and, in some cases, distorted and even possibly inaccurate. Reminiscing about my cold war experiences, I vividly recalled watching a brief animated film about the effects of the detonation of an atomic bomb. I remembered watching this on the Ed Sullivan Show. He first warned parents to send their children out of the room because of the graphic nature of the subject. Thinking further about it, I decided that I must be mistaken. Ed Sullivan’s typical fare usually included hot new performers, classic performers, acrobats, jugglers, and ventriloquists. Could Ed Sullivan have shown a short film about people, animals, and civilization being devastated by a nuclear bomb? Were Topo Gigio, the Beatles, Elvis, Senor Wences, and the rest of us in danger of succumbing to the bomb?
Now that I’ve viewed the short twice as an adult, fifty-two years later, I’m surprised that Sullivan featured such a dark and artistic film. I watched it first on my computer, and I was startled that the only scene I remembered was the explosion of the bomb followed by images of peoples’ flesh melting from their faces to reveal bare skulls. Although this really scared me as a child, the fright was confined to the viewing experience. I didn’t connect it to the actual possibility of an atomic bomb disaster in my neighborhood. The Wicked Witch of the West with her flying monkeys in THE WIZARD OF OZ had much deeper detrimental effects on my mental health.
Watching the DVD a few weeks later on a large screen television was an extremely different experience. It had much more impact – eerie, creepy, and frightening. I think the impact was greater because of the size of the screen and better audio, and this experience was more like the one in 1956, although the size of our TV screen then was closer to that of my computer monitor.
In 2009, I feel more threatened by an atomic bomb or an atomic accident than I ever have in the past. People in the 1950s who were building bomb shelters were not average citizens. Shelter drills in schools where we lined up in halls away from windows were hardly any protection. The walls of the school wouldn’t save us in the event of an atomic explosion. I remember being anxious during the Bay of Pigs incident in the 1960s. My friends and I sat in the high school cafeteria, and we wondered whether we should make the effort to complete our assignments. Now I listen to the news, and I worry about the nuclear aspirations of Iran and North Korean, in addition to rumors of terrorists with dirty bombs. News stories about the military accidentally transporting armed missiles across the United States are not reassuring. Living in a major metropolitan city isn’t as attractive as it used to be.
An unusual picture book, “Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animals, People, and War” by Yukio Tsuchiya and Ted Lewin, is the story of craziness resulting from the fear of a nuclear bomb. During World War II in Japan, zookeepers in a large city were afraid that the impact of another bomb could release the animals from the zoo. The zookeepers were afraid the animals would kill people, so they decided to kill all the animals first before a bomb would drop. This is a mind-boggling concept. The main part of the story is the ultimate tearjerker about how they were unable to kill the elephants with poison or guns and how they starved them to death.
I don’t plan to build a bomb shelter or do anything crazy. I’m just glad that the United States now has a president who believes in communication and diplomacy, instead of treating countries as if they’re naughty children. He can also pronounce nuclear.
Submitted to CONELRAD on June 9, 2009 and published with permission
“A SENSE OF PANIC” by Michael Mode
In 1956 I was ten years old. My TV watching was somewhat restricted by my parents, but not the Ed Sullivan show, which they liked to watch. Apparently my sister was not home the night that "A Short Vision" was aired as she does not remember it at all. I don't remember if my parents were present in the room or not. I know that because it was animation, like a cartoon, it really caught my attention. I remember a flying object making a jet sound coming in over a city and exploding - then quickly it became scary and horrible, really creating a sense of panic in me. I particularly remember seeing the flesh melt off of people's faces. It was hard to watch but I couldn't stop. For some time after that I had nightmares based on it, but there were no lasting effects. I had nightmares, or "bad dreams" as I described them to my mother, about other things also.
But I've never forgotten it, and for years it added an air of horror and fear to anything concerning nuclear war or bombs.
Years later I met a man from Canada who had shoulder length dark hair, but in the center of his head was a small spot where his hair grew out a silvery white color. I asked him about it, and he told me that he was a medically documented case of a person whose hair had turned white from fright. As a child, he had seen "A Short Vision" while alone in a house, and he experienced extreme panic and terror for some time, and one result was that his hair began to grow out white from that one spot on his head.
I would like to see the film now, as an adult. I am a wood artist and you can see my work (nothing frightening) on my website, michaelmode.com.
Submitted to CONELRAD on March 22, 2009 and published with permission
“A SHORT VISION REVISITED” by Gail Fisher
Why my mother let me watch it is a subject best saved for me and my shrink, but yes, I did see “A Short Vision” on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. I was eight, growing up in Los Angeles. I don’t remember if our family reverently tuned in to that hallowed variety show every week, but we were sure tuned in that night. And if she heard them, my mother paid no heed to Mr. Sullivan’s admonitions to get the kids out.
I remember it starting as a cartoon…curious, but surely innocuous. After all this was Ed
Sullivan, a video music hall of comedians and marionettes. Anyway, there was some kind of UFO, a satellite before there were satellites, cruising leisurely, silently over the city at night. And just as it passed over, it dispatched the earth underneath to hell.
There was a woman, asleep, innocent. Except that as this quiet thing passed over, the flesh simply melted from her face. Her liquefied humanity receded slowly from her cheeks, dripping down off the hollows, exposing more and more of her sculptured skull, yet what was left was far more hideous than that of any Halloween skeleton.
And the woman’s quiescent eyes dissolved and drained into the exposed sockets, dragging all the rendered tissue that surrounded them along into the bleakest of chasms, thus completing the gruesome transmogrification. Before me now was a new view of death profoundly worse than any sane child’s nightmare.
Oh, yes I remember that vision. The woman never woke to scream, and I could only feel my own smothered bleating, because I was speechless, sick in the stomach, feeling a hopeless vulnerability that I can summon up with little effort to this day.
A native Angelino and serendipitous observer of life, Gail Fisher is a freelance writer, living in the Boston area.
Submitted to CONELRAD on April 27, 2009 and published with permission
“SOMEBODY’S IDEA OF THE END OF THE WORLD” by J.J. Dickinson
53 years elapsed before I discovered that May 27, 1956, was the evening I would never forget. I can now put a name to the weird animation that haunted my childhood.
Unlike today’s kids, most 8-year-olds in the 1950s were sent to bed around eight or nine p.m. I was no exception to this rule. Since it was Sunday, and the next day began another school week, the last television program I could watch was the “Ed Sullivan Show.” The exception to this bedtime rule permitted another hour of wakefulness to view “Alcoa Presents.”
My father, a Pearl Harbor survivor, veteran of both WWII , Korea, and now a cold-warrior at Naval Electronics Lab in San Diego, was already asleep beneath the evening paper. My mother, a stay-at-home mom (in those days referred to as a “housewife”) was busy sewing on the couch. It was 8:54 p.m., and I was watching the last few minutes of the weekly variety program.
I don’t remember “Old Stone Face” saying anything about sending children out of the room before the next act, but I will always remember that infamous “next segment” and will continue to remember it for all my days.
The segment was an animation, odd for that particular format. I don’t recall any other animations on Ed Sullivan prior to its airing. It started out interestingly enough, as I remember: something flew through the air above a city; animals started running. It seemed alright so far. Then it began. People and animals started to rot, eyes popped out of sockets, flesh dissolved, which is about all I can remember of the actual animation today. However, I can still recall what happened next. Sullivan said “good night,” and that was the end; no mention about next week’s show. The way he said “good night” further disturbed me. Sullivan was a bit too somber. I looked at my mother for some words of comfort or an explanation of what we’d just witnessed, but all she said was, “Okay, bedtime”. I asked her what it meant. She said it was somebody’s idea of the end of the world. This answer was totally out of character for my mother, who was against my reading or viewing anything related to the horror genre. She claimed it could give little boys nightmares, or worse. I can only surmise that since this film was shown on Ed Sullivan, it was deemed permissible.
Like any obedient child of the ‘50s, I went to bed. I remember pulling the covers over my head as the ghastly visions continued to replay in my impressionable, juvenile mind. This continued for weeks. At school the next day, nobody mentioned the short, although I’m sure others saw it. This omission always struck me as odd.
I never brought up or heard anything more about this televised event until 13 years later. One night my roommate and I were discussing strange experiences when he mentioned Ed Sullivan! It was freaky, but we both “knew”. We both started shaking and then laughing having a mutually cathartic moment. He was also eight when “Short Vision” aired but was one of the exceptions to the bedtime rule. He was allowed to stay up and watch “Alcoa Presents”. That night “Alcoa Presents” was not shown, and he too had to face the darkness subsequent to watching “A Short Vision.”
Was the reason “A Short Vision” disturbed us so due to the typical nature of cartoons, which were cute and funny? Prior to this screening we’d never seen gruesome drawings moving on our TV screens. It wasn’t until I read the comments on the website from other viewers that I realized the film must have been an allegory for nuclear holocaust. Perhaps that’s why nobody in San Diego mentioned this event, since every San Diegan knew that our city would be ground zero in the event of atomic war.
They called the animation “A Short Vision” but they were so wrong! That vision will remain forever with those who saw it.
J. J. Dickinson, 61, is a musician in San Diego, California. Before that he was in the advertising graphics field for 30 years.
Submitted to CONELRAD on April 28, 2009 and published with permission